| Tom Queen
IF YOU'VE BEEN fortunate to make the acquaintance of the luminous Sable Coate on a rare evening out in a swanky cocktail bar in our fair city you’ll know that the lady has big hair, long and luscious eyelashes, and is always dressed to “the nines,” with baubles a-dangling. In real life Sable’s portrayer Kelly Coate is a Columbus legend in his own right. Kelly grew up in Northwestern Ohio, in the “lakefront resort” town of Celina. In his own words, he couldn’t “run kicking and screaming to Columbus fast enough” to start his coming out process, entering OSU in 1977 where he studied industrial design and marketing.
Kelly’s youthful adventures took him to Florida during a spring break, facilitating the introduction to a gentleman who was one of the major male fashion models at the time. Soon after, Kelly was invited to New Year’s Eve festivities on a fancy yacht (which happened to be the site of a private party for Diana Ross, who was performing at one of the swanky hotels). The guest entertainment for the party was none other than the legendary KC and the Sunshine Band. Kelly and Harry “KC” Casey hit it off and made a connection. As the sun was coming up and the yacht party came to a close, Kelly and KC jumped off of the boat and swam ashore in the direction of Kelly’s hotel. Kelly and KC remain friends to this day.
Kelly worked in the hospitality industry in his younger days, including the Hyatt Regency downtown and later as the manager of Jillian’s (now the Flatiron) for Jill McDonald. In Kelly’s words: “the lesbians were screaming for a bigger place,” so he accompanied Jill when she opened the legendary downtown nightclub Wall Street, serving as its manager for several years. He later worked for Ed Tomsic as the manager of the former Columbus Eagle. Under his leadership it became the biggest Budweiser account of any bar in the state of Ohio!
It was at the height of the AIDS crisis that the legendary Sable Coate made her debut. She appeared for the first time in The Long Cold Nights of Winter at Wall Street in 1987. Sable’s infrequent stage appearances were usually for charitable events. She took over the hosting reins of Bat ‘n Rouge after the sudden passing of “Peg” (Craig Penn), and served as the charity event’s host for 11 years (including one memorable year when she and co-host “Action” were dropped off at home plate by a Yellow Cab!). Kelly shared, “Everybody should take some time to give back to their community, whether it be appearing in a charity drag show, working on a political campaign, or serving as a mentor.”
Sable Coate has officially retired from performing on the stage, but can occasionally be seen at charitable events or on a random night of “Sableness” at a fancy watering hole around town. Kelly has had a successful career for 12 years as an agent for ReMax Premier, and in his own words, “business is booming.” He also buys properties on speculation and rehabs them for resale. Like many who have seen the changes that have happened in the LGBTQ community, Kelly wants the “youngsters” to be aware of the people who paved the way to make life so good. He challenges them to “think outside the box. Instead of going to [a club] every weekend, taking their shirts off and dancing, do something to help make Columbus a better place.”