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RIP to All the Gay Bars in New York City I've Known

 

Splash

 

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.

 

Rip

 

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.

 

Bootsandsaddle        

 

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.

 

Boybar.matchbook

 

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.

 

Champs.bar

 

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.

 

Chase.bar

 

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.

 

Chelsea.transfer.bar

 

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.

 

COMPANY (Gramercy)

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".

 

Joancrawford  

 

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.)

 

G bar   

 

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).

 

9th.Circle

 

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.) 

 

Private.eyes.tshirt

 

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.

 

Closed

 

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.

 

Cute_boys_1950s

 

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.

 

Splashbar.memorabilia

 

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.charlies.boxturtlebulletin

Uncle.charlies.bar   

 

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.charlies.south.drinkticket

 Stix.disco

 

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.

 

THE_WORKS_1_large

 

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.

 

Xes exterior1

 

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.

 

Xl.bar.chelsea

 

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

 

 

Save

Comments

Rose Wood

Saw the Zeitgayst page and loved it! I arrived in NYC in 1975, and look back very fondly at the changing scenes. I'm a performance artist using the name Rose Wood. I've been the feature performer at The Box NYC and London for the last 14 years, and am branching out.

I'm doing an art/ theater project about the poet Arthur Rimbaud. The pandemic has compelled me to think outside my normal box. I'm putting the finishing touches on an Instagram for the project. Aside from being about the poet and his work, it's very much to connect him to queer cultural heritage. In a time when politics can dominate many conversations, it's helpful to connect to the spirit of what we are all trying to accomplish, which I feel he embodied.

I'm looking for images of some of the old places- The Glory Hole, The Ass Trick Club, Badlands, The Spike, the former Eagle, The Lure, The Cock Ring, etc. Photos of the entrances or signage is ideal, and back rooms are also helpful.

Love any images or direction for where to look, and again thank you for creating the page! Rose

Paul

Sorry you didnt mention the CANDLE.
A True UWS institution
I was a bartender there from 1988-90
With Frankie..James..Joey..and Walter

Raul Argudin

There was a bar a bit west of The Palladium on 14th Street. Around for maybe a year. It was in the space occupied by an old restaurant (blank on the name). Any idea? BTW South Dakota was on 3rd Ave between 28th & 29th. East side of the Ave.

Mark

Boy, this helped fill in gaps I had long forgotten. Thanks!
Bogarts was a real neighborhood bar full of interesting locals. My boyfriend Ken was a longtime bartender there until we moved to Chicago.

Manolo Estavillo

THANK YOU! It would be a fine job to map these out, with links to photos, memorabilia, some color scheme to trace their demise, and a photo of what the place looks like now. I got here in 83, this was the NY I moved to. Wonder how many of these appear in the LGBTQ historic sites web page. I will consider this color scheme idea. Though we do not need to know that Giuliani is the evil master mind behind the sad part of this story.

Johnny D

I just discovered this and became very nostalgic ! Ugh we FUN in our day !
I lived on 25 th street at the time and Company was on 3 rd between 25 th and 26 th st . It was like my living room lol ! Slit of money spent there
I probably went to 3/4 of the bars that are listed. A short lived after hours was Club Soda on the west side that was in an old warehouse and you hand to ride the freight elevator. After being at Studio (54) the crowd rejoined at Club Soda till 6:00 AM. That when the song I wear my sunglasses at night became meaningful!
What a great read for me. Thanks !

Jobin882

RAWHIDE WAS SUCH A PHENOMENOL DIVE BAR-NO ATTITUDE-NO MANSCAPING-REAL MEN-I USED TO GO AFTER WORK IN 2001=THE MUSCLE LONG HAIRED BIKER DUDE BARTENDER-I THINK HIS NAME WAS JOE-WAS WITHOUT A DOUBT ONE OF THE HOTTEST GUYS I'VE EVER SEEN-A FRIEND OF HIS WHEN I WAS IN CHERRY GROVE TOLD ME HE WAS A SKINNY KID IN JR HIGH-BUT WOW-JUST TALKING MUSIC WITH THIS SEX ON A STICK HOT BARTENDER MADE MY DAY-TRULY MISSED

Dino NJ

The CANDLE was mentioned several pages back. Also, just read "Last Call" by Elon Green, about serial killer Richard Rogers Jr, who preyed on and murdered several men in the early 1990's. It centers on the Townhouse, where he would meet his victims, but does mention other establishments in the UES and Manhattan, some of which were mentioned here.

Dino NJ

Sorry, misinterpreted Paul's post about the CANDLE. It was mentioned only in the comments section, but not in Rob's blog post. And Rob, thanks for the info on the short doc about the Saint. Got to watch in on YouTube.

Dino NJ

Sorry Paul, misinterpreted your post. The CANDLE was only mentioned by people commenting on Rob's blog post. And Rob, thanks for mentioning that doc about the Saint. Was able to view it on YouTube.

John Johnson

Harry's Back East was a block away from my apartment so, needless to say I was there a lot in the late 70's. The place was really a nothing bar, but there was a dance floor and you could meet guys. It was fun. Once, I was dancing and I inadvertantly punched a guy in the nose. He was furious and the manager threw him out. He waited outside, but my roommate, who was a muscle stud, beat him up. Those were the good/bad old days. I was young and living in NYC. I was happy. We had it all: sex, booze, friends, a job (barista at Sacco Cafe 77th and Lex), then our lives were taken over and for some, taken away with HIV. But, I still <3 NY.

K. Jerome

Crawford's was on First Ave. between 53rd and 54th. Maria Manville held court there.

Frank

After work at Bloomingdales on 59th, i would go to a bar that was across from the Tram that would take you to Roosevelt island, do you remember the name of that bar ??

Rob

Frank, I believe you're thinking of Bogart's, on E. 59th St. between 1st and 2nd Avenues. I remember that it had a piano to the right when you walked in.

Frank

Does anyone remember the Firehouse dances in the Village $5 entrance fee. I’d go there from High School. Bars let us teens in then: Danny’s on Christopher Street and on 7th Ave both popular in the 70’s as well as the Stud first time I saw so many young guys in white tees and jeans. The Pier was safe and friendly and gay bars and restaurants were at every area in the Village. It was a community, bartenders were the resource of where to go, things that were happening and entree to get a weekend discounted price at a stay on Fire Island. A stray young gay getting away from a homophobic suburb can easily make friends, get work and an apartment in New York City besides meeting such phenomenal artistic people the place to be in the seventies!

Chuck Snyder

I came out after I got out of the Navy in 1971. I would buy magazines to find out where the gay bars were located. Determined to experience the exciting life of an out male in the biggest city in the world, I rode from NJ on a bus to the Big Apple and the Port Of Authority. I quickly found the bar I thought had the nicest ad in my “entertainment “ magazine. Country Cousins. I went several times and after realizing that I wasn’t going to be struck by a bolt of lightning, I began to venture out to other bars. Ironically, I became a bartender at a dive bar on the upper west side called The Bike Stop. I met some wonderful people, including a little hunk who became my partner for 13 years until his death. After a couple of years I went over to the upper class Main Man bar on Columbus Ave. That was a really fun bar with really interesting people. Many of whom worked at Lincoln Center. Blender drinks were real popular there. One more bar I want to mention was located in Sheridan Square in the Village. It didn’t last long but it had a stage for performers, a screen for movies and tables with candles and tablecloths. It was called “When We Win.” I saw Gotham one night. A fabulous trio of singers that were very hot with cabaret goers. Thanks for your walk down memory lane. I’m sorry if I went on so long but it was such a great part of my life and I want people to know that we had decades of unity and fun pre-AIDS. AIDS took my partner in 1990 and so many of my brothers and sisters. Love and peace.

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