Alvion Davenport and The 25+ Year Journey of Godfrey’s


This article originally appeared in Virginia Pride Guide 2023. This is an updated version with proper dates in retrospect. You can read the whole original issue here

Downtown in Monroe Ward, in an unassuming building nestled in a strip, lies a club labeled simply, “Godfrey’s.” Occupying two spaces, 308 and 310 E Grace St, Godfrey’s stands as a staple of the Richmond queer community, serving as a platform for expression and the cross-generational sharing of ideas. For over 25 years, it has provided a haven for those during times of turbulence. For those new to the city or perhaps those who are just looking to get into the community but don’t know where to start, allow us to provide you with a glimpse into what this place is, where it came from, and what it’s all about. We spoke with Alvion Davenport, the entertainment director at Godfrey’s for the last 20 years, about everything related to Godfrey’s.

Godfrey’s opened on the July 4th weekend of 1997 under the watchful eye of founder Jeff Willis. Originally occupying just the 308 side of the building, Godfrey’s started as a lunch spot with a queer mission as a safe space. “It came around at a time when not only the city but the world needed more safe spaces for us to gather and party in fellowship with one another,” said Davenport. After a period of growth in popularity, the business eventually expanded to include the 310 side of the building. Willis decided to diversify the model and put in a dance floor and built the bar. However, it was the entertainment he chose to put on as they expanded that really brought Godfrey’s to the forefront of the queer community.

Alvion Davenport of Godrey's, Pride Guide 2023
Alvion Davenport of Godfrey’s, photo by Jody Adams

Godfrey’s began hosting drag shows, and not just any drag shows, but what at first sounds like the strange combination of drag brunches. As Davenport put it, “We are world-renowned for our drag brunches. We were one of – if not the first venue – to start drag brunches back in 1999… They, to this day, run strong; we seat 400 people on Saturday, 400 people on Sunday, and they are world-renowned.” Godfrey’s has since become a staple of the drag community, continuing to stage shows regularly and promoting new talent. “It’s just about where every baby drag queen in the city gets their start,” said Davenport.

About 12 years ago, Godfrey’s continued to expand until Willis decided to sell the business. Rather than waiting around, who should step in but the team of Mark and Brian, who remain the current owners. The pair served as bartenders and bar managers during the early years. Rather than allowing an outsider to potentially change the niche they have been carving for themselves, the two decided that it would be “better to keep it in the family,” said Davenport.

Alvion Davenport of Godrey's, Pride Guide 2023
Alvion Davenport of Godfrey’s, photo by Jody Adams

Though they’ve been doing drag since near the very beginning, Godfrey’s has recently been opening its doors to a number of other artists, from bands to poetry artists. This, along with hosting the Virginia Pride Pageant and numerous benefits and memorials, such as the one they hosted for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, has turned Godfrey’s into a hotbed of queer culture and local art.

That brings us to today, where Godfrey’s stands as a clear kingpin among queer clubs in the city. The fact that Godfrey’s is queer-owned is important to the staff, as Davenport said, “The gayest gay-owned establishments are now few and far between, and I think they last the longest because they have the heart in them.” Without being in it for the money, queer-owned businesses have the freedom to open up their space as a place of respite. Talking about the importance of having these safe spaces, Davenport said, “It’s a safe haven. With so much going on in the world, especially nowadays with the laws and legislation attacking things like drag, gay marriage, and affirmative action, it’s a place where we can all gather and either discuss it or support one another because of it, or express ourselves – feel free to come here and be yourselves.”

Alvion Davenport of Godrey's, Pride Guide 2023
Alvion Davenport of Godfrey’s, photo by Jody Adams

But what does one say to their friends who are reticent when it comes to going to a “gay bar?” Well, Davenport had a lot to say on that: “If we had to sort it, ‘Why would I want to go to a straight club? Why would I want to go to a gay club?’ We play the same music. There isn’t a gay soundtrack. We play the exact same music you would hear at any straight club. We serve the exact same liquor they would serve at any straight club. We cook the same chicken wings and bar food you would get at any straight club. So, unless it’s your own fear of ‘If I dance with a gay person, then I’m gay,’ or ‘If I’m in the same room with a gay person, I’m gonna be gay,’ it’s a building. It’s a place to party. It’s designed for [LGBTQIA+], but it’s open to everybody… It’s a place for us to feel comfortable. Because in your spaces, you don’t make us feel comfortable, but in our spaces, we’ll make sure that you’re comfortable.”

Davenport was incredibly passionate about breaking down barriers and continuously spoke about Godfrey’s as the kind of place to leave preconceived notions at the door. “You’re not born [with hate]. That’s taught. If we take out all the labels… then what do we have to hate each other for?” said Davenport.

Godfrey's for RVA Magazine 2023
Godfrey’s at 308 and 310 E Grace Street

And if there is still reluctance in getting some straight friends to drop in on this happening spot, then perhaps the drag brunch might be a perfect intro for them. As Davenport sees it, the drag brunches are a non-committed, low-stakes environment to introduce people to the queer community in town. “The drag brunches are the bread and butter here… It’s a seated event… It’s an opportunity that takes the gay club narrative away. 90% of our clientele are straight people – straight men, straight women – who come to just enjoy the drag show. Who might not feel comfortable at a gay nightclub, but they feel more comfortable in a daytime seated environment that’s at a gay nightclub.”

We all know it can be difficult to find a place to fit in, and that holds especially true for young queers who are in a new environment without a support network. So, for those people in Richmond, Godfrey’s might just be the place. And though it is designed as a safe space, Godfrey’s is not a place specifically for queers. As Davenport sees it, “Godfrey’s is almost like the crossroads between the gay nightclub and the straight people… It isn’t what you think it is; we ain’t in here harming babies, we ain’t in here stealing anybody’s husbands. Well, we might steal some husbands.”

Andrew Bonieskie

Andrew Bonieskie

But you may call me Bones. I'm the Associate Editor of RVA Mag, and a writer and musician living in Richmond, Virginia. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in music and a minor in creative writing I have gone on to score feature and short films, released a book of poetry, an album of original music, and perform lead vocals with the band Pebbles Palace.

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