In 1989 I was 20 years old and attending (ever so briefly) a university in Indianapolis. I was not out, and I remember being alone in the bedroom of the apartment that I shared with two straight, totally oblivious friends from my small Southern Indiana hometown. There I sat, on the edge of my waterbed, looking through the phonebook for anything that might reveal something or somewhere gay. I had no idea where to look. I had no resources. Yet almost instinctually I knew that it must exist somewhere in Indiana’s capital city.
Four years later and three hours south of Indy, in Evansville, I found and walked through the front door of the Sho-Bar, my first gay bar. I was frightened and exhilarated. What if someone in there recognizes me? I thought, my heart throbbing in my throat as I lingered near my parked car in the bar’s gravel lot. Finally I approached the front door, opened it and went in. The need to find those like me, a community, overpowered my racing pulse and skyrocketing anxiety.
That first step, my first gay bar, was the first night of the rest of my life. I was born again on the Sho-Bar’s dance floor, under its silver, disco-ball moon and multicolored stars, as Whitney sang a remixed „I Will Always Love You.“
Some say that the digital age and increasing acceptance of the LGBTQ community are death knells for our beloved local gay bar. Are they? If so, perhaps sharing our „my first gay bar“ stories will reveal to those still struggling for acceptance that they do indeed have a fabulous future in store, that their community is out there somewhere, waiting for them under a silver, disco-ball moon. That’s why I created the „My First Gay Bar“ page on Facebook, to give people a platform to share their stories.
An Etiquette Guide For Straight People Who Go To Gay Bars
A few weekends ago I was basking in the sunshine in the wonderfully queer section of “Cherry Grove” in the wonderfully queer ~Fire Island~ with my girlfriend, Meghan.
A post shared by Zara Barrie (@zarabarrie) on May 19, 2017 at 5:08pm PDT
We were sucking back mudslides whilst indulging in the palpable gay-energy at our favorite bar, an outdoor haunt, that overlooks a healthy mass of sparkly seaside. The place was teeming with all kinds of queers; baby lesbians with their cute, little, half-shaved haircuts confidently clutched sweaty hands and exchanged intoxicated kisses with their equally green girlfriends.
More mature lesbians held court in the center of the bar, flicking their ciggies, gossiping with old friends they hadn’t seen since labor day weekend 2016. A drag queen extraordinaire performed back-to-back covers of feel good pop songs, her sky high wig gracing the clouds with its sugar-pink synthetic prowess. A deeply tanned gay boy couple leaned up against the wall by the bathrooms, batting their flirty long lashes at each other. A leather-bikini-clad girl in her mid-thirties stood all by herself, facing the glorious bay minding her own business, squinting into the teal blue sky.
“There’s just something magical about gay energy.” I drunkenly purred to Meghan as I gulped down the remains of my drink.
She smiled and took in the scene.”Well, when you’ve been bullied, beaten-up and shamed in silence your entire life, it feels good to come out the other side. We’ve earned it.”
Before I had the chance to finish my sentence I was interrupted by the devilish tickle of nicotine breath dancing across my vulnerable, bare shoulders.
“MAKE OUT!” a male voice roared behind me. I whipped my head around. We were suddenly surrounded by a group of seemingly heterosexual men, jeering at us. “MAKE OUT!” The crew roared in perfect unison, collective wild looks in their red eyes, their sunburnt shoulders stiff and tense as they stared hungrily in our direction.
And BAM. Just like that, my brief moment of unabashed queer joy had was knocked out of my fingers and lay broken on the ash-laden bar floor. Had our safe, cozy, gay bar been highjacked by a group of drunken straight boys?
I found myself suddenly craving a cigarette as I watched a tall boy creature sporting a backward baseball cap aggressively hit on a young lesbian couple. I sighed into the thick, humid air as I watched another bro pretend to be disgusted by a gay boy strutting across the bar in a tiny cherry-red speedo. I crossed my arms and huffed and puffed as the whole pile of them proceeded to man spread their board-short-clad legs in the center of the bar (the mature lesbian territory!).
The vibe had gone from free-spirited and safe, to suddenly unpredictable and scary. My tired eyes had borne witness to this scene one too many times, babes. It had been happening more often than usual, not just in Fire Island but in the city too. I’ll be dancing my problems away in the sanctity of the gay bay when suddenly an army of straight people will burst through the doors and wreak havoc. And not the same kind of havoc we queer kittens get into, a different kind of mayhem. The kind of mayhem I try to avoid by going to the gay bar to begin with.
“Stop hetero hating!” I can hear some of you scream through the static of the computer screen. And please, allow me to disclaim (though I’m pretty tired of disclaiming, disclaiming, disclaiming, aren’t you, girls?): I don’t mind straight people in queer spaces.
I know certain queer people who prefer heterosexuals don’t attend gay events, but I’m not really one of them.
What I do mind is when straight people enter the queer territory and disrespect it. After all the gay bar is our church. Our mecca. It’s our sacred, safe place. It’s where I locked eyes with a woman for the first time. I had my first real kiss in the gay bar. The friends I’ve made inside the four walls of the gay bar are my family. It’s my place of worship. It’s where I came of age, accepted my sexuality and became comfortable in my skin.
George Takei, Perez Hilton, Michael Musto and More Open Up About Their First Gay Bar Experience
When hate invades a space known for tolerance, figuring out how to react can be the hardest part of the aftermath. The national conversation about the Orlando massacre has been focused on gun control and terrorism, and rightfully so, but there’s an aspect to the discussion being avoided by the media: the impact gay bars have on the LGBTQ community.
Every queer person remembers their first gay bar. Good or bad, it’s always more than just a bar experience. When you spend your life being a sexual minority, the gay bar is often the only outlet available to shape a sense of identity, an understanding, and a community.
The gay bar is often the only outlet available to shape a sense of identity, an understanding, and a community.
I first found my gay bar, my community, my refuge at Attitude Bar in St. Louis, Missouri in 1998. I can’t remember if it was an all-ages night, but somehow I got in even though I was under 21. I remember looking around at the literal rainbow of people—black, white, male, female, young, old, skinny, fat—and feeling a sense of calm. It felt like I was holding on to this weird anxiety that I couldn’t understand, and then all of a sudden it clicked, and the anxiety was gone, and finally I could stop hiding my Madonna CDs in Led Zeppelin CD cases.
I asked notable LGBTQ artists, writers, actors, and comedians about their first gay bar experience and the impact it had on their lives. Sometimes the story is good, sometimes it is bad, but one thing is for sure: everyone’s first gay bar experience is a story. And everyone has one. In sharing their stories, they are taking a stance against hate, and honoring every victim of violence based on hate.
As I reluctantly began to pack my bags, days before my trip, I kept hesitating on what to bring.
We were headed to the Italian and French Riviera on the world’s largest sailing yacht (that looked like a pirate ship), with 190 gay men (and a handful of women). This was my first time on a gay anything kind of trip and I was going solo, although I knew a few guys who were going to be on the ship.
I honestly never really considered a gay cruise until it came up as an option for travel this year and my main draw to this particular one was the size of the guest list and the uniqueness of the ship that we would all be sailing on. I have nothing against the larger cruise ships with loads of men on them, but that just has never called to me, although now, after this experience, I am more open to it.
We had received info on themed nights for the one-week sail through the Mediterranean and I won’t lie, at first when I read one of the posts in our private Facebook group that said, “Let’s celebrate on our first night out of Roma! And use the Cinema Favolosa di Frederico Fellini as our inspiration,” I almost had a panic attack right there on the spot. Who? What? These guys were already on a different level than me and I was questioning my film knowledge. I immediately texted my friend a copy of the full post explaining about the theme night in hopes that he was more creative (and gay) than I was, and well, he wasn’t.
Of course after some research, I realized who the director was and it all made a bit more sense to me, but I was already convinced that theme nights were just not going to be for me. In all fairness, I was already overwhelmed, so the thought of having to come up with costumes was going to be a hard pass on my part. In retrospect, now that I’ve been on the cruise, I do wish I had given myself a little more credit with my creativity.
There was one theme night where I did take part in though. It was the one with the least amount of effort; wig Wednesday, which basically involved donning a wig and showing up. It was a few days into our trip before the wigs came out and I remember showing up at first without mine on, just to see who else would be participating. I know, it’s hard to believe that I can be that shy at times, but I’m most definitely an introverted extrovert.
Anyways, I went back down to my cabin and pulled out my wig. I figured I’d go big or go home so I brought a massive afro-style wig that blended perfectly with my beard, giving me a rather natural look. Walking up the stairs outside of my cabin, I first encountered some crew who immediately smiled and laughed and gave me the confidence I needed to walk my ass outside where everyone else was. I don’t know if it was the comfort of the huge wig or the drinks I slammed prior to arriving, but I felt a bit invincible, and in that moment, I realized why guys love these types of trips – they provide the freedom to just be who you are and express yourself without judgment.
Source Events has been organizing these smaller sized trips for 16 years and have a loyal following of return guests who continually book with them, making the trips somewhat of a reunion, as familiar faces are always guaranteed. They pick incredible destinations like Tahiti, the Galapagos, Iceland, Greece, and moreand partner up with one of a kind ship charters to provide that unique aspect that makes them so appealing. I definitely will be the first to admit that my main draw to this trip was the thought of sailing into Saint-Tropez on this incredible tall-ship – in a port filled with mega-yachts, we would definitely stand out.
There’s also a sense of community that one might not necessarily expect, but as a true skeptic of gay cruises, I can attest that all my preconceived notions of what this trip would be like, were tossed out by day 2. Everyone was just really nice and wanted to have a good time. From the daily tea dances on the outdoor deck to the evening piano bar entertainment to the sports deck activities to the fitness instructors onboard, to the bartender’s daily specials to the empty spaces providing that sometimes needed solitudethe ship had options for everyone.
During our trip, our ports were incredible. I had been to half of them before, so I was looking forward to exploring and expanding beyond what most were there to see. Each cruise offers optional paid excursions at each port, and although they all looked pretty great, I opted to solo adventure each day. Although my anxiety had subsided, I did appreciate having time to myself to just do my own thing, and wellhave some one-day romances with locals I met along the way. Many times I would run into shipmates and we’d share a gelato (my vice while in Italy) or a bottle of rosé (my vice every day of my life).
In the end, although I basically didn’t know anyone but a few when I boarded the ship, by the time it was time to depart, I had made some truly great new friends. We celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, an engagement, and life itself.
As someone who never really considered himself as a gay cruise type of guy, I think I’ve been converted. I’m not sure the larger ships with thousands of men on them are for me (just yet), but I’m looking forward to reuniting with familiar faces on my next Source Cruise.Greek Islands in August 2018, anyone?
“I Went To A Gay Bar Last Night For The First Time”
You remember your first gay bar, right? That feeling of elation mixed with fear rushing over you as you walked in and found other members of your tribe.
A member of Reddit’s LBGT subreddit recently shared that he made his virgin pilgrimage to a gay bar the other day.
“I came out to myself shortly after leaving the Mormon Church last year,” posted Memahselfni. “I guess I’d been gay my whole life but was in huge denial over it until I left my religion and realized I felt nothing for the girl I had been with.”
Learning there were some gay clubs a few towns over, he decided to take the plunge one night.
It was like stepping into a sanctuary among people who finally felt as I did and weren’t going to insult me for feeling how I do.
I ended up having a conversation for hours with a couple, sipping jack and Coke, about how I came to know I was gay, their coming out stories, and hearing from them that I was going to be just fine and that the sky is the limit.
They told me about all of the events and activities that the LGBT community does near me—that was one of the best parts of the night, knowing that I’m not on my own as a gay man.
Memahselfni admits he initially felt uncomfortable, but soon realized “this was a place where I could be myself [and] I opened up and embraced my sexual identity. And I felt free and honest again!”
After getting bear hugs and kisses from his new friends, he went home “feeling on top of the world.”
The responses to his story were equally touching, with some coming from other gay ex-Mormons.
“So many of us have lived that story but it’s still nice to hear once again,” wrote one redditor. “My recollections of my first time at the gay bars remain vivid to this day tho it was so long ago. The feeling of liberation, of spreading wings is almost palpable.”
“Gay bars are like an embassy for gays anywhere,” added another. “Wherever you are, the gay bar will be you safe zone.”
“Congrats to coming out, and being yourself,” responded a fellow ex-Mormon. “Like you, I couldn’t accept my sexual orientation until I left the church, and after coming out to myself and others, things started to improve quickly.
It’s going on five years now, and I have been able to do a lot in my 30s that I never could allow myself to do or be in my 20s. I remember my first Pride and how emotional it was for me. It was just after marriage equality was voted on in Washington, and Seattle was just so filled with excitement.
Just as you are finding, it is great to find spaces that you can feel comfortable and fully be yourself at. Now I’m happily married to my husband, and amazed to see how much support I had along the way from others who used to be staunchly LDS.”
How to Become Popular at a Gay Bar
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The wild and wonderful world of gay bars is out there for you to discover! No matter if you are gay, bisexual, transgender, straight or anything else. Whatever your gender identity or sexually you can become popular at a gay bar.
The First Time I Went to a Lesbian Bar in North Carolina
The First Time I Went to a Lesbian Bar in North Carolina
This Advocate editor’s memory of her college town has changed after the state passed its infamous anti-LGBT law.
The door was marked “Private Club,” but my friend assured me it allowed outsiders.
I didn’t notice the sign when I first walked by it; the words and the building were inconspicuous. I passed the square brick building on my way to downtown Greensboro one day, walking alongside my friend Alyzza, who — at the time — was one of the only friends I’d come out to in the days before I graduated from college.
On this May day, I, a baby dyke, was walking with Alyzza when I first noticed the exclusive sign on the window at Time Out Saloon.
I’d never seen a bar with a sign like this before, but my friend said she heard tell that many gay bars in the South were „members only“ to ward off any potential discrimination or violence; a way for the community to protect itself. I know the threat to LGBT people in North Carolina is heightened, possibly more than it’s ever been, at the moment.
Despite the club being „members only,“ Alyzza told me should could get us in, because she had roller derby friends who served as her connection. I had graduated from college the week before, and Alyzza suggested we check out Time Out before I left town. I remember focusing my attention on the cable lines overhead, trying to look away from her. It was easier to look at anything else than to hear her acknowledge my gayness out loud.
Despite my discomfort, I knew I wanted to explore what was behind the door. I wasn’t ready to admit that to my friend. I changed the subject as fast as I could and we continued walking.
Days later, we walked by the bar again, and I couldn’t knock the idea of the place out of my head. As a challenge to myself, I spontaneously suggested having my going-away party at Time Out. I was excited by the possibility of having my send-off from Greensboro, the college town I’d called home for the past four years, at a lesbian bar, of all places.
On the night of my party, I remember how excited I was walking with a gang of friends the few short blocks from Alyzza’s house to Time Out. Having a crew joining me in this adventure lessened the fear I was carrying, though my friends presumably had no idea how significant the night was for me.
None of them except Alyzza knew that I was gay, and I wasn’t ready to tell anyone. I invited a couple of other friends who were still in town after graduation — without saying anything in my texts that might suggest we were meeting at a gay bar.
I remember one of my friends meeting us there, looking around at the pride flags, and asking with an awkward laugh, “Is this a … ?” without saying the word.
I nervously handed my Arizona I.D. to the bouncer, even though I was old enough to get in. I was sure that they would look at me funny for going into a place like this or remember my name. A wave of paranoia filled my mind, in the way only a closeted person can experience: You are constantly fearful that somehow, some random person who knows nothing about you — except this one, crucial secret — is going to out you to the world.
I entered Time Out with this mostly straight group of friends, and not a single queer woman in the bar batted an eye. As far as I could tell, no one ever considered denying them service.
When we went inside, there was a small group of older, butch lesbians playing pool under the dim lights at the back of the bar. I remember gazing at them, thinking, Could that be me someday? My friends and I sat on one side of the bar, and the other women eventually sat on the other side after their game ended. I wanted to engage with them, and, thankfully, we all came together to sing karaoke: me and my oddball friends and these women who we never saw again.
That night was my first time at a lesbian bar, and it was the last night I spent in Greensboro. I remember it as one of those magical, care-free, unforgettable nights. I sang a duet of „No Scrubs“ with Alyzza and another friend of ours, and we drank Time Out’s special cocktail, „Pussy Control.“ We butchered innumerable ’90s and early ’00s classics.
I don’t remember many specific points of conversation that night; I was inside my head most of the time, thinking about how significant it was for me to be in a queer space designated especially for women. My family had left town only days before, and I kept thinking about what they would think if they knew where I was. It was a pivotal moment as I transitioned from one chapter to the next, still unsure of what the future held.
But this story may have ended very differently if I’d first ventured into that cute dive bar this year, after North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a sweeping anti-LGBT bill.
I wish I could remember Greensboro as it existed in my memory, but since the state passed House Bill 2, it’s changed the way I look at North Carolina. Knowing that the governor made it legal for anyone to deny service to LGBT people, like me, simply because of my sexuality, has stained my once-fond memories of the place where I attended college.
Since HB 2, I’ve realized how important it is for LGBT people to have safe spaces, now more than ever. Bars are not the ultimate cultural gathering space for any community, but places like Time Out are important because they allow queers to show up without fear of being denied service because one of us might be trans or because one of us might be gender-nonconforming or because one of us might not „pass.“
Since I moved away in 2012, Time Out Saloon, like so many other lesbian bars nationwide, has met its demise. The building was leveled to make room for high-end residential and commercial development in downtown Greensboro.
Growing up Mexican-American in Arizona, I know how it feels to come of age with a discriminatory bill looming in the political background, which outsiders are often all too eager to consider representative of the whole state. My political consciousness will forever be tied to my home state’s infamous „Show Me Your Papers“ law, Senate Bill 1070.
Those questions of, “Wow, what’s it like growing up in Arizona … as a Latina?” continue to follow me, years after SB 1070 passed. I honestly can’t remember the last time I told someone that I was from Arizona and they didn’t say, „Wow what a beautiful place,“ only to follow that with, „Is it really as racist as everyone says?“
I worry that this is the kind of burden North Carolina can expect to carry into the future. One of my college friends, who is now a high school teacher in Maryland, recently mentioned that she has a gender-nonconforming student who she thinks would be a perfect candidate for our alma mater, Guilford College. But she is afraid to recommend it, given the targeting of trans and gender-nonconforming people by HB 2.
I understand her concern. I relate to her student. I didn’t join my college’s LGBT pride club out of fear that people would assume I was gay and judge me for it. In hindsight, I’m sure the latter wouldn’t have happened, and it probably would have benefited me to be around other queer people. But I felt this kind of paralyzing fear even without state-sanctioned discrimination looming over my head and dominating news coverage of my college home.
I can’t help but wonder what young queer people in North Carolina are experiencing today. Even from across the country, I feel like I need to be on alert, if I travel back to the state, in case I „look gay“ — whatever that means.
Young people, like the one my teacher friend mentioned, who are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, are told in no uncertain terms that they shouldn’t embrace their authentic selves out of fear that it might offend someone’s „religious beliefs.“
I know I am lucky not to be forced to imagine the threat of having to calculate whether my movements, my behavior, the way I look, might „offend“ someone and prompt them to deny me service. But that is not a right that should be afforded to me simply because I live in California.
Looking at North Carolina on the news, four years after I graduated from college, I don’t recognize the state I see on TV.
YEZMIN VILLARREAL is The Advocate’s news editor. Follow her on Twitter @YezYes
The 50 Greatest Gay Bars in the World
There’s a first time for everything, but the first visit to a gay bar occupies an entire place of its own.
There’s a first time for everything, but the first visit to a gay bar occupies an entire place of its own. For many of us, it’s hard to describe that strange, stomach-churning combination of trepidation and expectation, a sense that here is a place where you can drop any pretense, study the go-go boys with abandon, shimmy to Cher, and blow kisses at the drag queen vamping on the stage. We talk a lot about how times have changed, but the gay bar remains a staple of gay life’a lifeline for many of us, an old friend for the rest. There’s no such thing as a definitive list of anything, but that hasn’t stopped us from scouring the world to find 50 bars with all the right qualities to make you feel at home.
USAATLANTAMARY’STheme nights range from outrageous to downright unsavory: Hanky Code Party, No Pants Dance, and MondoHomo, to name a few. Attention-whore hipsters compete with rowdy lesbians and off-duty DJs for space on the miniature dance floor. On karaoke night the pocket-size emcee channels Motown divas. Go ahead’try to leave before last call.(404) 624-4411
There’s something about watching two Marlboro men two-stepping to ‚Cotton-Eye Joe‘ that does the soul good. Nothing is ironic about this scene. Throw on your old Wranglers and cowboy boots, order a domestic beer, and leave your pretensions at the door. Hoedowns is a Brokeback fantasy come true.(404) 876-0001
A little nip/tuck classed up Oil Can Harry’s faster than jail did Paris Hilton, but this 17-years-and-running institution hasn’t lost its edge. DJs spin quirky, creative sets (Rihanna segueing to Ultra Nat‘ to Robyn) while pretty people swig Cosmopolitans, cowboys play pool, and University of Texas students go wild. (512) 320-8823
EMERALD CLUBThe oldest gay bar in Boise attracts a mixed-gender crowd ranging from buffed-and-shined college kids to older couples in matching Western garb. The pool tables give way to a dance floor and a stage, where weekly drag contests are held. Emerald’s Saturday night parties are packed with pretty young things kicking it to a soundtrack just a few years behind Chelsea. (208) 342-5446
CHICAGO, ILROSCOE’SGays from all over the country flock to this popular but low-key Boystown favorite, where the music is unabashedly bouncy. If you’re in town for a weekend and want a taste of Midwestern man-candy, Roscoe’s is the place to find the barrel-chested white boy you’ve always dreamed of corrupting. (773) 281-3355
CINCINNATI, OHADONISCheck out the cabaret, the drag, the deep house’there’s room for everything in this sprawling club east of downtown Cincinnati. While Adonis boasts that trademark Midwestern friendliness, you’ll also find plenty of heat, especially on summer Sundays, which draw scantily clad men from throughout the region wholike lounging around the swimming pool. (513) 871-1542
COLUMBUS, OHUNION BAR + FOODUnion’s new classy location and increasingly mixed crowd (tourists, straights) still has some locals grumbling, but crowds flock to see the video and comedy montages (especially Showtunes Sundays) and to share crab cakes and chocolate martinis. Looks like Parker Posey was wrong’Union is your best bet to put the ‚Oh‘ in ‚Ohio.‘ (614) 421-2233
GUN BARREL, TXFRIENDSA rainbow-painted wooden flag hangs defiantly on the outside of small-town Texas’s friendliest bar, where more money is raised for charity than for renovations and the fish tank is filled with local well water. While the bar is small, everything else is big, especially the community pride, the fund-raiser musicals, and the drag queens‘ hair. (903) 887-2061
LEXINGTON, KYTHE BAR COMPLEXThe gay crown jewel of historic downtown Lexington, this converted speakeasy radiates faded glamour and genteel manners with its three bars, huge upstairs dance floor, and plenty of dark nooks to enjoy gentleman callers or a mint julep. Bonus: When a Kentucky boy asks for your number, he always says please. (859) 255-1551
LOS ANGELES, CAAKBARPerhaps the social epicenter of hard-partying Alterna-Wood, Akbar is the go-to spot in the middle of Los Angeles’s antigloss neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, and Echo Park. The stuck-up attitude of the Westside just isn’t tolerated here, and the haven that the place represents from all that West Hollywood phoniness gives the place its ample charge. Great indie music on the jukebox, stiff drinks, hot guys, good times. Gay guys, women, and straight dudes pack the joint nightly, and the bar has expanded into a full-fledged dance club on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. When Dirty Dirty House Club takes off on Thursdays, the crowd gets pretty diverse’the more racially mixed vibe is a welcome change in the often-segregated L.A. nightscape. (323) 655-6810
THE ABBEYA perennial ‚Best of L.A.‘ champ, this over 16,000-square-foot party place attracts celebs aplenty (mostly queers and straight lassies, but occasionally a famous straight lad). Famous for creative cocktails (mmm, creamsicle!) and the perfect patio, this is where many a gay Angeleno brings his or her out-of-town pals to see’and experience’the heart of WeHo.(310) 289-8410
MIAMI BEACH, FLTHE RALEIGH HOTEL*Miami Beach hotels boast the finest in poolside partying, and nothing tops the Raleigh. Its distinctively designed art deco pool and adorable cabana bar were the setting of several Esther Williams movies and draw an incredibly attractive mix of locals and visitors. The Raleigh’s Sunday Soiree pool party (noon-10 p.m.) is an especially popular place to slurp copious amounts of hangover-battling bloodies.(305) 534-6300)
NEW HAVEN, CTGOTHAM CITISouthern Connecticut’s biggest gay destination draws a widespread crowd to its three sleek floors of dancing and debauchery. From Yale and Wesleyan undergrads to Bridgeport riffraff, the crowd at Gotham Citi is looking to branch out and hook up. Find a friend early, because after hours the basement turns into a hard-core goth playground with thumping house and gloomy performance art’unless you’re into that.(203) 498-2484
NEW YORK, NYTHERAPYAfter a long week in the big city, a drink at a sexy club in the heart of the new gay village (Hell’s Kitchen) is therapeutic. The centerpiece of this chic, brick-and-wood bi-level club is the staircase, a virtual runway that leads to the lounge, which features cabaret, comedy, karaoke, and a comfort-food bar.(212) 397-1700)
CUBBY HOLENotorious for decor that looks like a party supply store turned upside down and shaken out, the Cubby Hole is a closet-size West Village lesbian mainstay. The bar draws neighborhood professionals for a well-priced happy hour and a mixed crowd for nightly drink specials and a jukebox heavy on current pop favorites and lesbian standards vvfrom k.d. lang and Melissa Etheridge. The bar’s leave-a-drink-for-a-friend board offers the bashful an easy way to make a move on a regular.(212) 243-9041
HKWhile Friday night theatergoers are hitting the barricades nearby’well, after the long shows’the toned and tightly T-shirted are literally rubbing up against one another (sometimes a busy room is a good thing) to get to the bar and the gorgeous upper-level lounge under the huge retractable roof. Don’t eat too much garlic at the attached restaurant if you plan to sweet-talk a cutie at the bar.(212) 947-4028
SPLASHPredictable, yes. But reliable too. Manhattan’s ever-busy gay staple shows no sign of flagging, and though you really may not care for Musical Mondays, this two-floor Chelsea staple has something for everyone’especially when you’re wasted and not too fussy. Happy hour fans sing karaoke and swill cheap cocktails served by pec-heavy, underwear-clad bartenders, while young nightlife lovers revel in trancey Top 40 remixes until the wee hours.(212) 691-0073
OAKLAND, CAWHITE HORSE INNCome for the party carpet’featuring stars and rainbows that glow in the black light’and stay for the karaoke (the winner of the East Bay Idol contest takes home a cool grand) at ‚the Ho,‘ an East Bay institution that’s one of the country’s oldest gay bars. The Ho’s comfy, campy aesthetic provides a welcome respite from the high-gloss bars across the bay in the Castro. (510) 652-3820
PHILADELPHIA, PAWOODY’S BARThe City of Brotherly Love’s best gay bar is arguably its skankiest. Woody’s slutty bartenders sling flavored Stolis in plastic cups to barely legal students and lifer townies. Wednesday college nights are the best, when the bar’s (inexplicably) carpeted floors are packed with kids from U. Penn., Drexel, and Thomas Jefferson University. (215) 545-1893
PHOENIX, AZKARAMBADefinitely the best Latin club in the area, Karamba makes a point of embracing elements of Latin American culture beyond Mexico. Friendly and colorful, it’s the kind of place where you’re as likely to run into a papi chulo as you are a Celia Cruz look-alike. “Az’car!‘ anyone? (602) 254-0231
SANTA FE, NMSILVER STARLIGHT LOUNGE AND CABARETYes, this is a bar in the RainbowVision gay retirement home’er, ‚condominium, independent and assisted living community“but the Starlight offers the best damn pomegranate margarita (made by Mike) you’re ever going to have.(505) 428-7777
SEATTLE, WARE-BAROff the beaten path in the Belltown neighborhood, Re-Bar is full of surprises. Patrons compete in spelling bees, play bingo, or have video game tournaments, but the biggest events take place on Re-Bar’s stage, ranging from comedy to Shakespeare to drag shows to a cappella performances’it’slike being in college on speed. On Saturday night the DJs play pop and hip-hop are the major draw. (206) 233-9873
WASHINGTON, D. DINER (pictured) D.C.’s gay A-list assembles at this tchotchke temple every Thursday night to gawk and squawk. Though the lobbyists and Supreme Court clerks that gather there are a highly compensated bunch, it seems like no one pays to play, since they’ve all slept with the hunky bartenders. Don’t miss the naughty bathrooms, where postcards of gay resorts and Madonna propaganda serve as wallpaper. (202) 265-7828
CANADATORONTOREMINGTON’SDrinks? Nah’it’s all about two floors of more than 80 hot male exotic dancers (completely nekkid, BTW) go-go dancing and grinding, and if one tickles your’ahem’fancy, it’s lap-dance time! ‚Nuff said, eh? The Canuck male stripper overload almost makes us forgive Canada for unleashing C’line Dion. Almost. (416) 977-2160
COSTA RICAQUEPOSARCO IRISJust north of Quepos on the west coast of Costa Rica, Arco Iris (‚rainbow‘ in Spanish) has long been a gay enclave. There are plenty of gay or gay-friendly guesthouses and restaurants, and the gay nude beach is a hot spot during the day with Euros, Canadians, and Americans as well as Costa Ricans. When the other more touristy bars close at midnight or 1, the disco at Arco Iris starts jumping and doesn’t stop until 5, attracting locals and only the more adventurous visitors. Anything goes in this down-home, decidedly rustic dance club, where men and women, gays and straights, professionals and prostitutes, and Costa Ricans and Ticos alike mix and mingle, and language is no barrier to the business at hand. It’s the melting pot of Quepos’it’s like New York City on the beach. No number available.
MEXICOMEXICO CITYCLUB LIVINGThe grand facade of this colonial-style church belies the sensory overload that waits inside. A Br’er Rabbit impersonator serves watermelon slices, a laser light show illuminates the spectacular go-go boys on stilts, and a m’lange of high-energy beats emanates from the many nooks and crannies in this multilevel party kingdom. Fridays and Saturdays boast a raw dance party reminiscent of New York’s Limelight complete with an all-star lineup of DJs (Offer Nissim, Peter Rauhofer). An in-house bodega serves up hot tacos and lavish fruit cocktails, and siesta rooms are available for the faint-hearted. 011 52 483 528 60671
ARGENTINABUENOS AIRESCLUB 69 AT THE ROXYHeld every Thursday at the Roxy, Club 69 reeks of rabbit-hole mischief, where burlesque meets ninja turtles, and trannies and showgirls show off. Performances include break-dancers, trapeze artists, and magic shows, and electro-infused beats tickle the ears of the straight, gay, and straight-up pijos in the crowd.011 54 11 47 79 9396
CZECH REPUBLICPRAGUESTELLA CLUBMaybe the last gay bar in Prague that still has a buzzer. This minor irritation is quickly forgotten once you step inside (you’ll be reminded when you have to leave and the door won’t open). Intimate basement, youngish crowd, few tourists. Never uncomfortably full or uncomfortably empty.011 42 224 257 869
FRANCEPARISOKAWAThe French are not known for their friendliness, but Okawa is charming and cozy, with staff who will go out of their way to engage you. Okawa stands out on Rue Vielle-du-Temple, a street punctuated with the gay bars of the Marais, the gayest part of gay Paris. It’s mixed and relaxed, with a fair standard of food and a varied clientele of locals and tourists.011 33 (01) 48 04 30 69
LE RAIDDLe Raidd is an enduring favorite in the cruisy Marais district. Its most famous feature is the Plexiglas shower stall above the DJ booth, where naked boys rhythmically rinse all night long. A good evening starts during happy hour in the streetside patio and ends downstairs on a couch in thedark lounge with a new Parisian friend. No number available.
L’INSOLITELike a French speakeasy, this hush-hush place requires skill to find, but is worth it once you get there, if only because the crowd is so decidedly unanything (not queeny, beefy, or hipster), except hot. Although not particularly fashionable, it’s always crowded in a good way, with lots of nooks for snogging. 011 33 (0) 140 209 859
LE QUEENOui, you’ll probably end up shelling out a thick wad of euros at this heaving Paris megaclub, situated on the superchic Champs-Elys’es. But once you get inside’and we suggest arriving very, very late’you’ll be greeted by bouncing fashionistas, muscular strippers, and, of course, sashaying drag queens. Resident DJs include heavyweights like Paul Van Dyk and Deep Dish, and the fete rages on until 6 or 7 A.M.011 33 (0) 892 707 330
GERMANYBERLINPANORAMA BAR/BERGHAINOn approach, the lights from the shuttered windows of this former power station are blinding, but an enormous Ferris wheel inside sets the stage for Berghain, the ultimate ringmaster’s den of iniquity: myriad caves, dens, dance floors, locker rooms, and bathtubs. Panorama Bar, a world-class dance club with an unrivaled lineup of international DJs, occupies the upper level. 011 33 (01) 40 20 98 59.
TOM’S BARThe crowd is young, rugged (think T-shirts, flannel, and leather), and ‚ber-naughty at Berlin’s classic gay den. It’s so notorious that a German tabloid reported the city’s flamboyant mayor, Klaus Wowereit, knew the exact date the doors of its dark, shadowy back room opened. (He couldn’t, however, recall the year World War II ended.) 011 49 30 2134570
PORTUGALLISBONS’TIMO C’UNo European neighborhood embodies decayed decadence like Lisbon’s Bairro Alto’so it’s no surprise that the seaport’s most fabulous gay bar is nestled among its cobbled hills. Packed on the weekend with dark-haired Portuguese demigods, the old-school hangout is best on weeknights just before a long evening stumbling around town.011 351 21 346 6471
SPAINBARCELONAAXEL SKY BAR (pictured)Perched atop the Hotel Axel, which bills itself as homo-friendly, Sky Bar commands stunning views over the Catalan city, and it’s also handily situated by the hotel’s pool and Jacuzzi. The bar hosts a party every year to welcome the start of the summer, and although it has begun to show a bit of wear and tear, it’s still a hot place to cool down under the Spanish sun. Located in the Eixample, the heart of the gay quarter of Barcelona, Sky Bar is perfect for kicking off an evening or hanging out all night. 011 34 933239393
MADRIDMUSEO CHICOTEKeep your eye on the back booth at this Franco-era speakeasy on Madrid’s pulsing Gran Via’director Pedro Almod’var and his posse hang out here. Anyone fashionable is welcome among the mostly gay crowd here, where handsome bartenders can hand-crack ice for your mojito or serve you at your art deco banquette.011 34 915 326 737
TURKEYISTANBULBAR BAH’EThis cozy tavern is tucked away in a quaint alley in the bohemian Cihangir neighborhood. During the week it’s perfect for intimate t’te-‚-t’tes, though once Friday rolls around, bartenders shower the bar top with whiskey and set it afire to the delight of a mixed crowd of Turks and tourists’guys, girls, trannies’who usually get caught up in sing-alongs to golden oldies and international hits. 011 90 212 243 2879
UNITED KINGDOMGLASGOWTHE POLO LOUNGEGlasgow’like its sister city Edinburgh’has a small gay scene in proportion to its size. This is because its bars overall tend to be mixed. Of the five or six gay bars or clubs in the city, the Polo is probably the most popular, catering to an upmarket crowd’or at least as upmarket as Glasgow gets. Polo is stylish downstairs, with a warren of dance floors and seating areas. 011 44 141 553 1221
LONDONTHE JOINERS ARMSThis traditional East End boozer was once a haven only for scally gays from the housing estates that surround it, but the gentrification of Shoreditch has brought in a new clientele. Club kids and fashionistas, who frequent nearby bars and clubs such as Boombox or the George & Dragon, now drink alongside a mix of rougher, readier, and quite possibly sexier customers, whose outfit of choice often consists of tracksuit bottoms and Reeboks’and not much else. Busy enough during the week, Joiners is packed on weekends.011 44 070 90 422 729
ROYAL VAUXHALL TAVERNThere has been a pub on the site of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern since 1893. It was erected on the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, one of the most decadent cruising grounds in the Victorian era. Even then it was a focus for performance, camp, and drag’which remain central to the pub to this day. From its cabaret and comedy nights through its bingo and live-music evenings to its legendary Saturday night event Duckie to the last defiant gasp of the weekend on Sunday, the RVT is an institution attracting a wide range of gay locals and visitors from across London and beyond.011 44 020 77 374 043
WORKINGTONTHE STEAM PACKETThe only gay bar in the Lake District, the Steam Packet (known, affectionately we assume, as the Fag Packet) is a truly bizarre place in unlovely Workington. Here the trannies do cabaret dressed as Nazi frauleins, snort Ovaltine like cocaine, and spit it into the audience’s hair. Gay-loving straight boys invade for last call and throw the trannies around like large, fluffy cushions. On the night we were there, they tried to give a young wide-eyed boy a Lambrini enema. It’s surreal in a way that would make Gilbert and George puke with envy. The proprietors will also helpfully put you up in a gay B&B in the middle of a nearby housing project . The opposite of every metropolitan try-hard cabaret bar you ever visited, this place is Weimar Berlin with cling-wrap ham butties. 011 44 19 006 2186
ASIA + PACIFICAUSTRALIASYDNEYTHE IMPERIAL HOTELFrom the outside, the mauve (ochre?) building looks blah, but walk in and discover a thriving icon of gay Australia. Nestled in the Sydney suburbs is the three-bar Imperial Hotel, which is home to a mixed community of gays and lesbians (together at last). Intricate vintage fixtures sprout dusty rainbow flags, and 1980s videos play from 12-inch TV sets. A restoration is under way, but right now the Imperial is a faded beauty queen reliving her prime. There’s zero attitude but a ton of frills. The final scenes from The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert were shot at the Imperial, and drag legend Mitzi Macintosh has been reenacting them here ever since. If not Priscilla, she’ll do The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And her show’s free before midnight.011 61 (0)2 9519 9899
NEPALKATHMANDUFUSION BAR ATDWARIKA’S HOTEL*An unassuming valet stands guard outside a small door on one of Kathmandu’s busiest streets, but just beyond the door lies Dwarika’s Hotel, a cluster of the most painstakingly handcrafted terra-cotta- and wood-adorned buildings in the city. Poolside at the two-level bar is the best spot for evening cocktails and live music. The crowd, though mostly straight, is almost exclusively expat, so if there’s a well-heeled homo traveling through Kathmandu at the same time you are, chances are he’ll swing through here. 011 977 1447 3725
THAILANDBANGKOKDJ STATIONOne night in Bangkok? Then the oyster is at the end of a gay alleyway just around the corner from the notorious pussy shows of Patpong. Tourists, expats, and locals all converge on DJ Station. Admission is the price of a drink, and you get a drink ticket with admission. That’s justice. The music blares, the space consists of three levels of industrial metallic, and the dance floor is always in full swing. Thai boys have the taste for a new face even when it’s an old face. At DJ Station fresh meat is ageless, and there’s so much body contact on the dance floor, one wonders if the sexy locals are looking to dance, find love, or pick a pocket. Probably all those things, but who cares? It’s Bangkok. 011 66 (02) 433 4029
a dark and gritty alley in Patpong, look for a brightly illuminated sign spelling out G.O.D. (Guys on Display). On one night around 3 A.M., this three-level club packed with stages, cages, and zebra-patterned couches was almost empty save for Coco, a dazzling transsexual parading around the bar. G.O.D.’s notorious drag shows don’t really get going until after 5 A.M. but continue into the late hours of the morning. No number available.
VERTIGO ATBANYAN TREE* (pictured)Situated 61 floors above the bustling streets of Bangkok, Vertigo restaurant’s Moon Bar is the highest outdoor bar in the Asia-Pacific region. Settle in for stunning views, sumptuous cocktails, or an unexpectedly inventive barbecue menu. Don’t let the setting sun distract you from finding visiting corporate executives flashing black Amex cards and suggestive smiles.011 662 679 1200
VIETNAM HANOIGC BARIn Hanoi’s French Quarter the solid-oak bar at GC (Golden Cock) greets you from the street while a huge pool table dominates a back room full of expats, transvestites, and hairless Hanoi hipsters. Farther back is a lovely open-air garden. A word of caution: GC not only closes early but is also often raided by local police’even if at last visit they seemed more interested in the pool stick’straddling transvestites than in pimping bribes.011 84 4 825 0499
HO CHI MINH CITY APOCALYPSE NOWOne of the oldest clubs in the former Saigon, AN is the unofficial after-hours spot in the city. Amiable pimps and local prostitutes shoot pool as hordes of foreigners drink tequila and party until dawn. The best night for those looking for action is Tuesday. 011 84 8 825 6124
AND FINALLYYOUR LOCAL BARNaturally, the only bar that really counts is the bar you like to spend your time in. Go to and give us a description of your favorite local watering hole. Does it have a kickass jukebox? The best bargain beer bust? The sexiest bartender? We’ll print the best ones in the January issue of Out. n
Matthew Breen, Emily Drabinski, Aaron Hicklin, Jimmy Hilburn, Bill Keith, Jason Lamphier, Bruce Mason, Gareth McLean, Jonathan Riggs, Christopher Rovzar, and Jason Rowan contributed to this article.
12 Bars That Made San Francisco Gay, In Chronological Order
These bars helped shape and harden San Francisco’s gay identity.
We don’t give gay bars the respect they deserve. After several prominent bars in San Francisco started shuttering — victims of Manhunt and Grindr and time — I started mapping a city’s worth of shuttered gay bars. The project, part of the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History, shows a lost world of piano bars and bathhouses, butch-femme discos and beachside hustlers.
I was struck by how many of the battles we fought — and won — started in these bars, and how often bars served as a launching pad for our claims, places where activities became an identity. They may not have the respectability of PAC or a the picket fence, but bars were often at the frontlines of our struggles. Below are some seminal SF bars that not only helped turn a city queer, but helped launch a revolution. Cheers, queers.
The Dash (1908), 547 Pacific:San Francisco may have had gay bars before the The Dash, but none were as notorious. The bar featured cross-dressing waiters who would perform sex acts in nearby booths for a $1, a huge sum back in those days. It was shut down by the vice squad almost as soon as it opened, after a high-profile judge was linked to bar, leading to a reform movement that helped shut down the infamously sexually liberal Barbary Coast district.
Finocchio’s (1936), 506 Broadway:The drag show at Finocchio’s was more of a tourist draw than an honest-to-goodness gay club, but it helped bring gay culture — and drag culture — into the mainstream spotlight. Even mega-star Bob Hope popped in to see what was up at Finocchio’s.
Mona’s (1939), 440 Broadway:Capitalizing on the success of female impersonation clubs like Finocchio’s, Mona Sargent opened a club where „Girls Will Be Boys,“ thus establishing the city’s first lesbian club, and a trend: lesbian bars soon began popping up around North Beach.
The Black Cat (1951), 710 Montgomery:“There’s nothing wrong with being gay — the crime is getting caught!“ So said Jose Sarria, a waiter in drag who sang arias as he served hot dishes. I951, after two years of police harassment, owner Sol Stouman took the police to the California Supreme Court, and argued that a bar could not be shut down just because gay men congregated there. He prevailed, providing sustenance to the growing homophile movement.
The Handle Bar (1960), California and Hyde:Until 1960, most gay bars were expected to pay bribes to police officers for ‚protection‘ from raids. But in 1960, the „gay-ola“ scandal exposing such bribes became a media sensation, and began a discussion about the rights of gays to equal protections under the law.
Suzy Q (1962), Polk St.:In response to police harassment, San Francisco bar owners formed the Tavern Guild — the first gay business association in the United States — at the Suzy-Q bar on Polk Street. Members set up a phone-tree to warn each other of impending raids, set up relief funds and raised money for homophile groups like the Daughters of Bilitis, the Mattachine Society and the ACLU.
Why Not? (1962), 517 Ellis:Located in the Tenderloin District, Why Not? was San Francisco’s first leather bar and served a clientele fresh from the rough, hierarchical, all-male world of the military. Though it closed six months after it opened — owner Tony Taverossi propositioned a member of the vice squad — it’s success inspired a new generation of rough trade bars, many of which opened up in industrial confines of the South of Market district.
The Tool Box (1962), 399 4th St.:In 1964, Life magazine featured a special report called „Homosexuality in America.“ One bar — a South of Market leather bar called The Tool Box — was front and center, and is seen at the top of the page. One of the first mainstream discussions of S&M, the article established San Francisco in the minds of middle America (and millions of gay men) as a place of sexual diversity and tolerance. The Tool Box is now a Whole Foods.
The Stud (1966), 1535 Folsom St.:The Stud helped incubate San Francisco’s gay hippie movement — even Janis Joplin would come when she was in town — and provided an alternative to sweater queens and hustlers. John Waters frequented it during his time in the city in the late 60s and wondered how the bar made any money, since no one on acid drank.
Compton’s Cafeteria (1966), 101 Taylor:Not a bar per se, but one of the few places trans people could congregate. In 1966 — three years before Stonewall — a riot broke out after police accosted a patron. Windows were smashed, police were fought off for hours and a community showed its strength, providing a flashpoint for gay and trans organizing on the West Coast: In it’s wake a network of social, political and LGBT-centric medical groups coalesced.
Toad Hall (1971), 482 Castro:The original Toad Hall — a bar of the same name recently opened in a nearby space — is often credited with launching the Castro as a gay district. One of the first bars to eschew a jukebox in favor of a DJ, Toad Hall made the sleepy Eureka Valley a destination for gay men on the weekends, and soon business owners and homebuyers saw the potential for a real neighborhood where gays could live openly.
Twin Peaks Tavern (1972), 401 Castro:Prior to Twin Peaks, gay bars were secretive affairs with either black-out windows or no windows at all. In 1972, the owners made history by stripping the blacked out windows and revealed clear plate glass — announcing to the world that patrons inside weren’t the least bit ashamed of what they were doing there.
Mike Stabile is a journalist and filmmaker living in Los Angeles. His current project, ‚Seed Money,‘ is a documentary of Falcon Studios founder and San Francisco philanthropist Chuck can follow him on Twitter @mikestabile. He’s also been featured in our pages before.
EastEnders to introduce first gay bar to Albert Square
Senior executive producer Kate Oates wants soap to better reflect London’s diversity
Albert Square could soon have an alternative nightspot to the Queen Vic after EastEnders announced plans for the soap’s first gay bar.
More than three decades after the show became the first to feature a homosexual kiss on primetime television, EastEnders’ senior executive producer said she wants it to do a better job at reflecting London’s diversity.
Kate Oates, who recently joined from Coronation Street, said: “I am …really interested in bringing some more LGBTQ characters in, and maybe we will have a new precinct for them as well.
“We are looking at opening a gay bar on the square, which will be a super-cool precinct where gay and straight characters can all just hang out and loads of stories can cross and should just be something really exciting, really fun, really visual and feel really true to multicultural London.
“Hopefully that will be something exciting for the next year.”
The storyline is likely to prove far less controversial than the first gay kiss, in 1987, between Colin Russell – played by Michael Cashman, now a Labour peer – and Barry Clark (Gary Hailes). The kiss was a peck by Clark on the forehead of Russell and it was another two years before the first mouth-to-mouth kiss, featuring Russell and Guido Smith, played by Nicholas Donovan, but both scenes were criticised at the time.
The Sun called the soap “EastBenders” after the latter kiss and fumed about “a homosexual love scene between yuppie poofs … when millions of children were watching”. Questions were asked in parliament about the appropriateness of such scenes.
Oates has previously credited those kisses, plus the first pre-watershed lesbian kiss, between Anna Friel and Nicola Stephenson on Brookside in 1994, as helping to change society.
While times have changed, there were still more than 100 complaints when the show featured a kiss between Christian Clarke (John Partridge) and Lee Thompson (Carl Ferguson) in 2008.
Oates discussed the prospect of a gay bar in a video on Twitter, responding to viewers’ questions. She said the show was committed to championing diversity by having a cast list that reflected “multicultural London”. To that end, she also announced there would be two new characters in the Ahmed family, Habiba and Iqra, plus the return of another BAME character, Mitch Baker, whose daughter Chantelle will also feature.
Oates was credited with introducing storylines about difficult issues when she was a producer at Coronation Street, including grooming and male rape. They proved controversial with some but helped the soap attain its highest ratings in years.
EastEnders’ New Year’s Eve episode featured Bernie Taylor (Clair Norris) telling her mother, Karen Taylor (Lorraine Stanley): “I think I’m in love … with a girl.”
Ironically, the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, and his “night tsar”, Amy Lamé, are battling the decline of LGBT bars in the capital.
It was reported last year that over the previous decade, London lost 58% of its LGBT venues as prime locations were snapped up by developers for regeneration, and people abandoned nights out for the convenience of Grindr, Tinder and other dating apps.
Pride of Amsterdam: city’s oldest gay bar celebrates survival
The orgies have gone, but bingo night still draws the crowds: how the Spijker bar has defied the decline of the city’s gay scene
Since those days, the Spijker has hardly changed. The small, dimly lit , with its blacked-out windows, red lights and erotic art, still has its vintage pool table at the back and an open fire. Spijker’s trademark twin TVs behind the bar – one showing porn, and one with cartoons (today it’s Snow White) – have been there since the 80s. Punters would sometimes do a double take, Wielinga remembers, when they recognised him in the onscreen action.
Upstairs, though, the voyeur mirrors around the urinals have gone and the famous dark room is now more of a cupboard – illustrating the bar’s shift from prime cruising spot to a place to meet friends.
The city beyond the bar echoes this change, with mass tourism now engulfing Amsterdam’s gay scene, and gay and straight visitors partying side by side. Since the late 90s, budget air travel has attracted stag parties and other young weekenders, drawn to the red light district and coffee shops, creating a lucrative market for property investors and squeezing the gay bars out.
Ted Scheele, 67, and her husband Pim, 78, have been coming to the bar since the 70s, when Spijker catered mainly to the leather crowd. “In the beginning, people came here and they did not tell the outside that they were gay. This [place] was very safe, very private,” she says. Today, it is the open friendliness of the bar that makes it special. “Many gay people bring their sisters, their brothers and even their mothers! Even with the videos, they don’t mind – they see actually what it is to be gay.”
When the Spijker opened on Amsterdam’s Kerkstraat in 1978, the area was bursting with gay bars and hotels, and the Leidsestraat – cutting through it and book-ended with gay discos – was nicknamed the “Rue de Vaseline”. Spijker was known for its most beautiful butt competition, in which the winner received a 100-guilder note between their bum cheeks. In 1983, when the bar came under the ownership of theatre enthusiast Raphael Brandow, it even opened its own 65-seat repertory theatre, staging experimental pieces as well as jolly musicals.
But the Spijker was hit hard by the advent of Aids in Amsterdam. “One by one, they dropped dead like dominoes,” remembers Pim. “There were times when there were [just] five people in the bar, standing there like skeletons in their leather pants.” Then a GP in the red light district, he estimates that between 1980 and 1986 his practice lost around 150 patients to the disease.
The epidemic demonstrated the importance of the Spijker community and brought its customers closer together. Under a new owner, New Yorker Tony Derosa, the Spijker responded to the Aids crisis and re-engaged a reeling community by organising safe-sex parties during which marshals would circulate carrying trays of condoms and making sure the house rules were observed.
“We were a family and it was a support system,” says Mancunian Paul Tarrant, 57, the Spijker’s current owner, who started at the bar as a cleaner and condom distributor in 1995. “In those days, people needed people to confide in.”
Today, the gay heartlands of the Kerkstraat, the Reguliersdwarsstraat and the red light district are struggling to survive. Since 2010, gay bars such as Argos, Bar Arc, Bump, Café April, Café Soho, Cockring and Havana – to name a few – have all shut up shop despite an action programme launched by the municipality in 2009 to re-establish Amsterdam as the gay capital of Europe. Bankruptcy is the biggest cause, but drugs busts and rent arrears have also forced closures. Now touristy bars, restaurants and karaoke joints serving a mixed crowd have taken their place.
Just one gay sauna remains, NZ, co-owned by New Zealander Richard Keldoulis, also the manager of Church cruise club. “We [the gay community] had 34 venues with dark rooms when I came here [in 1990],” he says. “Now we’re down to, I think, eight or seven.”
Amsterdam’s cruise bars never really recovered from the Aids epidemic, he says, which knocked out a whole generation of business people and tainted the sex industry. Cruising patterns have since changed and the sector has failed to adapt. “Gay business has stopped being inventive and new and fashionable … There’s a lot where you go in and they’re still playing Eurovision … I don’t think we’re giving people what they want.”
It’s a trend mirrored across the globe, with gay meccas such as New York and Tel Aviv all reporting a diminished gay scene. In Soho and Vauxhall, London’s vanishing gay villages, and in New York’s “gaybourhood” of Chelsea, gentrification and rent increases have made it hard for independent gay clubs to compete with the budgets of large property developers and their more profitable super-sized ventures. A once-thriving alternative scene has made way for luxury flats and a homogenised entertainment district.
Gay dating apps such as Grindr and Hornet have also made gay bars increasingly obsolete.
“In the 70s, 80s and 90s, you needed to get out of your house; you needed to go to a park or a bar or a discotheque,” says Wielinga. “I remember all those long nights, hunting men like crazy … With the apps, you can have sex with your neighbour.”
Tarrant believes emancipation is also a factor in the scene’s decline. His regulars tend to be over 40. “The younger gay people don’t need gay bars any more,” he says. “They have empowerment now.
“The typical 90s gay scene is changing,” agrees Janine Fluyt, spokesperson for Amsterdam Marketing, but says Amsterdam is still known as “the open, tolerant and inclusive city, where everyone is welcome”. Gay tourism is still thriving here, she says, but is now more about festivals such as Milkshake and Pride.
In this changing climate, the Spijker has done well to outlive so many of its competitors. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the bar will have its own boat in the canal parade on the 4 August, the highlight of Pride Amsterdam. This year the theme is “heroes”, and the Spijker crew will be commemorating the bar’s early days by dressing as gay icons of the 70s, including Tom of Finland, who once drank at the bar.
The orgies are no more. Now it’s bingo night, hosted each Saturday by drag act Miss Didi Licious, that draws the biggest crowd. The strength of the Spijker, says Tarrant, has really always been the social aspect rather than the cruise scene: “You can come in here on your own and you don’t know anybody and they’ll say, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ … It’s just so friendly.”
Little Jim’s, The First Gay Bar In Boystown, Closing For Good
Often described as the gay „Cheers,“ Little Jim’s opened in 1975 and was the first gay bar in Boystown and the second-oldest gay bar in Chicago.
BOYSTOWN — The oldest gay bar in Boystown is closing its doors for good Thursday night after 45 years in business.
Little Jim’s Tavern, 3501 N. Halsted St., is in negotiations to be sold to Howard Brown Health so the LGBTQ-affirming health center can build a new clinic that would double the capacity of its nearby center at 3245 N. Halsted St.
Often described as the gay Cheers, Little Jim’s opened in 1975 and was the first gay bar in Boystown and the second-oldest gay bar in Chicago. At the time, it had darkened windows to protect the safety of its customers, according to a Chicago Magazine feature on the tavern.
LGBTQ activist Rick Garcia said he’d visit Little Jim’s every night after moving to Chicago in the ‘80s.
“I had to be there,” Garcia said. “I was afraid in my youth that I’d miss something if I wasn’t there every night. It’s bittersweet to think back on those memories.”
Garcia said “the neighborhood was rough” when Little Jim’s first opened, but it “started the whole trend on Halsted Street.”
Soon after its opening, more gay bars followed and the divey, late-night spot became both a Boystown institution and one of the longest-running independently owned bars in the neighborhood.
Garcia said Jim Gates, the tavern’s original owner, was actively involved in the LGBTQ community, helping fund Equality Illinois at its beginning and donating to local social service agencies or gay rights organizations.
The Tavern’s legacy is that it was the first and only bar on Halsted Street to be fully integrated, Garcia said.
While other bars had strict dress codes or music restrictions that targeted Black and Latino people — some of which still exist in recent years — the tavern always stayed above it, according to Garcia.
“Other bars talk a good game about fighting racism and all that, but Little Jim’s truly lived what they believed: everybody is welcome,” Garcia said. “Latino, white and Black people all mingled and socialized there. Little Jim’s never had drama.”
Tully Bertorelli, a bartender at Little Jim’s, said that welcoming atmosphere was the driving force behind the bar’s staying-power.
“People can just be themselves here. They don’t have to be fake,” Bertorelli said. “We welcome everybody and no one cares if you’re bi, trans, or any sexuality, gender or race. I’m going to miss seeing the room full of different colors of the rainbow coming together in one place.”
Bertorelli has worked at the tavern for almost three years, but he’s been coming to the bar for more than a decade.
“I’m bisexual, so it’s the place I always felt comfortable taking dudes on dates,” Bertorelli said. “And when I went sober, people really respected it and I’ve found a lot of support here. Little Jim’s was my safe place.”
Matthew Gutowski, another bartender at Little Jim’s, said he also found a sense of family when he moved to Chicago and started working at the bar almost three years ago.
“This was my first home, and I became really close with all my regulars,” Gutowski said. “Even during the pandemic, my Tuesday regulars and I would get on Zoom every week for our celebratory shot.”
Gutowski said the bar fosters a tight-knit and welcoming community.
“With all that’s happened in Boystown, Little Jim’s has always been very inclusive and open to everybody,” Gutowski said. “It’s sad because we’re not only losing history, but we’re losing that kind of space.”
Regulars who had been going to the tavern for years started swinging by Wednesday afternoon to pay their respects.
“Walking into Little Jim’s is stepping into our history,” said Wade Guzman, a bartender at Hydrate who would visit the bar with coworkers to wind down after long shifts. “I’m sad for people who never got the chance to come here because they were pulled away to the glitz and glamour of other gay bars.”
Guzman and his coworker Dio Alatriste went to Little Jim’s Wednesday afternoon for one last round of drinks at the iconic spot.
“Little Jim’s is one of those places where you can walk in and instantly have a smile,” Alatriste said. “It’s a comfortable atmosphere where the staff knows you and the people are good.”
Susan Small, a neighbor and regular at the tavern, said Little Jim’s became her go-to bar after moving to Boystown from Houston.
“I did all the HIV testing in Texas in the ‘80s, so I just feel comfortable in Boystown,” Small said. “As soon as I walked into Little Jim’s for the first time, everybody introduced themselves and I felt at home with family.”
Bar staffers said regulars of Little Jim’s are invited to swing by Thursday for one last hurrah before closing for good at 11 p.m.
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‘My First Gay Bar’: Rachel Maddow, Andy Cohen and Others Share Their Coming-Out Stories
For generations of gays and lesbians, especially those for whom walking into the sometime secret and darkened doorway of one was often the first step in the coming-out process, gay bars have long held a significant place in their personal histories.
That was never more apparent than in the days following the mass shootings at Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 patrons lost their lives, and which prompted many to recall the nights they had spent in similar settings, and the sense of community they found there.
“I can’t tell you how many bars and clubs I’ve been to over the years,” the CNN newsman Anderson Cooper told The New York Times last week. “Every gay man in America remembers the first time they went to a gay bar and how they felt.”
“I don’t want to sound like I’m speaking for the gay community,” said Mr. Cooper, who publicly acknowledged his sexual orientation in 2012. “But it certainly resonates very deeply for me.”
Below, some other prominent gays and lesbians recall what gay bars meant to them as they began to embrace their sexuality, some eagerly and some nervously.
4. „I had never seen gay guys look so confident and diverse. Guys were holding hands and dancing together. It was the greatest thing for me to see.“
I was a kid in a candy store. I remember thinking the guys were so hot. Like the hottest guys I’d ever seen in my life. This was my new home. I never wanted to leave. — Robert Rodriguez, Facebook
6. „It was in Seoul, South Korea. I met up with some people from an expat lesbian Facebook group, and we danced the night away at a club called The Pink Hole.“
Mind you, it had a recent name change from The Pink Button. If you’re gonna call a lesbian club anything, I guess that’s it. – Christine Yang, Facebook
12. „I ended up getting drunk, dancing and flirting with my boss all night.“
The club itself was amazing. I had never seen so many lesbians in one place. It was a part of coming out that i loved and helped me to be comfortable with who I am.“ – Emmy Garcia, Facebook
15. „I ran into some go-go boys, and, as a Mormon, it was too much to handle. So, I went to the corner, assumed the fetal position and sung Hymns.“
It took about 30 minutes for the shock to wear off. After that, I started swing dancing with a cute boy, picked him up (literally) and that is the story of how I met my first boyfriend. — David Baker, Facebook
16. „The only person dancing was a man awkwardly gyrating in his chair, staring directly at me.“
That’s when I learned a very important lesson: a night in with Netflix and my real friends, Ben and Jerry, will forever trump going out to the small town gay bar. – scientiarum
22. „I talked with this amazing guy, and we hit it off. After about half an hour, he got up, shook my hand, and told me his girlfriend was finished dancing.“
Of course I would try to pick up the straight guy my first night out at a gay bar. – manjur
The Stonewall Riots, also called the Stonewall Uprising, began in the early hours of June 28, 1969 when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The raid sparked a riot among bar patrons and neighborhood residents as police roughly hauled employees and patrons out of the bar, leading to six days of protests and violent clashes with law enforcement outside the bar on Christopher Street, in neighboring streets and in nearby Christopher Park. The Stonewall Riots served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.
Constant Raids at Gay Bars
The 1960s and preceding decades were not welcoming times for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans. For instance, solicitation of same-sex relations was illegal in New York City.
For such reasons, LGBT individuals flocked to gay bars and clubs, places of refuge where they could express themselves openly and socialize without worry. However, the New York State Liquor Authority penalized and shut down establishments that served alcohol to known or suspected LGBT individuals, arguing that the mere gathering of homosexuals was “disorderly.”
Thanks to activists’ efforts, these regulations were overturned in 1966, and LGBT patrons could now be served alcohol. But engaging in gay behavior in public (holding hands, kissing or dancing with someone of the same sex) was still illegal, so police harassment of gay bars continued and many bars still operated without liquor licenses—in part because they were owned by the Mafia.
Gay Rights Before Stonewall
The first documented U.S. gay rights organization, The Society for Human Rights (SHR), was founded in 1924 by Henry Gerber, a German immigrant. Police raids forced them to disband in 1925, but not before they had published several issues of their newsletter, “Friendship and Freedom,” the country’s first gay-interest newsletter. America’s first lesbian rights organization, The Daughters of Bilitis, was formed in San Francisco on September 21, 1955.
In 1966, three years before Stonewall, members of The Mattachine Society, an organization dedicated to gay rights, staged a “sip-in” where they openly declared their sexuality at taverns, daring staff to turn them away and suing establishments who did. When The Commission on Human Rights ruled that gay individuals had the right to be served in bars, police raids were temporarily reduced.
The crime syndicate saw profit in catering to shunned gay clientele, and by the mid-1960s, the Genovese crime family controlled most Greenwich Village gay bars. In 1966, they purchased Stonewall Inn (a “straight” bar and restaurant), cheaply renovated it, and reopened it the next year as a gay bar.
Stonewall Inn was registered as a type of private “bottle bar,” which did not require a liquor license because patrons were supposed to bring their own liquor. Club attendees had to sign their names in a book upon entry to maintain the club’s false exclusivity. The Genovese family bribed New York’s Sixth Police Precinct to ignore the activities occurring within the club.
Without police interference, the crime family could cut costs how they saw fit: The club lacked a fire exit, running water behind the bar to wash glasses, clean toilets that didn’t routinely overflow and palatable drinks that weren’t watered down beyond recognition. What’s more, the Mafia reportedly blackmailed the club’s wealthier patrons who wanted to keep their sexuality a secret.
Nonetheless, Stonewall Inn quickly became an important Greenwich Village institution. It was large and relatively cheap to enter. It welcomed drag queens, who received a bitter reception at other gay bars and clubs. It was a nightly home for many runaways and homeless gay youths, who panhandled or shoplifted to afford the entry fee. And it was one of the few—if not the only—gay bar left that allowed dancing.
Raids were still a fact of life, but usually corrupt cops would tip off Mafia-run bars before they occurred, allowing owners to stash the alcohol (sold without a liquor license) and hide other illegal activities. In fact, the NYPD had stormed Stonewall Inn just a few days before the riot-inducing raid.
The Stonewall Riots Begin
When police raided Stonewall Inn on the morning of June 28, it came as a surprise—the bar wasn’t tipped off this time.
Armed with a warrant, police officers entered the club, roughed up patrons, and, finding bootlegged alcohol, arrested 13 people, including employees and people violating the state’s gender-appropriate clothing statute (female officers would take suspected cross-dressing patrons into the bathroom to check their sex).
Fed up with constant police harassment and social discrimination, angry patrons and neighborhood residents hung around outside of the bar rather than disperse, becoming increasingly agitated as the events unfolded and people were aggressively manhandled. At one point, an officer hit a lesbian over the head as he forced her into the police van— she shouted to onlookers to act, inciting the crowd to begin throw pennies, bottles, cobble stones and other objects at the police.
Within minutes, a full-blown riot involving hundreds of people began. The police, a few prisoners and a Village Voice writer barricaded themselves in the bar, which the mob attempted to set on fire after breaching the barricade repeatedly.
The fire department and a riot squad were eventually able to douse the flames, rescue those inside Stonewall, and disperse the crowd. But the protests, sometimes involving thousands of people, continued in the area for five more days, flaring up at one point after the Village Voice published its account of the riots.
Though the Stonewall uprising didn’t start the gay rights movement, it was a galvanizing force for LGBT political activism, leading to numerous gay rights organizations, including the Gay Liberation Front, Human Rights CampaignGLAAD (formerly Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), and PFLAG (formerly Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).
On the one-year anniversary of the riots on June 28, 1970, thousands of people marched in the streets of Manhattan from the Stonewall Inn to Central Park in what was then called “Christopher Street Liberation Day,” America’s first gay pride parade. The parade’s official chant was: “Say it loud, gay is proud.”
In 2016, then-President Barack Obama designated the site of the riots—Stonewall Inn, Christopher Park, and the surrounding streets and sidewalks—a national monument in recognition of the area’s contribution to gay rights.