RIP to All the Gay Bars in New York City I've Known
The year 2013 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. Then three years later two other Chelsea mainstays, XES and g Lounge, were shuttered. These closings had me reminiscing about all the bars I've frequented, and outlived, since moving to New York 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 three dozen I remember (in alphabetical order):
BADLANDS (Christopher & West Side Highway)
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 W. 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 (West Village or Chelsea)
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.)
BOGART'S (E. 59th St. between 2nd and 1st Avenues)
Its distinguishing characteristic was that it was within spitting distance of the Queensboro Bridge. It had a piano in the front of the bar.
BOOTS & SADDLE (76 Christopher St.)
After "gracing" the corner near the famed Village Cigar in Sheridan Square for 41 years, Boots & Saddle (lovingly referred to by some as Bras & Girdles) closed in the spring of 2015. Although I went inside just once, taking a 15-second look-see, I feel like I've been to it often since I walked by it thousands of times. However, this closing didn't mean the end for B&S, as it was reincarnated a block south on 7th Ave. South in a space that used to be Actors Playhouse, a cozy space for off-off-Broadway shows (and where Naked Boys Singing had a long run). Alas, the new location didn't meet with success and it closed after only a few years.
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.)
It occupied a somewhat cramped, narrow space that was 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 the earliest sports bar, located 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 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. in the Teens)
In business 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 St./West Side Highway)
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.
It was a bar and restaurant which I dined at perhaps half a dozen times in the 1980s. I believe it was on Third Ave. around 30th St.
COWBOYS & COWGIRLS (E. 53rd St. between 2nd & 3rd Avenues)
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 the 1980 Winter Olympics.
CRAWFORDS (Upper East Side in the 80s)
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".
DANNY'S (corner of Christopher and Greenwich St.)
Although I've written in my journal about going to this bar in the early '80s, for the life of me I don't remember anything about it. It was later renovated and became the Village Styx.
'g' LOUNGE (W. 19th St. between 7th & 8th Avenues)
This bar was fine to go to with friends, but I didn't enjoy going there alone because it didn't have a lot of room to walk around in like Splash or The Monster. Also, the music could be deafening. I'd sometime go there on Friday evenings with friends, but the last time I set foot in the place was two or three years ago. (g's space was taken over by another gay bar, Rebar, shortly thereafter.)
HARRY'S BACK EAST (Third 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 '80s.
KING (6th Ave. between W. 16th & W. 17th Streets)
It had three floors, with a dance floor on the second floor.
LAST CALL (Second Ave. just off 53rd St.)
An elderly gentleman bought me a drink here after work 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 steakhouse, it became popular in the 1970s and '80s with hustlers and their "admirers". I walked in an out of it once. Gone for 30 years, it now sits empty (after years as a restaurant).
NORTH DAKOTA (Third Ave./36th St.)
It closed around 1986, and Uncle Charlie's Midtown, which was originally a few blocks further north, took over its space.
PRIVATE EYES (Chelsea/between 5th & 6th Avenues in the W. 20s)
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. (The blog Kenneth in the 212 has written a more in-depth post about this bar/club that you can find here.)
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./near Third Ave.)
Before the Townhouse, there was Regency East, at the other end of E. 58th St. Unlike the Townhouse, there were no steps to walk up so there was no need 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./Second 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 birthday 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 finally did go, I had a quick drink, looked around, wasn't inspired by what I saw and left. I seem to recall it being on Second Avenue around 25th St.
SPLASH/SBNY (W. 17th St. between 5th and 6th Ave.)
I enjoyed going here because of its videos, spaciousness and roster of bare chested 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 many residents considered to be a blight on the neighborhood. It closed around 2008, 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 it 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 SOUTH (Third Ave/38th 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 Stix was close by on Second Ave. (in an earlier incarnation it was The Barefoot Boy). And Uncle Charlie's restaurant was a block or two south on Third Ave.
UNCLE PAUL'S (upper Christopher St./near Sixth Ave.)
Another bar I may have been in only once or twice, it's now the bar Pieces.
THE VILLAGE STYX (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. 80s)
Because of its location I didn't get to it very often, but I liked it. It occupied a long, narrow space.
XES (24th St. between Sixth & Seventh Avenues)
Cramped in a cozy way, with a small outdoor garden, XES was in business for 12 years, opening in 2004. I can recall going there just three times, once for an OP networking event, and the two other times were for a birthday gathering (same person). Every time there it was raining so I never got to enjoy the garden.
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.
This was great. I was only to two of these bars. I left New York in 1968 for good, and only visited twice after that. I wish someone would make a list of the really old gay bars. The ones that I remember. ( I guess I could, but I don't remember the addresses ) I do remember my first Gay Bar was called the Blue Bunny, and it was somewhere around Times Square. It got raided the night my friends took me there!
Posted by: Ken | 03/12/2014 at 11:55 PM
Hi Ken, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Blue Bunny seemed familiar to me, then I realized I was thinking of the ice cream brand! I bet you can discover a lot about NYC bars from your era by doing some Google searches. As for me, I couldn't have written this post without my journals. Thanks for your comment.
Posted by: Rob | 03/13/2014 at 02:52 AM
Great reading all of this, Thank you keeping our history alive!!!
Posted by: Charles James | 06/25/2014 at 12:15 PM
Just got directed back here, while trying to search for " Blue Bunny Gay Bar NYC". I have remembered a few more gay bars from the sixties. There was Danny's on Christopher which was my favorite bar as a "twinkie". The leather and levi guys just loved this eighteen year old ( yes that was the drinking age back then in NY! ) There was also Kellers a block away. The Tool Box down on West Street. Then there were two mostly Lesbian but mixed places, the Gold Bug and The Tenth of Always. Stonewall was mostly for the drag queen crowd, but we went there now and then, because it was open after hours. Another Drag Queen bar was the Club 81 on the East Side. Julius was a very stuffy, Ivy League bar. I never liked it, but I did meet some interesting people there. It was a place where, in the closet celebrities sometimes made an appearance. I remember chasing a popular movie star out of the place once. I made the mistake of saying his name out loud, and of course heads turned. I also met a well known radio commentator there. Boy what a dirty old man!
There were dance clubs like the Loft, the Sewer and a place that was actually on top of an old skyscraper called Top of the Town. I believe the building was the "Shelton Towers" and was located on the upper East Side somewhere. On 8th St, there was the Bon Soir, a basement piano bar that catered to an older clientele. There was Tony Pastors near Bleecker Street. It catered to the theatre crowd, even got a mention in the song "Sunday Clothes" from Hello Dolly. Martha Raye was seen there more than a few times, when she played Dolly.
Those were such different times than now. We finally got what we wanted, to enter the mainstream. Unfortunately I think we lost something in the process. There was a certain magic in making eye contact in those days with someone, who was just like you. That no longer happens!
Posted by: Ken Sturmer | 08/06/2014 at 01:18 PM
The Barefoot Boy, The Old Limelight on 7th and Sheridan, The Nickle Bar, Peter Rabbits , Monster, The Bar The Pyramid Bar ( which was gay very briefly before Ciconne - I refuse to call her Madonna, [ she still owes money to people who have died before she paid them ] and her crew invaded it before she became a star ) those were the daze !
Posted by: Herb | 09/19/2014 at 10:16 PM
I used to work at Rounds and Le Bar. Anyone remember Le Bar and the notorious owner B. ?
Posted by: Dharmabum | 10/15/2014 at 02:51 AM
I sort of recall a mid-town bar (8th somewhere near 45th) called the Haymarket. As a "cute" 18 year old I wandered in there not knowing it was a hustler bar and was immediately plied with drinks by a half dozen or so "old" guys who must have been at least 30 (LOL). Has my memory failed me or can anyone else confirm this bar and its location.
Posted by: Chris Marks | 11/24/2014 at 10:52 PM
Hi Chris, your memory is crystal clear! The following link will take you to an article that discusses the Haymarket as well as some other gay bars in that neighborhood: http://bitterqueen.typepad.com/friends_of_ours/haymarket/
Thanks for your message.
Posted by: Rob | 11/29/2014 at 11:37 AM
Rob, I loved this article Having moved to NYC in
late '78 and moved back to the jersey shore in '89, I had the pleasure of
frequenting most of the bars listed at one time or another. My very first visit
to a gay bar in NYC was the result of a broadcast done by Roseanne Scamardella
of Eyewitness News on Channel 7. She was reporting on how many guys were now
coming out of the closet and frequenting bars in the City. Her report was done
in front of Uncle Charlie's on Third Ave. I was mesmerized by the story and
intrigued because I was going to be in NYC at a straight party with high
school friends that weekend. This was probably in the spring of 1975. I was
still dating girls but had begun tinkering with the other side a bit.
I left the Third Ave. party I was attending without telling anyone and made my way
up the street. When I saw the sign "Uncle Charlie"s" my heart raced as I
remembered it as the place Roseanne was talking about. When i entered I was
immediately met by someone at the door who told me I wanted the bar over on
Second Ave. I traversed the long block over to Second Ave and there it was, my
first NYC bar. Being the good looking ,preppy 25 year old college grad, as
naive as all get out, I immediately felt at home. I didn't pay for a drink the
whole night, eventually being led over to the Barefoot Boy where I had my first
dance with a guy. Being a frequent party-goer in New Jersey at the new nightclubs known as discos, suddenly I found myself in the "best disco in town".
I eventually ended up back at the Statler Hilton across from Penn Station with
a very hot ski instructor from Denver who was in town on his way to Killington
for a job interview for the upcoming winter. Having way too much to drink, and
barely remember getting to the hotel before passing out, when I did awake
sometime around 8:00am I was shocked and freaked out. My straight friends on
the East Side who I was staying with would surely be wondering what became of
me. Awaking to empty pockets and not sure how I was going to get back to
Gramercy Park, my ski instructor was kind enough to give me $20. Off I went
trying to figure out how I would explain the most memorable event of my
young life to my friends and realizing that I was gay. What a night. Just
felt like sharing that with you.
Posted by: Andrew | 02/03/2015 at 07:36 PM
That's a great story, Andrew, thanks for sharing it Yes, the early years of coming out in NYC were very special. But I'm jealous - I never had a night where all my drinks were paid for! Also, I chuckled thinking that you could have easily walked to Gramercy from the Penn Station area. And $20 - that would be like $80 in today's dollars!
Posted by: Rob | 02/03/2015 at 10:02 PM
Hey Rob, I came across your blog via Kenneth M. Walsh's blog "Kenneth in the 212." I
enjoyed your history of closed New York bars, as it roughly coincides with
my time in New York. (I first lived here in the summer of 1980 and moved
here permanently in 1981.) Makes me wish I had saved my old Gay Yellow
Pages! (Remember those?) I often rack my brain trying to think of the names
and/or locations of old gay bars that have closed (as well as other places
that have closed or changed in NYC).
P.S. Not sure if I ever actually made it to Private Eyes (the topic of Ken's
post), but I definitely remember when it opened.
Posted by: Paul | 02/17/2015 at 01:13 AM
i can add to that...CHAPS...a jeans/"leather" place on the Upper East side...87th and 3rd Ave...back in the early- mid 80's...later they added a "backroom" upstairs, I know, I was the "gatekeeper" so to speak.
Posted by: tnypow | 03/07/2015 at 11:57 AM
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.
WRONG BAR...It was the Ramrod, which was a few doors down from it...same block.
Posted by: tnypow | 03/07/2015 at 12:08 PM
Posted by: tnypow | 03/07/2015 at 12:08 PM
Thanks for pointing that out ... I'll make the correction.
Posted by: Rob | 03/07/2015 at 12:11 PM
" I never had a night where all my drinks were paid for!"
I knew a gay, blond Italian-American" who could make that happen all the time in that "era"...and he wasn't a hustler! All he had to do was tap his empty glass on the bar a couple of times...not "looking" at anyone...and drinks would appear!
Posted by: tnypow | 03/07/2015 at 12:36 PM
anyone have the addresses of the now gone Bogart's, South Dakota, and Company?
Posted by: dan | 05/21/2015 at 06:12 PM
Dan, I don't have specific addresses, but Bogarts was on E.59th St. between 2nd and 1st Avenues; I believe Company was on Third Ave. around 30th St.; and I seem to recall South Dakota being on Second Avenue around 25th St.
Posted by: Rob | 05/23/2015 at 10:56 PM
Ken (3/12/14) - I found this list. I was in none of them. I do remember my first gay bar in The City though. It was the Bon Soir I was around 1966 and I was about 18 years old and thought it was the peak of elegance because it had a mirrored ball rotating on the ceiling (what do you expect from a young boy from the suburbs).
Posted by: George | 06/18/2015 at 09:57 PM
Wow, back in 1966? Was it a gay spot? I didn't think it was legal for two men to dance together back then. By the way, it was located at 40 West 8th St., a few minutes walk from where I live today.
Posted by: Rob | 06/19/2015 at 12:37 AM
A few additions - an upper east side bar - 2nd or 3rd ave
called Camp David -- Did anyone mention Anvil and Mineshaft?? Also Cats and Stella's in the theatre district.
Posted by: miguel de la o | 07/05/2015 at 05:22 AM
Lived across the street from South Dakota. It was located on 3rd between 28th & 29th.
Beau Geste - 3rd in the 20's.
Paula's & Carr's - both in the West Village
Pharoah's near Sheridan Square
The Beaded Bag & Last Call(uptown 2nd/3rd)
Candlelight - Amsterdam in the 80's
Danny's Fisherman (Lex in the 70's)
The Round Table - 50's off Lex
Gilded Grape - 40's off 8th
Country Cousins - Upper East Side in the 70's
One Potato/Two Potato - International Stud both in West Village
Many Good Times with many Good Friends some who are now gone...but not forgotten.
Posted by: Al from Gramercy | 07/05/2015 at 02:35 PM
Moved to big apple in 1989, I was young and gay scene was all new to me, going to village was like a trip to wonderland. Monster was my all time favourite bar, been to uncle charlie, boy bar where everybody was drinking rolling rock, so I had my first rolling rock at this place. Eagle and another place, which was underground in dark area, you check in your cloths and walk around in undies, anyone remembers the name of this place?
There was a very good dance club, which was like a movie theatre, may be straight in chelsea, than there was upscale Rounds, Gaiety in Time Square, which I visited till late 90's, Eros theatre. Time Square has completely changed now.
Posted by: Sam | 07/12/2015 at 12:10 PM
Sam, the place you mention being underground and dark could have been the Mineshaft, the Lure, "J's" or Hellfire, all near the Westside Highway in the vicinity of the Meatpacking District.
Posted by: Rob | 07/12/2015 at 03:53 PM
That place was similar to Mineshaft, it was a BDSM club, Mineshaft was closed in 1985 and I was there in 1989 or 1990.
Posted by: Sam | 07/13/2015 at 02:23 AM