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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

 

 

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Comments

Lee Lord

Wow these bars bring back memories. Most of them I remember and many I had been to. My first gay bar...I read their ad in Screw Magazine, was the Red Swing on 25th and Lex. I was scared shitless even to enter but did after walking around the block. I was 24 and not out as yet. Later I hung out at Harry Back East, one of Gwen Saunders and Judy Triaz' bars. I knew and frequented all of the Uncle Charlies. I worked at Uncle Charlie's Restaurant, first as a coat check, then waiter, then a manager. It was located on 36 & 3rd. That was a Lew Katz owned establishment as well as all the other Uncle Charlies although Bob Sloate owned Uncle Charlies on 38th and 3rd. Another not mentioned was Country Cousin from the 70's and 80's. It was a restaurant/bar on 3rd and about 74th, also owed by Lew Katz... and Jimmy Merry (who owned the Ice Palace on Fire Island, and the Ice Palace Disco on 57th and 11th Ave). Others not mentioned were two of my favorite mostly gay Discos... 12 West on 12th and West Sts, and Flamingo on West Broadway. Any one remember "The Trucks" on West St under the highway and The Book Store on Christopher? What an era that was. Lee L.

Mike Jarosz

I came to NYC for college in 1967. I discovered a bar on Bleecker St The Back Fence that catered to the 18-21 crowd because NY had an 18 drinking age while surrounding states were all 21. There I made friends with a waitress named Carol. We got to be good friends. I think she knew more about me than I did myself. One night I hung around until the end of her shift. She invited me to a bar around the corner on 3rd St. the Gold Bug. Edgar Allan Poe is supposed to have lived there once. It turned out to be a really jumpin' joint. They had a drag troupe called Mom's Greenery, sometimes they passed out free hot dogs or pizza, and oh, I almost forgot, it was a gay bar! Instead of panicking, I fit right in. I started going there by myself. Eventually, Carol told me that I was ready to go across the street to the 10th of Always. Wow" What a cast of characters. As far as I know, this is the only time I have ever seen a drag king. But Carol (who turned out to be gay herself) helped launch my gay persona and I never looked back, nor have I ever had any regrets. I spent the next decades in many of the bars mentioned in this website and the comments that follow.

The time between the Stonewall and AIDS was a golden era to be gay in NYC and I was there. And I partied!

Rob

Wow, that's a gold mine of memories - three bars I'd never heard of. Thank for your story, Mike!

Kari Grinager

Does anyone remember Tory's - afterhours club on the Eastside, late 1980's.

Frank

So much of it is gone, a generation lost in space. We went mainstream and our waterholes went away. Thank you all for sharing. I was late to the party. Caught the tail end of Splash, loved me some rawhide. Monster was always welcoming. I lament the passing of the Era. It defined a good long generation. Bless those who have passed. Thank you to all who twirled and danced the night away.

Jack

What a great article. I've never lived in NYC, but have tried - vicariously - through articles like this, books, TV shows, and movies. I was VERY excited to see you included "The Works." I've asked SOOOO many people about it, but no one seemed to remember it - lol, I was starting to believe I had the wrong name. I went there on a Sunday night in the later 80's; what prompted me to go there was a $5.00 Beer Bust - I'm a true cheap-ass, lolol. Because of the great deal, it was UBER CROWDED - shoulder-to-shoulder - and I only got one order in before I gave up and decided to leave; however, I did get my money's worth when I met a handsome guy on the way out(lol, we'll just leave it at that). Lastly, I was so sad to the see the demise of "Rawhide." When I was there in September 2012, right before Sandy, the bartender told me they would be closing when their lease ran out, since the new owners would be raising the rent exponentially - I was SO HOPING they'd be able to stay. Thanks again.

Blond Frankie

I'm Blond Frankie from the stonewall the original doorman.boy I could tell you about all the gay bars in the early 60s until the late 80s.I remember when they would raid the bars at least once a week. My first bar I went to was the (fawn) And the cherry lane.the first bar I worked in was the blue bunny,that was on 47th.between
6th&7th Ave. THE next one was the Moroccan village on
8th st.then across the street at the bonsoir,then the stonewall then Danny's,then Badlands,then the Haymarket
Last was Harry's back east.then recent East.

Antonio James Scrittorale

You forgot some of the most notable early clubs Sanctuary, Roundtable (East 50th Street 3 Ave), Townhouse (East 37th Street & Park) Tamburlaine (might of spelled that wrong), Fiddlestix (2nd or 1st Ave 78th Street it's been awhile) I worked as a waiter in Townhouse and Fiddlestix. 12 West Paradise Garage, and Queens' well know place the Alley on 37th Ave and 74th Street) not to forget the Ginza, the Jungle, Le Jardin, the Peppermint Lounge. These are only a few you missed there are others. I guess I'm a bit older than you and have a deeper memory of the good-ol'-days of the 70's-early 80's

Blandon

There was a gay bar/dance club for a short while on 18th or 19th St. between Fifth and Sixth Aves, Warsaw. It was supposed to be the sister club of Warsaw Ballroom in South Beach. The early or mid 1990's if I remember correctly. The one in South Beach was huge. The one here was decorated like a locker room and not big at all.

D

This was a great read. Thank you, Mr. Frydlewicz.

Does anyone remember the name of the bar on 9th Avenue, between 55th and 56th Street, in the middle of the block on the east side of the street? It was there for much of the 1980's, at least. There was a small balcony in the back, and a large 0 shaped bar in the front. The cruising there was tremendous. I had great times there and now I'm so g.d. old I can't remember the name of the place.

Billy's? In Chelsea? Were you even possibly in Billy's Topless on Sixth Avenue at 24th Street? Broadening horizons, perhaps?

Rob

I've been going to NYC since my early 20s and after coming out in London when working as a nurse on an AIDS ward, New York was an adventure. I remember fun times in the Limelight, Twilo, Milk bar, all male jewell theatre (for other reasons) and many a fun time in Splash with the hot barmen, Lady Bunny etc. I had a hot encounter with a banker in ROME bar which is very memorable - he left messages for me at the YMCA that I was staying at. More recently I stayed in the Larchmont or Chelsea Pines Inn and have always loved the Chelsea area. They've all gone now and the scene has moved to Hell's kitchen but I'll always have fond and hot memories of those other bars - I'm 45 now! Thanks for listing them as I had forgotten the name of some.

Rob

From one Rob to another, thanks for sharing your experiences. You mentioned Hell's Kitchen, and I hope you've explored that neighborhood because there are at least ten bars and clubs there. It's hoppin', even if it lacks the charm of the Village.

Uncle Paul

There was an Uncle Charlies on Lexington in the 70s - both the street and the years. A block east on Third ave was Country Cousin bar/restaurant with great burgers. The two bars had great "meat" and could satisfy your hungers for a night. Looking back to those decades it seems the upper East Side offered quite a variety of bars as I arrived.s in the neighborhood.

I wish I could find more who patronized that early Uncle Charlies. It seems that the name (if not the owners and locations) is near a fifty year anniversary.

Uncle Paul

I have to claim a bit of gay bar history by having a drawing of mine on the wall of Julius bar in the Village. It's there because I developed a crush on a bartender there in 1977 - God - 40 years ago. His name was Gary Wellman and I know because I found his name in an old calendar. I gave him the drawing when I heard he might be leaving the bar. Many, many years later I was in the bar and saw my framed drawing on the wall to the left of the rear door. It's a drawing of nude guys drinking at the tables in the front of the bar next to the window with the Julius name on it. Gary added a lot to the bar!!!

GIO MICHAELS

Wow. Such a great article. My first NYC gar bar experience was at Uncle Charlie's in 1987. It was the weekend before I left for Basic Training at Ft Knox. I met a guy named Michael and we ended up spending the entire weekend together. He was beautiful. I've thought about him many times over the years. He was a bartender there. I remember saying goodbye at Port Authority before catching my bus back home to Atlantic City. I lost his number. It killed me. Lol.

Ron

Excellent article, it's a shame NYC's Gay scene has changed so much. So many good people, places, parties, events & atmosphere. Wish we could turn back the hands of time sometimes.
This is in reply to Sam's comment 7/2015-Sorry it's a little late-re: Movie Theater/Dance club was a pheromonel place & yes very very liberal. I'm pretty sure it was called "sho" or "Show". One Sundat afternoon we end up @ Rawhide & ended up meeting then hanging with Dave the bartender. Long story short- went went with him & some of his friends (hot guys/models-supposedly straight??) to XL. We left XL-nothing happening- and someone suggested "Sho" so we went & it wasn't far from XL. We had one of the very best nights in NYC!! The "Straight" models/guys met there girlfriends there but the girlfriends insisted the "guys" enjoy & have fun-they wanted to drink & smoke. Yes smoking was banned in NYC but not there-just about anything went & without any attitude.
I've tried researching "Show" or "Sho" but can't find anything. If anyone finds anything: info/pics etc please let me know.
Thank for the memories!
Ron (grlodge107@gmail.com)

bill bohaboy

how about the alamo on 58th and 8th ave, or the cellblock, keller,s, the moose head in brooklyn, piano bar on montague st brooklyn hts

mike

Does anyone remember a bar in the West 50's called 'The Candy Store" It had a famous spiral staircase !

Al M

Anyone remember the Fireside Inn ( across from London Terrace ) or Gracie Mansion in Brooklyn Heights ?

Mark

Thank you for your article, Rob. Found it tonight because I just saw "Summer: The Donna Summer Musical" in La Jolla, that's opening on Broadway in April. It's a fun show & your readers will enjoy the music. It brought back a lot of memories including Barefoot Boy, which led to your article. Born & raised in Manhattan, started going to gay bars at 15 in 1974. First bar was 9th Circle in the village but went to many in your article before going to college in 1977 and moving to California. Started skipping high school parties for gay bars instead and went to bath houses too on weekends - Man's Country on 15th St., Club Baths on 1st Ave and 2nd street, both better than the St. Marks which seemed too run down. Some wild times growing up hung, young and horny in the pre-AIDS NYC scene. One time went dancing with a friend who was dressed down and he took me to a club where they wanted me to check my clothes. Almost left but my friend said let's go in anyway. It was the Mineshaft and first time I saw live fist fucking. I remember the Anvil had some wild scenes too. Was lucky to get out before most people got sick. Thanks for the reader comments, which reminded me of many places too. Mark

Rob

Thanks for your sharing your experiences Mark. I'm looking forward to the Donna Summer musical. By the way, if you haven't already come across it I've also written a post about my experiences at the baths.
Happy New Year!
Rob

Leka

Hi Rob, I was hoping you could help me - I noticed you mentioned Boy Bar and was wondering if you or any of your readers had any contact info with anyone who had worked there (or knew anyone that knew someone), perhaps a bartender, manager, promoter, or even just a regular there. For context, I'm trying to get more information on the singer Q Lazzarus, who played a lot of nights at Boy Bar back in the '80s and '90s. If you have any info or anything at all you could share I'd greatly appreciate it! Even if it's just some stories about your experiences there, anything helps!
Thanks so much,
Leka

Chuck

Should be a mention of the Cell Block - West 11th street. Upstairs after hours and herded back downstairs during legit hours. Spent entire weekends in that dive and what fun! Thank you for your article. Oh, I do recall the Firehouse @ 99 Wooster. $3 cover charge and all the free beer one can piss out.

Pierre

The Works was my go to bar, since I used to live nearby. Their all you can drink Sunday night beer blast used to leave me with many a Monday hangover.

Dennis

I worked Page and Crisco Disco late 70s and early 80s. My local bar was South Dakota on 3rd Avenue and I messed up a real good chance with a bartender there as I drank way too much then. he was the greatest

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