Grand Reopening of Historic SLC Gay Bar The Sun Trapp

The historic gay bar, The SunTrapp will reopen Saturday, June 8, 2024, at 7 p.m., after the bar closed in January of this year and owners surrendered its liquor license. This weekend, the bar will reopen with a new liquor license and a slightly different name—as you might have noticed—The SunTrapp (one word, instead of two), according to new owner Mary Peterson. 

Peterson had worked as the accountant for The Sun Trapp, and says, in addition to her role as owner, will continue in that capacity for The SunTrapp as well. 

The history of The SunTapp (formerly known as The Sun Trapp and, including past iterations, The Sun Tavern and just The Trapp) traces back to 1973, when Joe Redburn opened the doors of Salt Lake City’s first and only openly gay bar, The Sun Tavern. 

Stories of The SunTrapp (formerly known as The Sun Trapp)

In the last 50 years, the bar has closed and reopened multiple times overs and changed names, owners and locations, but its repeated phoenix-like returns are a testament to the impact it has had on the queer community in Utah.

The SunTrapp is no longer the only LGBTQ+ bar in town, and that’s partly thanks to its former owners, managers and employees who have gone on to open up LGBTQ+ bars and clubs like Club Verse. But, for many queer folks who came before, the Trapp was the only place where they felt welcome and safe to be themselves. 

“I really enjoyed my time there. I got to know the gay community a lot better. I’ve met a lot of people that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” says Michael Walton, former security at The Sun Trapp, who hosts regular events with his group Utah Bears at the gay bar Club Try-Angles and DJs Thursday Night Psych-Out on KRCL. Even before he worked security around 2018-2019, Walton’s connection to The Sun Trapp goes back to celebrating his 21st birthday there. 

“I frequented there during my twenties, and it was a fun, kind of skeezy country bar back then,” he remembers. “They had a disco ball shaped like a cowboy boot.”

“The year that I worked there was kind of a hedonistic time for the bar,” says Walton. “It was so popular.” He recalls former co-owner Michael Repp (now co-owner of Club Verse) getting on the roof with a giant inflatable unicorn sprinkler and spraying people who were dancing outside. “People loved it and went crazy for it, and would get their phones ruined because they were having so much fun.” 

Walton also sings the praises of once-regular Sun Trapp DJ, DJ Naomi, who now spins over at Club Verse. “She was fantastic and had a good finger on the pulse of what people wanted to dance to. She was a big draw.” 

While a place for celebration, The Sun Trapp often courted tragedy as well.  

During Walton’s brief time there, a mainstay of the Utah gay community and The Sun Trapp, Dennis Rowley Gwyther was murdered in 2019. “Dennis was an absolute sweetheart. He was really nice. He was the DJ for years.” Not long before, The Sun Trapp had lost one of its then-owners, Rob Goulding, to pancreatic cancer. 

50-plus years of The Sun Trapp

In February 1973, Joe Redburn bought the Railroad Exchange Saloon on the corner of 400 West and South Temple. He reopened the doors as an openly gay bar and called it The Sun Tavern, sometimes shortened to just “The Sun.” (As the story goes, it was a nod to the San Francisco bar Midnight Sun.)

Less than a decade later, in the early ‘80s, the bar was torn down to make room for the future Delta Center. The Sun Tavern found a new location, in the former home of the Kozy Bar, at 700 West and 200 South. In 1990, Redburn sold The Sun Tavern and opened up The Trapp a year later. 

In 1999, the Salt Lake City tornado destroyed The Sun Tavern. I’m sure you can imagine the jokes of the time about God exercising His will against the gay menace. Around the same time, Redburn sold The Trapp. Goulding bought the bar and renamed it in honor of The Sun and The Trapp, and it’s been The Sun Trapp (now The SunTrapp) ever since.  

In its long history, The Sun Trapp has often been down but never for the count, at least, so far. While the bar keeps coming back in some form or another, it has not remained unchanged. 

When it comes to maintaining the culture of a gay bar, longevity and popularity take a toll for some. “There was always a long line on the weekends. We would always get to capacity, and it was still fun. It was still a nice bar,” says Walton. “But that dynamic changed as it got more and more popular. And with development in that neighborhood, that is very likely to change the dynamic as well.” As Walton puts it, a gay bar is only a gay bar as long as the clientele is gay. Otherwise, it’s just another bar with rainbow flags hanging in the windows. 

The umbrella of the queer community has expanded in the last 50 years to include more identies and expressions of gender and sexuality, and maintaining queer spaces for queer people might seem at odds with the oft-stated goal of inclusion.

As far as what this latest iteration of the bar will be—a gay bar, an LGTBQ+ bar or a queer-friendly bar, etc.—we will have to see for ourselves this weekend, when The SunTrapp once again rises like the phoenix. 

See our guide to LGBTQ+ Pride Month in Utah and more stories like this and all of our culture and community coverage. And while you’re here, why not subscribe and get six annual issues of Salt Lake magazine’s curated guide to the best of life in Utah. 

Christie Porter
Christie Porter
Christie Porter is the managing editor of Salt Lake Magazine. She has worked as a journalist for nearly a decade, writing about everything under the sun, but she really loves writing about nerdy things and the weird stuff. She recently published her first comic book short this year.

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