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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

joyous

Hello, I was at a party in Key West ....mid 90's,,,a group of ppl at the party...they had returned from NYC, telling everyone about the party they went to...a closing of a popular club, 24 hour closing party, a one word name of the club and a very liberal club are my only clues.
Thank you...a bit of trivia here.

Bill

Hey there, it sounds like you didn't spend much time on the UWS, but I was wondering if you remember a huge gay clothing store where they also had gay magazines and such? It was on Amsterdam Avenue around 75th Street, and I can't remember its name. I would say it was near The Candle? Maybe a bit south of it?

Rob

Hi Bill, perhaps you're thinking of either the Loft or All-American Boy?

Kristian

Does anyone remember Walters on 43rd across from Times Square Hotel?

John O'Keefe

Hello Rob,Great review of the Gay bars. I have frequented most of them. I loved Uncle Charlies since I was a preppy type. Always wore crewneck sweater,buttondown shirt,faded jeans,white socks and shiney Bass Weejun penny loafers with pennies. Still dress the same and now go to the Townhouse and Eagle.

R.P. Tordgaard

Thanks to Miguel for posting the name of the Candlelight (although I think it was in the 70s). - I was trying to recall the name. The lady bartender was named Mo back in the days when I'd stopped in. Nearby was the Lighthouse (bartenders Dennis and Paul) and - later - came the Piccadilly run by Nefty (with the very popular bartenderTony C. who would relocate to the Eagle's Nest). This was all back in the 60s and into the early 70s.

My first bar was the Blue Bunny which I found not far off Times Square because there was a "Raided Premises" sign in the window. Mayor Wagner used to have the NYPD raid all the gay bars during election years to make himself look good to the voters.

jose lusi fernandez

I used to live in an appartment just beside the LAST CALL, was fun but a little boring. It was there where I learnt how to hustle, the line dance of course, it was 1975

jose lusi fernandez

Bob, you are defenitely younger than me. I arrived in NYC on November 1969. The first gay bar I went to it was called THE YUKON, 53rd st and Lexington, just in front of the CITICORP BUILDING which didnt exist at the time.It was ery cosy and extremely friendly, I was very young and there I met a Swedish boy about my age, we never had sex but became good friends, I wonder if he is still alive and his whereabouts. Anothar bar was THE MENINSHA catering for mature crowd but very pleasant, 57th st, and Lexington. An adorable elegant gay bar was the CANDY STORE, Six Avenue and 58th street, close to my place. Young actors to be, used to perform parts of the current broadway plays. And last but not least the disco LE JARDIN somewhere in the 50ths and lexington, six floors of fun, soon closed by the police or whoever closed it. It was the precursor of STUDIO 54. NYC wasnt that bad in the seventies as some pretend it was

gabriel

i love reading about the bars in Manhattan, in the 70's there were quite a few in midtown manhattan... the Menemsha on 57th street and Lexington, the Yukon on 53rd and lex, the GH club on 53rd and 1st, the regency east on 58th and 3rd... Johnny's pub on 47th off 3rd ave, the restaurant the Mayfair and La Stanza on first and 53rd street.... so many wonderful memories of New York... wild parties outside of the bars on 1st ave during the black out in 1978 i think... everybody hot and heavy as it was summertime... boy i am glad i lived those moments ...

luc dyrkac

You do not seem to mention the Zoo disco after hours club were the cast of The Band partied in the dark room or the Barn on top of J's. I met many well known actors n writers at both.

Rob

Hmmm, never heard of it. The only Zoo disco I know is the one in the movie "Thank God It's Friday"!

Max

I miss my first bar in 1991 called Rounds. I was in my 20s and I went there for some CASH and I love the older men coming it. I loved Townhouse too. I always go to bars where I can find men older than me.

rycnm

Nice collection of bars that I recall. I came out to the ny bars around 1975 and i was 17. The drinking age back then was 18 and it was easier to get into bars underage. I was too nervious to venture to ny at first on my own and found it easier to go to gay bars in other cities....in Phil. I met some guys who then came up to new to visit and took me out to my first nyc gay bars.
The first was Julius, then the Ninth Circle and then later that night they took me to the RamRod. All three became cornerstones of my early nyc bar life.
I have to say that your review of the Ninth says that it was mostly hustlers and their admirers which perhaps it might have evolved into that in the '80 I dont know about, but the '70's at the Ninth was a very ...(yikes whats the right word for hip,cool,glamrockish,juniorleather,smart,etc). I ended up starting most my nights there from 75-78.

Also to note I do not see mention of the W.20th to w22nd st bars , THE EAGLE AND THE SPIKE, that were popular that I was a regular at when I move into Chelsea in 1978 (when there was a bodgega at every conrner and no gourmet food stores). Yes it was a more manly crowd than the Uncle Charlies on Grenwich that opened in the late '70s....but I frequented both dressing preppy for UC's and jeans and black tees for the Eagle/Spike. One night me and my BF got our dress codes wrong and showed up at the Mineshaft in our preppyware and that did not go well at the door.
Sorry I can go on and on about the nyc bars in the 70's and that does not include the discos and clubs from Infinity to 54 to Garage to 12West.........
Ahhh those were the days.

Boris VonGruber

Yes ! I remember "LE BAR" on E. 53-rd Street in the heart of the male-hustler world ! It was around 1977-78 that I recall walking up and down the street between 2-nd and 3-rd avenues in tight designer jeans, leather jacket and pointy-toed boots...for attention ! I was only around 20 and not a hustla ! However, I was a sexy hottie and loved the attention ! I would get looks and whistles and propositions by men that then seemed so old (early to mid 40's ! Today, they are the "young" ones. I also do remember the proprietor of "Le Bar"...."B" for "Bernard." He was a nice guy and I dated the bartender Patrick for a while one Summer (c.1979) ? Back then, male-prostitution was more open and visible on that street and totally tolerated. I also remember going in ROUNDS and getting picked-up by other young hustlers and hit on and we would fool around in the men's room....while they were waiting for paying John's ! Those men were so hot and sexy....they had to be, it was play for pay, baby !

Patrick

To: Herb....of course I remember Bernard from Le Bar on West 53-rd Street. It's me....Patrick (the bartender) from back in the gay, baby !

Pkalplan

I was hanging out with my friends the night of 77 blackout. I had just split up with my first lover and was headed for a cocktail at a friend's apartment we narrowly missed getting stuck in the elevator when the city went totally dark. We walked to Uncle Charlie's restaurant and had dinner without light. After we walked to Camp David on 73rd and Lexington Ave. It was a party all night. Sammy the bartender was the cutest and the best. I went home that night with a black police officer, honest to God. A night to remember.

russellconradlewis@gmail.com

My favorite hangout in the 70s was Kellers.
I drank 7&7 and they cost a whopping $.75.
A quick trip across the street to the piers where you were lucky when you GOT lucky and didn't fall through the holes in the floor into the river.
Ahhh, good times.

Dennis

Does anyone remember South Dakota on Third Avenue near 28th Street? I went there many times as it was my local bar in the early 80's and had a great bartender.

Dennis

How about South Dakota on 3rd Avenue and Crisco Disco on I think West 15th Street

Rob

Dennis, wasn't the bar on Third Ave. called either Dakota or North Dakota? After it closed (in the late 80s?) Uncle Charlie's moved there from its original location about three blocks north (and on the east side of Third Ave.).

Dennis

Rob, I am pretty sure it was South Dakota on Third Ave and 28/19th St. Uncles Charlie's was on Third Avenue and 38th St. and there was an Uncle Charlie's restaurant for awhile on Third Avenue around 35th St. I actually was a waiter and bartender at Uncle Charlies. I also worked 3-4 gay bars/clubs ending at Crisco Disco and when that closed i went back to office mgmt. What a change!!!~

Dennis

Rob,sorry i meant Third Ave and 28/29th St.

Dennis

Just found this site last week and already posted twice. Glad to see others remember bars like South Dakota, One Potato Two Potato and others

Jon

Danny's had a pool table. It was the first gay bar I was brought to in NYC in '79. It later became Harmony Video Store.
Bogart's had a gas lantern out front. I lived on E. 59th and 2nd while it was open. There was a hustler bar called
Cahoot's on East 53rd, and also Town & Country in the upper E. 50s, might still be there.

michaelbabcock@hotmail.cm

I was a naive 20 something from Grand Rapids, MI and somehow ended up at Cowboy Cowgirl with my host - Vinson du Pont III and his lover KiKi. Met the "owner" of Burger King there. Next night - Studio 54! Tore up NYC turf that year!

Does anyone here remember any of these people and what became of them?

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