Last year saw the closing of two bars, both in Chelsea, that served and entertained a generation of gay customers from opposite ends of the attitude spectrum. In March, leather-and-Levis Rawhide on 8th Ave. closed after 34 years while Splash, with all of its muscle-tee hotties, closed its doors in August after 21 years. With their doors shuttered one wonders how much longer another Chelsea mainstay, g Lounge, will be able to survive the pull of Hell's Kitchen.
These closings had me reminiscing about all the bars I've been to in New York that I've outlived since moving here in 1979 (cue up "I'm Still Here" from Follies). Of course, they represent just a fraction of those that have closed (e.g., I didn't hang out much in the East Village), but here are close to three dozen I remember (in alphabetical order):
Badlands (Christopher & West Side Hwy) - It had one of the most memorable bar logos, a wolf howling at the moon. It closed after two people were fatally shot there by a crazed man in the winter of 1981.
Barbary Coast (7th Ave. near 14th St.) - Taking its name from old San Francisco's red light district, this cozy bar had a vaulted ceiling from when it was a bank lobby. Now closed for more than 20 years, I went there a few times in the first half of the 1980s when I lived on 15th St. A lasting memory is when my boyfriend bought a one-month pass to the Chelsea Gym (also long gone) from an elderly patron who won it in a raffle there, and then gave it to me.
Billy's - This establishment is unique because I don't remember it, but apparently I was there because I wrote an entry about it in my journal from 1986. On April 26 I went there for its 2nd anniversary celebration and had champagne.
Bogarts (E. 59th St.) - Its distinguishing characteristic was the fact that it was within spitting distance of the Queensboro Bridge.
Boy Bar (15 St. Mark's Place) - The East Village wasn't my stomping grounds and this is the only bar I recall going to. It had two levels. And they had nice matchbooks.
The Break (8th Ave./21st St.) - A somewhat cramped, narrow space that could be a challenge to walk through. Like so many other bars, it had a pool table in the back. A few years after it closed a bar called The View opened in the same location and also closed.
Champs (W. 20th St. between 5th & 6th Avenues) - This was a sports bar that opened a few blocks north of Splash. It had a bank of bleacher seats and a dance floor. It opened in 1994 (two years after Splash) and lasted only a few years.
Chase (W. 55th St.) - One of the first new gay bars in the vicinity of Hell's Kitchen, it opened around the year 2000. It lasted just a few years but it heralded the explosion of gay life in this neighborhood, albeit 5-10 blocks further south.
Chelsea Transfer (8th Ave.) - Around for just a brief time in the '90s, it had a beautiful curved mahogany bar (perhaps it was teak). The few times I scoped out the place on a Saturday night there wasn't much of a crowd.
The Cock Ring (corner of Christopher/West Side Hwy) - This was the first place I danced with a man, in January 1980. A few years later it closed when the building it was in was sold; after renovations Uncle Charlie's opened a bar there in the mid-1980s but it only lasted a few years.
Company (Gramercy) - It was a bar and restaurant which I dined at perhaps half a dozen times in the 1980s.
Cowboys & Cowgirls (E. 53rd St.) - Not to be confused with the Cowgirl Hall of Fame restaurant in the West Village. My lasting memory of this establishment was that I was there the night the US hockey team beat the Soviet Union during 1980 Winter Olympics.
Crawfords (Upper East Side) - It was open very briefly. I never went to it (to the Upper East Side?) but remember it for its ad in HX and Next which showed Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest. Rather than her line, "Take out this bitch of a retaining wall and put a window where it ought to be", the ad has her saying, "Put a bar where a bar ought to be".
Harry's Back East (3rd Ave./E. 80th St.) - This was the first NYC gay bar I set foot in, during the fall of 1979. It was set up with a bar in the front and dance space in the back. It closed in the early 1980s.
King (6th Ave/between W. 16th & W. 17th St.) - It had three floors, with a dance floor on the second floor.
Last Call (2nd Avenue just off 53rd St.) An elderly gentleman bought me a drink here on my 23rd birthday (at the time "elderly" to me probably meant late 40s).
Ninth Circle (W. 10th St. between Greenwich Ave. & 7th Ave. South) - Once a former steakhouse, it became popular in the 1970s and '80s with hustlers and their "admirers". I walked in an out of it once. Gone for more than 10 years, it's now a restaurant.
North Dakota (3rd Ave./36th St.) - It closed around 1986 and Uncle Charlie's Midtown, which was originally a few blocks further north, took over its space.
Paul's Tavern (West Village) - On upper Christopher St., now the bar Pieces.
Private Eyes (Chelsea/between 5th & 6th Avenues) - A bar with a dance floor. I spent a rather disappointing New Year's Eve (1987) there with a boyfriend I broke up with a few weeks later.
Rawhide (8th Ave. & 21st St.) - One of those bars that suffered from the City's smoking ban as cigar and cigarette smoke was part of its "atmosphere".
Regency East (E. 58th St./3rd Ave.) - Before the Townhouse there was Regency East, at the other end of 58th St. Unlike the Townhouse there were no steps to walk up so you didn't have to worry about an embarrassing fall if you had too much to drink. RE closed around 1990.
Rome (8th Ave. & 26th St.) - Open briefly, but it didn't attract much of a crowd and then went after a straight clientele.
Rounds (E. 53 St./2nd Ave.) - A high-end hustler's bar during the late '70s/early '80s with a nice restaurant. My first ad agency job was in this neighborhood and co-workers and I occasionally came here for b'day celebrations.
South Dakota (Gramercy) - A comfortable, no-attitude place in the mold of Ty's in the West Village. It was around for a long time before I paid a visit. When I did finally go I had a quick drink, looked around, wasn't inspired by what I saw and left.
Splash/SBNY (W. 17th St. between 5th and 6th Ave.) - I enjoyed going here because of its videos, spaciousness and roster of barechested Chelsea boy bartenders. I usually went during happy hour on Friday. Splash has the distinction of being the only bar where I threw a drink in someone's face.
Trilogy (next to the Christopher St. Path Station) A nice little bar with a restaurant in the back (1980s), it later became the notorious Chi-Chi's, which attracted a loud, black/Hispanic crowd that was a blight on the neighborhood. It closed a few years ago and is now a Thai fusion restaurant.
Uncle Charlie's Downtown (Greenwich Ave.) - The "It" bar of the 1980s, this is the bar I frequented the most. In 1990 and 1991 I lived across the street from the bar and could watch who was coming and going from my kitchen window (and I witnessed a number of hilarious cat fights out on the sidewalk.)
Uncle Charlie's Midtown (Third Ave/39th St.) - This was the hopping bar in the late '70s/early '80s before a sister bar opened in the Village in 1981. And if you were in the mood for dancing, the club Styx was close by on 2nd Ave. (in an earlier incarnation it was The Barefoot Boy. And Uncle Charlie's restaurant was a block or two south on Third Ave.
The Village Stix (corner of Christopher & Greenwich Streets) - This was a very attractive bar for Christopher St., with floor to ceiling windows looking out onto the street. It was open for only a few years and then became an XXX video store with downstairs booths. That survived much longer, more than 20 years.
The Works (Upper West Side/Columbus Ave. in the W. 90s) - Because of its location I didn't get to it very often, but I liked it.
XL (W. 16th St. near 9th Ave.) - With a smartly modern, two-level design, it was open just a short time between 2000-2005. The last time I was there was the weekend before 9-11. Scenes from an episode of Sex in the City were filmed in its striking bathroom.
Finally, the t-shirt company Do You Remember sells a line of t-shirts that pay tribute to close to two dozen NYC bars/clubs from the past. To visit the site double click here.