Nia Gvatua and Success Bar — “Everything I’ve Learned from Queer People”

I am Nia Gvatua, a mother first, a photographer second. I have been interested in photography since childhood, I am a DJ and the owner of the first Georgian gay bar, Success.

It all started with my great love for underground spaces, I love electronic music and club spaces. I lived in Barcelona for many years and loved visiting queer spaces when I travelled, queer bars and clubs have always been my favorite places in any country.

First memory, gay club “Chance” and naked gay men swimming in the aquarium

My activities today remind me a lot of my childhood. My mother died early, when I was five years old, and although I don’t remember much, she still left a mark on my life. She was an artist by profession and lived a bohemian lifestyle, she had a very good taste in different areas of art and listened to the music that is still very much  alive today, she had outstanding visions. I often went with her to various artistic spaces, clubs and bars. I lived in Italy for five years, then in Moscow.

I remember it like a scene from a movie: I’m small, I got lost in one of the clubs, I’m very scared, I don’t recognize people, I’m short, I’m touching everyone’s feet, someone took me to the stage and asked who lost a child, I’m very nervous, I’m shaking. Years later, I learned that I had gotten lost in a Moscow gay club called Chance, which had a huge aquarium where naked men swam like fish.

After my mother’s death, I moved back in with my grandparents, who are very conservative. It was very difficult for me to return to Georgia, I didn’t like getting used to the new environment and strict grandparents. In order to cope with stress, I opened a small bar in the yard, near the entrance, where I sold Coca-Cola and made a puppet theater. I had different ideas, I dressed up my neighbors, I did makeup. Now that I think about it, I do exactly the same thing today, but on a more serious level – I own a bar and do shows with Georgian drag queens.

The story of new SUCCESS BAR

The story of Success begins in 2016. I was 26 years old when my gay friend asked me to go to a gay bar in Tbilisi, the old Success. I’ve been there many times before, but I didn’t know it was a gay bar, not many people did. When we arrived, the situation was so bad, I was heartbroken – terrible interior, very tasteless lighting, bad playlist, very expensive drinks. When I saw that the only queer bar was in such state, I started thinking about what I would do with Success bar and what I’d change.

This thought became an obsession. For three months, when I passed by, it was as if this place was calling me and asking for help. I would imagine it was mine and change everything. At first, I contacted the old owner of the bar. I knew him and offered to help him run the bar in exchange for some money. I didn’t even think that this space could become mine. I reckon I’d spend 2-3 months improving the bar and then be on my way.

The owner told me that the bar was in an awful state, they couldn’t even pay the salaries and there was no way of making that much money. Later, it so happened that my partner, Juan, got me in touch with a Georgian businessman, Temur Ugulava, who gave me the money before I could finish the sentence and tell him that it was a gay bar. I called the previous owner and offered him that I would rent the bar and bring it back to its glory.

At first everyone was skeptical about it. Gay men from the older generation would tell me that what is dead could not be revived. Yet, I still believed that Success would rise again. This was back in 2016. Five years may not be much, but a lot of things were different back then — I was referred to as a heterosexual woman who decided to open a bar for LGBT+ people. Back then we didn’t know what queer meant. 

A safe space and place for queer people to connect

Back then I still hadn’t fathomed that opening a queer space could become a form of activism. Since then, many things have changed, a lot has been done for LGBTQ+ people, public information regarding LGBTQ+ issues has increased, attitudes have changed. I think Success, which is a safe space, a home and a connector for many LGBTQ+ people, also contributed to this.

Before that, a lot was done in this direction, but Success was like an explosion in people’s minds. I also learned a lot – until then, LGBTQ+ did not exist in my consciousness, there was only gay. Through success, I and many others have learned that there are many sexual identities, that gender is inexhaustible. Success contributed to the origin of a kind of movement. These people had been in this city before, but they were scattered, and success brought them all together in one small space.

The success also contributed to the development of drag culture. At first I wanted to bring foreign artists, but then, when I directly encountered the situation in the country and what LGBTQ+ people had to deal with, I decided to give space to local queer artists. This is how drag culture emerged and developed in our country.

Georgian and non-Georgian UNDERGROUND culture

Georgian and non-Georgian underground spaces are very different. The first and most important is the drug policy, which is particularly inhumane in our country. Georgian underground culture does not have a long past, and observing all this is very interesting. Queer people have just emerged in these spaces. They’ve been there all along, of course, although we didn’t have a series of queer nights that left its mark on the underground life.

At the same time, underground spaces have assumed the role of a kind of shelter for people with mental problems; who have problems with their identity, with their family; For people who are not able to realize themselves, these spaces provide a kind of escape, where they can get away from everyday problems and everyday challenges at least for a while.

The underground space isn’t just about entertainment, and it often takes the form of activism, especially for queer people. People don’t just dance for fun, standing together in this homophobic environment and state is really a form of protest. In Georgian underground spaces, you will meet a lot of brave people who fight for freedom and do not adapt to this oppressive system.

Everything I’ve learned from queer people

Success and queer people taught me that you need to fight for your own happiness, freedom and development; that you should not be afraid of circumstances and still continue to move towards the goal; You should not believe if they tell you that you cannot do something – everyone can do anything, the main thing is for you to start moving towards your goals. 

Queer people helped me get rid of complexes. I’ve been to many events where I’ve seen a plus-size person sexually display their body and not be ashamed of it. I believe that we are all linked together and set an example for each other. This is especially true to the members of the Queer community. 

We strengthen and empower each other even when the outside world is not so friendly to us. And this chain grows more and more, so more and more free people, devoid of complexes, appear in our society. I am now more open, more confident, more accepting.

A blind and curious homophobe

Homophobia is actually inexperience. A homophobe, in many cases without thinking or analyzing, chooses the path of hatred. According to my observation, there are two types of homophobes: one who blindly chooses homophobia and if someone like that ends up in Success, they start screaming, get violent, and end up with police. And the second kind is a curious homophobe, who is surrounded by homophobic influences, but still feels deep down that something is not as they have been led to believe, and is interested in learning more. When the latter finds themselves at Success and sees that nothing ominous is happening here, on the contrary, that it is a very friendly community, they keep coming back, gaining friends and, gradually, recusing old ties filled with hate. Such cases have occurred many times in our bar- when in the beginning we are all like; “What are they doing here?” and later we see them as frequent guests. 

In fact, a homophobic person is also a victim. We should be less strict with them. I know it’s often hard not to get irritated by their actions, but I still think we should show our love. Christ also teaches us to rise above hatred, to help each other to free ourselves from hatred and false ideas.

Major Challenges for Queer People and the Birth of a Modern Goddess

The most important challenge for queer people today is not to be corrupted by so much aggression, so much hate, and to keep ourselves. It is very difficult to keep calm, not to lose face and not to be depressed, when your family turns away from you, your place in society is not found and the future is very dim. At the same time, the most important challenge is to accept ourselves as we are, to know ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you are gay, lesbian or transgender, you should love yourself and not run away from your identities, you should not be afraid of your femininity or your masculinity.

It may sound very ambitious, but sometimes I think that I am a modern goddess, a kind of medium and I have a special mission in this world. It wasn’t always like that, I got here slowly, through a lot of hard work, and I give queer people the biggest credit for that. So many colors, so many positive emotions, music, planets gave me the opportunity to feel like this, and my freedom lies in this, to continue my spiritual journey and experience everything that is dear and important to me.

Photo: Nia Gvatua’s personal archive



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