Panic is the oldest LGBT bar in the state of Nebraska. Our building on the corner of 18th and “N” streets has a long history as one of Nebraska’s first gay bars. Until the early 1970s, most LGBT Lincolnites lived “in the closet”, with very few opportunities to gather and socialize. Aside from a few dives that were occasionally willing to look the other way, there were no public venues where gay men or women could gather.
In the mid 70s, the Office Lounge opened at the corner of 17th & “O” streets, followed by the Sanctuary (now Panic) at 18th & “N”, and the Boardwalk at 20th & “O” streets in the early 80’s.
In those days, gay men and lesbians frequented separate bars, and our building housed the Sanctuary (the men’s bar) upstairs, and Cherchez La Femme (the women’s bar) downstairs.
In 1982, Kelly Erisman partnered with Barb Scribner at “Cherchez La Femme” and entered into the bar business at the age of 19. After buying out her business partner, she changed the name to “Kelly’s”.
The upper level of the building changed ownership a few times over the years, and was renamed “Imaginations” in 1984.
In 1987, the upper level became available once again, so Kelly took on a new business partner, Joe Swanda, and together they remodeled the upstairs bar. They literally broke down the barrier separating lesbians and gay men–replacing it with an open door connecting both bars. Both the upstairs & downstairs bars were to be inclusive, creating a “mixed bar” where everyone was welcome, regardless of gender.
They named the new bar “The Panic” after the term “panic room”– a safe room that protects its inhabitants from intruders. This was and continues to be our mission: to provide a safe place for gay, lesbian, bi, and trans people (and their allies) to gather and enjoy themselves.
In 2016, Kelly Erisman, the owner of Panic, died after a long illness. A longtime champion of equality and acceptance (as well as a legendary prankster), Kelly’s influence can be felt throughout Lincoln’s LBGT community, and especially at Panic.
Today, Panic is owned by Kelly’s wife and partner of 29 years, Kara, and continues to serve its patrons with the same friendly spirit and hospitality as Kelly did.