On the hour, the people gathered inside Harold’s Haunt in Millvale shouted, “F**k you, Harold!” The epithet against the ghost behind the name of the “they bar” was just one part of the one-year celebration for the unapologetically and unequivocally queer space north of the Allegheny River. 

Just after 8:30 p.m. Oct. 13, Athena Flint, co-owner of the bar and its sibling business, Maude’s Paperwing Gallery two doors down, made a speech she dubbed a homily to the “queerly beloved” packing in the space. 

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our beautiful community,” she said. “We are hopefully going to be here for many years to come.”

It hadn’t been an easy year for the they bar, Flint said. “We are saying farewell to the past year. May we never have another year like it … let’s breathe out the last year of chaos and anxiety.”

A new kind of queer space

While it may have been a difficult year getting Harold’s off the ground, it’s also been an exciting one, Flint said. She has spent countless hours creating a space in Millvale that is not only queer-friendly but also explicitly a safe community space for people who are trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming. 

Queer spaces in Pittsburgh and around the country are generally spaces that are filled with white cis men, Flint said. She wanted to create something different. After toying around with other concepts, like a lesbian bar, Flint’s sibling, who is trans and uses they/them pronouns, suggested “they bar,” and it was exactly what Flint had been looking for, she said.  

She believes it’s the only such identified bar in the country — “hopefully the first of many.”

“I always feel like you have to have a foundation that loudly speaks to who you are so you can fend off the people who are going to change it,” Flint said. “So from the start we wanted to make sure that people understood that we were always going to hold a space for people who are trans, nonbinary and gender fluid, because that is who needs the space. They are our priority. We want people to know they are safe here.”

Ringa Sunn, Flint’s friend and former roommate, agrees. “I really advertise a lot for the bar because it’s a space that the community needs, and I feel there’s a lack of that even in the Pittsburgh queer community. There’s not a space that’s for everyone, and that’s what we’ve done here.” 

That aim seems to be working. Dylan Marie Kunkel, who was at the funeral-themed celebration, said she first came across Harold’s at PRIDE Millvale in the summer. Her friends were sitting on Harold’s back patio and told her it was a they bar. 

“It stuck in my head as a place to be,” she said. She came back for a book signing and drag show in September by Mercury Stardust, a trans activist, performer and author known as the “trans handy ma’am” on TikTok and other social media. 

“I like that it’s a very nonbinary, feminine space,” Kunkel said. “Most gay bars are very masculine, which can be overwhelming as a nonbinary trans femme.”

Queer and witchy

Harold’s Haunt works in tandem with Flint’s other business, Maude’s Paperwing Gallery, to create a foothold in Millvale for the queer community. Maude’s, which opened three years ago, is also filling an empty space that Flint saw in Pittsburgh.

“There were not any shops that I felt like were a good crossover of queer and witchy,” she said. Her original plans were to sell witchy items at conventions and shows, but when COVID-19 hit and many were canceled, she shifted her plans into a brick-and-mortar business. “The universe gave me the opportunity to do it, so I did it.”

Community was always at the core of Maude’s, too. “As much as it’s a gift shop and a supply shop, the most important part was always building community.” 

Flint described a turbulent childhood and overcoming traumas, some of which were religious. She said that healing can come from the community and ritual of a service, and there weren’t any spaces that offered that to non-Christians.

“When I was looking, it was difficult to find a witchy community, especially a queer witchy community, and more than that, where people could speak the queer language, which I think is really crucial in your journey of healing,” she said. 

Maude’s built community through a Discord server, book clubs and fostering relationships with regular customers. 

Maude’s manager, Maura McManus, was hired through this community. McManus worked a block away from Maude’s and was friends with Sunn, a self-described “poltergeist that they can’t get rid of.” Sunn told McManus to visit Maude’s, and she became interested in the history of the building, which includes the eponymous Harold, “for personal, nerdy reasons,” she said. 

Harold is the ghost that haunts the hallway and current storeroom of Maude’s. The team hired a medium to communicate with Harold’s spirit in 2022 on Beltane, the Gaelic holiday celebrating the start of the pastoral summer on May Day. What they learned about Harold was compiled in a trifold board on display during the funeral celebration. According to the medium, Harold was a man about 60 years old caught in a time loop and generally not aware of the time or place, unless it’s changed drastically, “like, for instance, when a bunch of queer witches move in and paint the place purple,” the board asserted. 

Harold was also foul-mouthed, sexist and racist, according to the recounting of the medium’s conversation with him. He’s an ironic mascot for the business and a bit of fun in the lore of a space that Harold doesn’t agree with — hence the enthusiastic insults during the funeral celebration.  

Eventually, McManus became the manager of Maude’s after being folded into the community through Sunn, a group chat and “loitering there for a while,” she said.

Building up community

When Flint was looking to expand beyond Maude’s, the owners of Howard’s Pub were selling the building. It was the only place Flint felt comfortable approaching as a queer person, she said, because of the little rainbow flags in the windows. Not only that, but the owner’s daughter is Patti Harpur, the first openly gay woman to serve on the Millvale Borough Council. Harpur also organized the first PRIDE Millvale in 2021. 

Flint didn’t want Millvale to lose a queer space and decided to go for it with Howard’s Pub, which would become Harold’s Haunt. 

She said the thought process at the time was, “We’re making such great, forward progress in Millvale. We need to get queerer and safer, and if we lose a safe space for queer folks in this area, it’s gonna cause us to backtrack so much.”

She put together a business plan with the help of McManus, her sibling and her mother, Debra, a licensed clinical social worker who runs private practices in Millvale and New Castle. Debra Flint is co-owner of Harold’s Haunt. 

“The most amazing thing that has come out of this has been the community just expanding. The Maude community was solid, but the more people that come and find us at the bar, the more they join our Maude community, and it’s really beautiful,” Athena Flint said. “I don’t know why the universe decided that a bar was going to be a safe, sacred space for theys in Millvale, but it is what it is.”

At the funeral, Flint expressed the same sentiments to cheers from the crowd: “The reason why Harold’s and Maude’s exists is because nothing existed that was queer and witchy and nonbinary. Yes, we are a business, but what we’ve been able to do as a community is amazing.”

Keeping it cozy

Flint said the atmosphere in Harold’s Haunt is also a step apart from other queer bars in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. 

“Being witchy and run by nerds, it’s a very different dynamic here than any of the other LGBTQ bars in Pittsburgh,” she said. “It’s not party city. You come here and you’re cozy and comfortable. Sometimes we have big events, but you can come and hang out if you’re neurodivergent or socially awkward or anxious, because we want it to be cozy. I think that’s integral to being a space for trans and nonbinary individuals. It’s already so f***ing dangerous out there — what if we had a space that was welcoming and cozy? What if we could just allow that to exist?”

Harold’s schedule includes events that cater to those nerdy interests, such as anime club meetups, role-playing game nights, and screenings of “Survivor” and “Our Flag Means Death.” The food menu also has items named after books, music and pop culture references, such as the The Hobbit and Pizza the Hutt pizzas, the Guac Me Amadeus guacamole and chips, and Magic Max’s BLT.

Wren Lazuli first came to Harold’s with their girlfriend, who plays Dungeons and Dragons at the bar. They really liked their first visit. “You feel really accepted here,” they said. 

During another visit, they came to a trivia night with their girlfriend, and even though the pair didn’t participate, Lazuli said they were both giggling and having fun. “We just felt so included.”

Charlie’s Charms, a regular “femme supply and skill swap,” also brings in people. James Cain wore a dress they’d gotten during Charlie’s Charms to the funeral celebration. 

“I like the crowd,” they said. “There’s a big difference in the crowd. Everyone’s having fun and are lowkey. This feels like a nice place to hang out. It feels like a neighborhood bar, a place to hangout, which is rare for gay bars and really, all bars.”

Flint said it’s been a dream to create the space she’d been able to. “The number of people who have come in and said, ‘This is my first time wearing a dress in public,’ or ‘I just feel so seen’ — just because it’s a they bar. Truly, the number of trans individuals that I know who have come dressed as they wished they could for the first time in public, here, is just … every time it happens just makes me freak out because it’s exactly what I wanted.”

Sobriety and education

Another aspect Flint has fostered in her businesses is the importance of sobriety. When Journeys of Life in Shadyside, which specialized in self-help books, inspirational gifts and spiritual guidance, closed in 2019 after 30 years in business, Flint said she was concerned about where those seeking resources for addiction recovery and sobriety would go.  

So when she opened Maude’s, she was sure to keep mental health resources and sobriety books and zines in stock. 

“I always recognized the importance of honoring sobriety,” she said. 

Books and zines about sobriety are for sale Oct. 19, 2023, at Maude’s Paperwing Gallery in Millvale. (Natalie Duleba/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Flint’s determination to celebrate and hold space for sobriety in queer spaces carries over to Harold’s Haunt, too. The “fauxtions” part of the menu is just as curated as the alcoholic offerings. Flint said because a lot of queer spaces are bars, it can be hard for community members who are in recovery to find a place that doesn’t revolve around alcohol.

On the first and third Sunday of every month, Harold’s hosts Sober Sunday with Glittersty, a queer artist resource based out of Millvale. No alcohol is served the entire day; all alcohol bottles are put away, and the taps are removed. 

While it may seem counterintuitive to come to a bar for alcohol-free experiences, Harold’s has drawn in the very people Flint wants to reach.

Blake Nagel, who was at the funeral celebration with Cain, started coming to Harold’s because of the fauxtions on the menu. They’re sober and were happy to find somewhere they liked that had those options. “Not a lot of places you can go for that,” they said. 

Similarly, Elly Phillips, another funeral celebration attendee, said she started coming to Harold’s because it had nonalcoholic options. 

“It was a space to interact with during a transitional period in my life that was trans and nonbinary friendly,” she said. 

“It’s really important that everyone, every aspect of our community feels really welcome here, and that includes people who are sober,” Flint said. “I own a bar, but you don’t have to drink to be here.”

The Frog and Cranberries It Must Be Fall nonalcoholic fauxtion at Harold’s Haunt on Oct. 19, 2023, in Millvale. The mocktail is made with cranberry juice, rosemary syrup and bubbles and topped with a gummy frog. (Natalie Duleba/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Flint also has a goal of education that goes beyond the books and resources available at Maude’s. She wants to educate the public and the people of Millvale on queer spaces, culture and issues. 

“It’s very easy to protect a space by cutting people out of it, but for me, it’s really important to bring people in,” she said. 

When people come in and say something offensive or inappropriate, Flint said she uses those instances as teaching moments. 

“If we’re to survive as a community, as humankind, we have to create connection with our neighbors, even if we don’t understand them,” she said. “And that goes both ways.”

She said Millvale has been a perfect place to build these relationships. “Millvale has been beautiful for it because you get so many people who are old Steeltown; they’re grumpy, they’re conservative, they’re tired, they’re poor. And I can be like, ‘Yes, we are the same. We’re family, we’re community. You can come in here and ask me all your questions, and I can answer all of them. Then you can respect them and you can come hang out.’”

Flint admitted she was worried about how the community would react to Maude’s, which was so obviously queer and witchy. When the storefront opened in 2020, PRIDE Millvale hadn’t yet happened, and she was worried about getting the window busted in. So she put up protest signs in the window so people would have no questions about what kind of business was moving in. 

“I think [Millvale] was always underlying queer, and I think having the shop [Maude’s] there has allowed people to be more vocal about it,” she said. 

Sunn expressed similar sentiments. “It’s a very chill neighborhood,” they said, “so it’s not weird that there’s a they bar here.”

Visions for the future

But Flint wants to do more. She was already working long hours at Maude’s when she opened Harold’s, and now she tends bar full time. Her mother also helps on the weekends at Harold’s on top of working full time at her two practices. Even though McManus is employed at Maude’s, she is often heavily involved in the planning and running of events at Harold’s. People such as Sunn put in hours of volunteer time for larger events, such as the Pride Prom in June and the Spoken Word Porn-a-thon fundraiser in July.

“We’ve done a lot of different things to try to raise money. To be honest, it’s been a struggle. We are struggling,” Flint said. 

To help Harold’s and Maude’s expand and grow, Flint went to Honeycomb Credit to raise money to expand. 

Pittsburgh-based Honeycomb Credit is an investment crowdfunding platform that allows local businesses to borrow funds from their supporters and community. According to its website, Honeycomb has helped over 200 businesses across more than 30 states, with 85% of businesses reaching their minimum fundraising goals.

“Being able to give people the option to give us money that they are able to get back is hopefully something that will work,” Flint said. “We definitely need help financially. And if I can make my community some money while we do it, that sounds aces to me.”

The Honeycomb campaign has a minimum goal of $60,000 up to $128,000. It ends on Oct. 28. The baseline amount people can invest is $100. If Harold’s reaches its minimum funding goal, the funds will be dispersed and investors will receive quarterly payments with interest over the life of the 36-month loan. 

Part of the money would pay a year’s salary for a bar manager at Harold’s, which would allow Flint to focus on leading the community she’s building, she said. 

“Honestly, truly, the only reason we’ve been able to hold any of the things we’ve done so far is because the majority of us are queer theater kids,” Flint said. “So we know how to make things on a shoestring and fast.”

For instance, Flint and Sunn, who went to college at Carlow University, were able to borrow props from the university’s theater department for Pride Prom.

“Thankfully we had access to that, because it was a lot, a lot,” McManus said, who has a background in theater design. 

“It was just our crew who put it together, and volunteers who came to help decorate initially,” Flint said. “But if we had someone dedicated to actually finding the people to do the work and plan the things … I would love to do two proms a year. People would be there. It’s what people want, so I would like to give them more.”

Earlier this year, the bar closed for a week for renovations. With sweat equity and more volunteering from the community, it got a bit of a makeover. Shiplap on the walls and bar were taken down, the walls went from beige to a deep purple, and the custom shelves behind the bar replaced generic countertops. 

“It was a shock to me that we were able to pull this much off, being closed a week,” Flint said. “It’s because people came and volunteered time, which was so very kind and sweet.”

The Honeycomb money would also go toward further renovations at the bar. 

“We have a really cool vision for what this place can be, just aesthetically, thematically,” Flint said. “Honestly, truly, I think if we were to get closer to it, this place could pop off and be a legit tourist attraction.”

The plan includes Victorian-inspired decorations, custom-designed wallpaper and a uranium glass display in the nook across the top of the front door and window. McManus, who is the lead designer for both businesses, made the mockups for the Honeycomb campaign with the vision for the bar.

“Once we do it, it’s gonna look so haunted and cool,” Flint said. “People are gonna be like, ‘I want to go hang out in that place all the time.’ People will come from all over to visit.”

“Once they get the funds they need, a lot of things will fall into place,” Sunn said. 

At the funeral celebration, Flint told the crowd about Honeycomb and urged them to visit Harold’s campaign page and invest if they could. 

“We are always grateful for our community that isn’t afraid to get hands-on,” she said. “We did this [the funeral] in one week. Just you wait to see what we can do with more time.”

As for Harold?

“He’s a jag,” Flint said.

Harold’s Haunt is open Tuesday-Thursday 5-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5 p.m. to midnight, and Sunday 2-8 p.m. It is closed on Monday. Maude’s Paperwing Gallery is open Monday and Wednesday 1-6 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is closed on Tuesday.

Natalie Duleba is a designer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike.

Natalie Duleba

Natalie Duleba is a designer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike.