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New York's Gay Pride Parade - A Celebration or An Ordeal?

GayprideparadeNew York's Gay Pride Day Parade, which falls on the last Sunday in June, is the culmination of Gay Pride Week.  Its colorful floats and enthusiastic marchers display an array of LGBT interests; nearly every aspect of life is represented with a rainbow twist.  But while the parade is a wonderful event, for those of us who live in the West Village it's a one-day ordeal that sorely tests our patience.  Once the parade squeezes itself into the heart of the Village the neighborhood serves as a dumping grounds for thousands of crass, loud and disruptive parade goers, many who treat the neighborhood as a public toilet or a staging area for acting out personal drama.

 

ImagesCelebrants who descend upon the beleaguered area congregate around Christopher, Grove and Bleecker Streets and show little regard for those who live there.  When I had a summer share on Fire Island I made sure to be out there on this final weekend in June.  The few times I stayed in town I felt like a prisoner in my apartment, and if I went to the parade it was a challenge getting back to my place because of barricades, blocked streets and the mass of humanity.  I'm happy when it rains on this day.  (Last year I visited my mother in Pittsburgh and I'll be doing the same this year.)

 

No.loiteringDon't get me wrong, watching the parade on Fifth Avenue is a fun experience, but those who march are largely different from the masses who inflict themselves upon the West Village afterwards.  While a sense of pride emanates from the marchers, a passive-aggressive hostility characterizes those who loiter in the Village, waiting to be challenged for blocking doorways, vomiting on sidewalks or screaming with friends in the middle of streets.  For the most part they seem to be from the lower social strata, and their incongruence with the neighborhood has become more noticeable in the past ten years as it has been transformed by luxury condos and pricey boutiques - and, ironically, fewer LGBT residents.  (In other words, this is not their father's Greenwich Village).  

 

HeadacheThose who congregate on the stoops of brownstones and block sidewalks are similar to those who regularly flock to the Village on other nights, but on Gay Pride Sunday there are thousands more.  What's troubling is that rather than appreciate the Village for serving as a refuge from their intolerant neighborhoods in places like the Bronx or Newark, they disrespect it by flouting the norms of civility with their shrieking, scuffling and disruption of traffic and businesses.  Some activists who defend the rights of these young people to "hang out" usually don't live here and therefore don't witness first hand the problems they create.  And what is viewed as police harassment is likely a reaction to bad behavior.  Lastly, just because these unruly kids are gay doesn't mean gay Villagers turn a blind eye to their bad behavior - no matter how disadvantaged they may be.    


Nature of All Kinds Abounds in The Ramble in Central Park

TheRambleinCentralPark.bookcoverThe Ramble is a wooded area situated in the middle of Central Park, between 72nd and 79th Streets.  It was notorious for being a "meeting place" for gay men, not unlike Fire Island's Meat Rack, only less safe.  According to Wikipedia, "Since at least the early 20th century, the seclusion of the Ramble has been used for private homosexual encounters."  In the 1920s and '30s it was referred to as the "Fruited Plain".  (Surprisingly, this cruising spot was never referenced in any Village People song.)  Today it seems to have largely lost its allure due largely to Grindr and other similar apps.  Meanwhile the general public thinks of it as a place for bird watching.

 

 

The.ramble.central.park 

 

While I've had my share of encounters in the Meat Rack, I never ventured into the Ramble looking to hook up.  (In fact, I used to think it was called The Bramble.)  However, when I was coming out in the late 1970s and still living in Pittsburgh I had some of my first gay sexual experiences in a wooded area in Schenley Park, located near the campus of the University of Pittsburgh.  I used to bike there from home (a trip of about 15 miles).  Another outdoor escapade occurred shortly after I moved to New York when a boyfriend and I cavorted in Harriman State Park (in Rockland County). 

 

Occasionally I'd lay out on the sloped lawn adjacent to the Ramble to get some sun or to rest after biking around the park.  My first time there (1981) I bumped into a fellow I had just met at my new job (he later became my boss) and he was there with his boyfriend.  Since there were plenty of other places to meet guys, especially if you were openly gay, I never thought of exploring the Ramble as a meeting place. 

 

Theramble.iphigeneswalk.centralparknyc.org 

 

During the summer of 1978 figure skating legend Dick Button was mugged in the Ramble as was newspaper columnist Stuart Elliott in the early '80s (before he wrote the Advertising column for the New York Times).  This incident was the impetus behind Elliott coming out publicly (but not so for Button, which brings to mind the notoriously closeted Kevin Spacey who, after being mugged in 2004 in a section of a London park known for being a cruising spot, concocted a story about walking his dog at 4AM and tripping on its leash).  And one non-celebrity, a former boyfriend who was sexually compulsive and liked to sneak out to the Ramble, was beaten and robbed there on one occasion.

 

Newyorkmagazine.theramble

 

In popular culture the Ramble was mentioned in John Rechy's 1963 novel City of Night.  Then thirty years later Tony Kushner's Pullitzer-winning play  Angels in America depicted an explicit encounter in the Ramble, with one of the characters wanting to be infected with HIV by engaging in unsafe sex.

 

Cityofnight.johnrechy

 

And in May 2020 the Ramble briefly got national attention after a racist encounter between a white woman and an African American bird watcher was recorded on his phone and went viral.  (The woman took umbrage when the bird watcher advised her that her dog needed to be on a leash in that part of the park, and she called the police and reported that her life was being threatened.)

 

Racist encounter in the ramble
 

 


New York Mets Embroiled In Another Gay Controversy

Daniel.murphy.gaylifestyleEarlier this week New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy let it be known that he "disagrees" with the gay lifestyle.  This isn't the first time the Mets have been thrust into the glare of controversy over the subject of homosexuality.  In 1999 Atlanta Braves relief pitcher John Rocker made homophobic comments about New Yorkers in an interview in Sports Illustrated.  He confided that he'd never want to play for a New York team because of his experience riding the 7 subway to Shea Stadium, where he found himself sitting next to "some queer with AIDS, a dude next to him who just got out of jail for the fourth time, next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids."  Then in 2002 catcher Mike Piazza called a press conference to dispel rumors that he was gay.  This happened shortly after Mets manager Bobby Valentine said in a magazine interview that he expected a player to come out shortly (we're still waiting).

 

Murphy's comments came after the Mets hired Billy Bean, a ballplayer from the 1990s who's now openly gay, as Major League Baseball's first "ambassador of inclusion".   Specifically, here is what Murphy said:

 

Danielmurphy.mets

 

The way I see it, saying that he disagrees with the lifestyle of individuals created by God strongly suggests Murphy questions God's wisdom.  Hardly a trait of someone described as "devout" - unenlightened would be a better descriptor.  I suppose he also "disagrees" with the "lifestyle" of pork eaters; those who mix meat and dairy (e.g., eating a cheeseburger); have sex with a menstruating woman; work on the Sabbath; or who aren't circumcised - all activities proscribed in the Bible.  This brings to mind some of conservative bishops who have voiced dissent over Pope Francis's messages of inclusion.  Since the pope is the conduit of God, shouldn't these apostates be banished?  I'm also reminded of the homophobic teammate in the Broadway drama Take Me Out from the early 2000s.

 

Takemeout

 

I'd like to know what in particular Murphy finds so "disagreeable" about the gay "lifestyle".  Is it singing show tunes, having a love of the arts, dancing ability, our witty repartee and bon mots, possessing good taste?  Perhaps it's the courage to live one's life as it was meant to be and not cower in fear or shame?  Or is Murphy's message an attempt to conceal his own homoerotic desires?  After all, Christians who are in the public eye expressing righteous indignation as a way to provide cover for their own desires have become a cliche. 

 

Although I respect Murphy for saying what he believes I'm a bit disappointed that Billy Bean (pictured below), was so accommodating to him.  (He says he'd like to have further discussions with Murphy in the hopes of "enlightening" him - that reads like a premise for a porn movie to me!)  However, chances are Mets management asked Bean to respond in a conciliatory fashion since they'd rather alienate gay fans than their Christian fan base, which is probably far larger, especially in cities such as Atlanta, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Houston.  But give the Mets credit for hiring Bean in the first place.

 

Billy.bean.newyork.mets 

 

 


Remembering Fun Times at Greenwich Village's Monster Bar & Disco

Monster.tshirt Monster.bar.grove.street.nycOne of ZeitGAYst's most visited posts is one I wrote about gay bars that have closed since I moved to New York in 1979.  Each one that closed made me apprehensive about my neighborhood bar, the Monster, meeting the same fate, so I've written a loving tribute to the Monster before the fact.  Located on Grove St., around the corner from my apartment, it's a lively place that's been around for 40 years.  Part of its appeal for me is that even if I stay longer than I planned I'll be home in minutes.  

 

 

Besides its proximity, I also like the place because of it's spaciousness and, at least until the invasion of the shrieking women, attracts a good mix of patrons of different ages, races and ethnic backgrounds; there's also little "attitude" to speak of.  If you prefer to sit and chat an expansive bar is upstairs; if you like to dance a a disco downstairs beckons; and if belting out show tunes is your talent, there's a piano you can gather around.  (Two complaints I have concern the bar's drinks: 1) they're smaller than those of other bars - for example, Industry in Hell's Kitchen, serves drinks that are twice as large for the same price; and 2) Happy Hour doesn't include cocktails with "brand" liquor - a detail that isn't made explicit.)

 

Happy Hour

 

The Monster opened its doors in the early '80s, which was around the time I moved into Manhattan.  My earliest memory there is dancing to Michael Jackson's Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough in the downstairs disco with my boyfriend Rick and a friend from work during Gay Pride weekend in 1983.  In its early years it didn't have the section of the bar where the piano now sits - that was a bookstore (legitimate, not "adult").  Thirty years later I often go there on Friday evenings after work, joined by my friends Andy and Maury.   Here are some other fond memories/photos:

 

  • When I was in between full-time jobs I'd often go there late on Tuesday for its Classic Disco night.  It was wonderful hearing the great classics of the 1970s and '80s.  In a post I wrote about my favorite disco lyrics, the opening paragraph mentioned this weekly event.

 

Monster_discoball

 

  • I once got six people kicked out for being disorderly.  It happened one Saturday night as I was seated at the bar and a boisterous group of guys and gals persisted in heavily leaning and pushing up against me (especially the women).  Despite asking them nicely a number of times not to do so, they continued invading my space.  Finally, I had enough and, summoning my inner "top", stood up and forcibly shoved them away from me.  It turns out they were being annoying all night and this was the excuse the door man had been waiting for to bounce them.  Happily, I wasn't tossed out with them.

 

Popeye

 

  • I had the good fortune of meeting hunky Channel 5 weatherman Mike Woods there on a Sunday evening last summer.  I introduced myself because I wanted to tell him of the post I had written about sexy news anchors that included him.  (Last fall People Magazine named him its "Sexiest Weatherman".)

 

Mikewoods.weatherman

 

  • Despite there being no electricity, the Monster was open after hurricane Sandy struck in late October 2012.  It had a generator and the bar stayed open as long as the ice supply held up.  I went there with friends the evening of Halloween.  On a night that's known for being crazy and crowded in the Village, that year was dark and quiet with no Halloween parade.  But inside it was cozy with candlelight and just neighborhood regulars.

 

Sandy_halloween

 

  • This is the bar where I had my first Negroni, vodka gimlet and martini.  One evening, in the summer of 2012, I splashed some of my martini on my Blackberry, which was sitting on the bar, and within 10 seconds it stopped working.  I loved this device but I ended up getting a smartphone instead.

 

Cocktails.gimlets 

 

  • It's the only bar where I know bartenders by name, such as Mitch and Jeremy (pictured together), Greg, Vinny, Stephen, Patrick, Raymond, Pedro, Achilles, Evan and Facundo (pictured).  However, once I knew their names I was always felt a sense of loss if I discovered they had left (as was the case with the last four names). 

 

Facundo.bartender

 

Jeremy.mitch.monsterbar

 

  • Because I live so close I can walk there quickly in the depths of winter without putting on a coat (saving me hundreds of dollars in coat check expenses over the years).
  • Some of the go-go dancers at Saturday night's Manster at Monster event were a joy to watch as they truly put on a high energy,  hot show.  But not all of them.  Once I called out one who was barely moving, just sort of posing (and the song playing was quite danceable) - and I reported him to the manager.  However, a few years this vibe disappeared as rent boys replaced the dancers, trying to charm patrons (ideally, drunk tourists) into buying a lap dance for $5/minute.  This change happened after bar manager, Mitch, who was the creative force behind Manster, left and his night was replaced by Squirt

 

Monster_angel

 

Vinny.vega.monster
Crowd favorite, Vinny Vega.

 

Monster_shaved.head.gogo

 

 

GALLERY OF PHOTOS

 

Monster_myshoes
Sitting at the bar ...

 

Monster_lighting

 

Monster.xmas

  Monsterbar.stairwell

 

Iron work at the monster
A nice piece of iron work hangs behind the booth at the entrance where patrons pay cover charge on weekends.

 

Miguel the monster
Miguel is one of the managers

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Greek statue at monster
Are we at a bar or a museum? (Stands adjacent to the piano.)in

 

Monster tshirt

 

May 28 monster disco
As Alicia Bridges sang, "I love the nightlife, I love to boogie, on the disco round ..."

 

Rainbow chest at the monster bar
Pride weekend, 2017

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Drink on bar
Absolut Mandarin with a splash of cranberry!

 

 

Monster glass wall
Cinder block glass wall on the stairwell leading downstairs to the dance floor

 

Singing by paino
A regular belts out a tune ("What I Did for Love" would be a good guess)

 


(Despite my fond memories, in recent years changes in the types of patrons it attracts, e.g., more straight women, many of them drunk and loud and with their boyfriends in tow, and most recently, repercussions of COVID-19, have reduced the Monster's appeal for me.)


Gay Bowling: My Life In & Out of the Gutter

Gaybowling

 

Since I grew up in Pittsburgh I have bowling in my blood (Pittsburgh is part of the Bowling Crescent which extends up through Akron, Cleveland, Detroit and Toledo).  My parents both bowled in leagues, as did I in high school.  I even took a bowling class in college.  When I moved to New York after college I brought my ball and bag with me and for about three years, between 1981 and 1984, I bowled in a gay bowling league.  Twelve teams met every Tuesday at Bowlmor Lanes on University Place in Greenwich Village (there were also leagues on other nights).  My team was called '1001 Adventures', named after our captain's travel agency.  Besides the captain, Paul Albano, there was also Bo, Ron, Tony and myself (and Bo's twin sister, Linda, served as our alternate).

 

Although it was a fun way to socialize with sixty or seventy gay men,  this activity caused me some strife for a couple of reasons.  First, I had trouble converting spares.  My ball would go beautifully down the center of the lane but all too often one pin was left standing and I'd have trouble converting it into a spare.  This frustrated the hell out of me.  A second source for strife was the cruisy atmosphere, which created some friction between me and my boyfriend Rick (who didn't bowl).  I actually had an affair with one bowler and that precipitated a brief break up a few months after Rick and I moved in together in the spring of 1983

 

Bowlmor.lanes.university.place

 

Sadly, our team captain succumbed to AIDS complications in 1984.  He was only 43 years old and was the first person I knew to die from the disease.  Another teammate and the two fellows I had dalliances with also died later in the '80s.  Additionally, the elderly night manager of Bowlmor was murdered, beaten to death with a bowling bowl for the money in the cash drawer.  Finally, I became disillusioned when it turned out the president of the league was accused of pocketing our league's dues; because of this dues were being raised.  I quit after the 1984 season and never picked up my ball and bag from the locker.  I haven't bowled since.  (Just one month after writing this post I learned that Bowlmor had closed its doors - after 76 years of operation.  And in early 2016 the entire block was razed.) )

 

Bowlmor.murder

 

I realize I haven't painted a very rosy picture of my time at the alleys, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless (I particularly liked being scorekeeper).  And it wasn't all angst.  In fact, I won two trophies - for high series during the summer of 1982 and in fall/winter 1983 for rolling the highest score with handicap (236 + 50).  Thinking about it now, perhaps I should give it a second try.

 

Bowlingtrophy

 

 

 


Remembering Adventures at the Baths: A Gay Rite of Passage

Stackwhitetowels Vaseline RushBefore the onset of AIDS bathhouses were very popular with gay men.  After graduating from college in 1979 I moved to New York and, being a frisky 21-year-old, I felt like a kid in a candy store whenever I'd go to "the baths" - with a variety of different venues to visit.  I went on a regular basis for a little more than a year, from the spring of 1979 thru the summer of 1980.  Besides being exciting it was also a learning experience.   Most of the time I went to the Club Baths, but I also experienced Man's Country, St. Mark's Baths, the Everard and the Big Apple.  Besides being a place for anonymous hook ups, the baths, like bars, also served as a place for making friends.  (I can think of the names of eight guys I met there who I saw outside of the baths on a number of occasions.)  What follows is a synopsis of the venues I went to. 

 

THE CLUB BATHS

The Club Baths was part of a chain with locations across the US.  New York's "franchise" was on 1st Avenue near Houston St. next door to an Hispanic funeral parlor.  It had a lounge with a bar and TV and there was a swimming pool and sauna downstairs.  The price of admission got you a locker; for an additional charge you could rent a cubicle-sized room (with a cot and a door) for four hours.  I never rented a room since I preferred walking about the complex - and I didn't want to deal with the hassle of rejecting those I wasn't interested in (and there were many, especially since I was fresh meat and everyone wanted a taste).  For those looking for groups of guys to play with there was an orgy room, a movie room with bunks, and a maze.  Patrons walked around with a towel wrapped around their waists and opened it, or dropped it to the floor, as "opportunities" presented themselves.

 

Mark.beard_manintowel
Mark Beard, "Man in a White Towel"

 

My first trip on a New York subway was made during a visit to the baths.  I usually went on Saturday night, arriving around 9PM and staying until daybreak, when I'd fine myself on the subway with people who looked like they were going to church.  Since I lived in New Jersey at the time it wasn't an easy trip, but the fun that awaited easily motivated me.

Disco station WKTU played throughout the complex.  Whenever I hear songs such as Put Your Body In It (Stephanie Mills); Harmony (Suzy Lane); Street Life (The Crusaders); or Yellow Beach Umbrella (Bette Midler), warm memories come to mind.  The music would be regularly interrupted by the desk clerk announcing a room number whenever its four-hour rental was about to expire. 

 

Club.baths

 

THE BIG APPLE

The first bathhouse I ever went to was The Big Apple in the Times Square area - on Good Friday.  My first encounter was with a lawyer from Mexico City whose name was Javier.

 

Javier.fernandez  

 

ST. MARK'S BATHS

Located on St. Mark's Place in the East Village, the St. Mark's Baths had the reputation for attracting the hottest men.  The one time I went there was on a balmy October evening and the roof deck was open.

 

Stmarksbaths2

 

MAN'S COUNTRY

Man's Country was on West 15th St. between 5th and 6th Avenues.  Like the other bathhouses, it was multi-level with long, narrow floors.  What made it unique, however, was that upon entering one of the floors you came face-to-face with the front of a red semi with a trailer attached that guys went into to have sex.  This floor also held jail cells for more role playing scenarios.  A famous billboard for Man's Country was in Sheridan Square with the word "Come" dominating.

 

Come_mans.country

 

THE EVERARD

It was infamous for a deadly fire in 1977 that killed nine patrons.  It was located on 5th Avenue south of 34th St.  I went there in the winter of 1980 (it relocated a few blocks after the fire) and met a fellow named Gordon who I dated until the end of the summer.  I'd take the train up to his place in Poughkeepsie on weekends.  He is just one of the men I saw outside of the baths ...

 

NOT ALL ENCOUNTERS WERE ANONYMOUS

Perhaps the most interesting experience I had with someone I met was with Joey, owner of a car dealership in Westchester County, who took me out on his boat in the town of Harrison on Long Island Sound.  He picked me up on a Saturday morning in August 1979 and there were two children in the backseat of his car.  It turns out he was married, and while he and I went out on the boat to "relax" his wife and kids were back at the boathouse.

Dennis was a Catholic priest from Douglaston, Queens, who I met through a personal ad in the Village Voice.  Although I didn't meet him at the baths I introduced him to the Club Baths on a Friday when it was "Buddy Night" and two got in for the price of one.  Another fellow, Tom, a librarian from Scranton, PA, invited me to visit him but with the caveat that since he lived with his father we'd have to have sex in his car in the garage.  We spoke on the phone a few times but I didn't take him up on his invitation.

 

Man.white.towel

 

Bill was a guard at the US Embassy in Iran on Tehran's Teleghani Ave.  I met him in the summer of 1979, just a few months before embassy personnel were taken hostage.  Then there was Bruce (at first he told me his name was Rick), who was a chef at a restaurant on Cape Cod during the summer in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard.  On one date he came to my apartment and made Coq au vin and showed me how to prepare asparagus.  Phillip, who lived in Inwood in northern Manhattan, was the first black guy I was ever with.

Mel was a former copywriter at McCann Erickson and lived on Staten Island.  I've only been to that borough a few times in my life and the first time was to visit him.  He took me to see the Broadway musical Whoopie and we also saw the Woody Allen film Manhattan.  His was the first uncut cock I ever "encountered."  One more thing - he was in his early 50s, my father's age.

Bill, originally from Milwaukee, was a temp at Touche Ross (before it became Deloitte Touche) and lived at an SRO on West 12th St. off 6th Ave. called the Ardsley House.  He took me to the Russian Tea Room for dinner.  He was smitten with me but I wasn't ready for a serious relationship.  His was the first of many hearts I've broken.

Don lived in Bethpage on Long Island and I visited him there on Memorial Day weekend 1979.  Upon coming back on Sunday I went directly to the baths and ended up meeting Joe from Bensonhurst Brooklyn.  On one of our dates we saw Alien in Times Square and during the movie his car was towed.  He had a share out in the Pines but he wouldn't take me because he didn't think I was ready.

 

Towel

 

My adventures at the baths ended once I started seriously dating someone in September 1980 (we didn't meet at the baths).  Many bathhouses closed by the mid-80s in the midst of a backlash caused by the onset of AIDS.  Today there are a few in business (e.g. The West Side Club in Chelsea), but they aren't nearly as popular as they were back in the carefree '70s.

 

Continental.baths
Poster for a 2013 documentary about the iconic bathhouse, which had its heyday before I moved to New York.

 

 

 

 

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The Surprising, Sudden Downfall of Christine Quinn

QuinnformayorNearly a year has passed and yet it's still hard to believe how quickly New York City politician Christine Quinn fell from her ivory tower.  During the first half of 2013 she was the clear favorite to replace Michael Bloomberg as mayor of New York.  But despite receiving countless endorsements she steadily lost ground to underdog Bill de Blasio, and when voters pulled their levers during September's primary, she finished a distant third.  And although polls had indicated this result, they seemed too unbelievable to give them much credence.  This was the scenario of a nightmare you might expect Quinn to have had in her sleep during the campaign - but it unfolded in her waking life. 

 

Christinequinn.michaelbloombergThere have been other gay politicians who have fallen but their troubles were caused by sex scandals (e.g., Gerry Studds, Jim McGreevey, Mark Foley, Barney Frank, Sam Adams).  That wasn't the case with Quinn.  Instead, she fell out of favor because of policy matters: 1) She had a reputation for being overly deferential to real estate interests (a mini-Bloomberg); 2) She infuriated many residents of Greenwich Village for not going to bat for St. Vincent's Hospital; 3) She was instrumental in getting overturning term limits for the office of mayor, something voters had approved just a few years earlier, thus enabling Michael Bloomberg to run for a third term; 4) As part of the Bloomberg administration, many voters may have wanted a clean break after 12 years.

 

When asked about these issues it was puzzling that Quinn didn't have good answers ready.  It suggested that her campaign staff was unconcerned about voter discontent and exemplified Quinn's imperious manner.  (Reminiscent of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.)  However, the fact that she was a lesbian didn't appear to be a big issue.  Perhaps it would have been an issue for some Republicans, but they ever got the chance to vote against her in the general election.

 

NeilpatrickharrisWe also discovered the limits of Neil Patrick Harris's charms as his endorsement didn't provide any boost whatsover.  (Cynthia Nixon and Alan Cumming were two gay celebrities who supported de Blasio.)

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

SplashThe 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 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.

 

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 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 the fact 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've walked by it thousands of times.  However, this closing did not mean the end for B&S as it was been 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 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 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 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.  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 and 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 1980s.

 

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 more than 20 years, it's now 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 you didn't have 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 was 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 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.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.)

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 just three times going there, 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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Homophobic Front Page Article Runs in New York Times (December 17, 1963)

Nytimes_overt_growth_of_homosexualityImagine you were gay and living in New York in December 1963.  Like the rest of the country you were undoubtedly still recovering from the shock of President Kennedy's assassination a few weeks earlier.  Perhaps the Christmas holiday would lift your spirits somewhat.  Then on the morning of December 17, 1963 you picked up the New York Times and saw a lengthy news story on Page One with the headline, "Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern".  Quite a dispiriting way to start your day. 

 

Gay_newyork_george_chaunceyThe article, which began, "The problem of homosexuality in New York ...", was wide-ranging in scope, covering legal issues; opinions from psychiatrists; observations about habits, night life and occupations of gay men as well as the neighborhoods they congregated in.  Words such as "problem", "degenerates", "inverts", "disease" were sprinkled throughout.  (Perhaps the song "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" from The Sound of Music was inspired by the "problem" of homosexuality that psychiatrists were trying to solve.)  However, the article also served, unwittingly, as a course in Homosexuality 101 for isolated homosexuals or those just coming to terms with their same-sex attractions. 

 

Here are some of my favorite, jaw-dropping passages (some are paraphrased).

  • Sexual inverts have colonized three areas of the City: Greenwich Village, the Upper East Side from the upper 40s through the 70s, and the Upper West Side.
  • Dregs of the invert world congregate around Eighth Avenue and 42nd St.
  • They have their favored clothing suppliers who specialize in the tight slacks, short-cut coats and fastidious furnishing favored by many, but by no means all, male homosexuals.
  • The word "gay" has been appropriated as the adjective for homosexual.  A homosexual probably derives secret amusement from innocent employment of the word in its original meaning by "straight" - that is, heterosexual - speakers.
  • In summer, the New York homosexual can find vacation spots frequented by his kind - notably parts of Fire Island, a section of the beach at Jacob Riis Park, and many others.

Gayguys_1960s

  • In some areas of the East Side "middle class" homosexuals lead outward lives that are prosperous and even gay in the original sense.  By contrast, homosexuals who live in the Upper West Side are of a less prosperous class who drift through boarding houses.
  • The tendency of high-fashion designers to produce styles that minimize or suppress womanly curves isn't an expression of homosexual hostility toward women but rather an expression of fear.
  • 1962's "Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals" recommended that a constructive, supportive, warmly related father precludes the possibility of a homosexual son.  He acts as a neutralizing, protective agent should the mother make seductive or close-binding attempts.   

 

And yet, despite the less then positive depiction of New York City's gay residents, a number of positive observations were made:

  • No attempt is made, the police commissioner said, to enforce the theoretical ban on private homosexual conduct between consenting adults.
  • Parental concern over homosexual offenses involving minors is probably excessive according to most psychiatrists and public officials - no more common than molesters of girls.  Prevailing psychiatric opinion is that a single homosexual encounter would be unlikely to turn a young man toward homosexuality unless a predisposition already existed in the individual.
  • From homosexual subjects he had treated, Dr. Abram Kardiner noted that it was easier and less risky for a homosexual man to find a paramour than it was 25 years earlier.
  • Dr. Bieber believes that wiping out negative attitudes would contribute to healing homosexuality rather than creating it.
  • In a study of 300 homosexual men, 97% told freelance writer Randolfe Wicker that they would not change even if change were easy.

 

The full article can found here.

 

 

 


"Valley of the Dolls" - A Delightful, Trashy Mess of a Movie - And a Classic

Neely_helenlawson_fightValley of the Dolls was a huge best seller when the novel was published in 1966.  And it was an equally popular, although critically panned, movie that was released just before Christmas in 1967 (Dec. 15).  After adjusting for ticket price inflation, the $44 million it made at the box office (making it the 6th highest grossing movie of the year) is the equivalent of $300 million today.  Despite the date of its release, it would never be considered a holiday classic, but it's a beloved camp classic of many gay men.  (Perhaps the various Housewives iterations on Bravo were inspired by this movie? )

 

Valleyofdolls_neely2The movie tells the cautionary tale about the sordid underbelly of show business - Broadway as well as Hollywood.  Neely O'Hara, portrayed by Patty Duke, is "discovered", rapidly ascends to stardom, gets hooked on booze and pills and is discarded.  Judy Garland was the original choice to play the bigger than life Broadway star Helen Lawson.  (However, it was Neely O'Hara's character whose professional life mirrored Judy's in terms of pills and liquor).  20 years after VOD was released I was introduced to the movie by my gay boss.

 

Bitchy_fags_valleyofdollsIn keeping with the attitude toward gays in the 1960s, the portrayal of homosexuals in Dolls was not a positive one.  They were dismissively referred to as "fags".  Today, nearly 50 years later, this portrayal is  somewhat amusing and instructive of how attitudes have changed. 

 

Helen.lawson_treeThere are so many wonderfully awful scenes to relish.  For example, Neely being discovered at a telethon; a montage of Neely's typical crazy day as she rises to stardom; the song "Come Live With Me"; Helen singing "I'll Plant a Tree" in front of Calder-like mobile (pictured); Neely and Helen's confrontation in the lounge at a restaurant; Neely grasping for her "dolls".

 

Here are a dozen of my favorite lines:

  • This IS an exciting business! (An agent's assistant while watching from the side of the stage during Neely's breakout performance at a telethon)
  • The only hit that comes out of a Helen Lawson show is Helen Lawson, and that's ME, baby, remember?  (Helen Lawson, after demanding Neely be fired because she was taking attention from her.)
  • I'll plant my own tree and I'll make it grow ..." (Helen Lawson singing her show stopper, "I'll Plant My Tree)
  • I'll go out the way I came in. (Helen Lawson, in the ladies' lounge at a restaurant, after Neely pulled off her wig and flushed it down the toilet.)
  • I'm not the butler, Neely. (Neely O'Hara's husband) You're not the breadwinner either (Neely's snarky reply).
  • Mother, I know I don't have any talent, and I know all I have is a body, and I am doing my bust exercises. (Sharon Tate's character, Jennifer, on the phone with her disparaging mother)

 

Sharon_tate_vod

  • I have to get up at five o'clock in the morning and SPARKLE, Neely, SPARKLE! (Neely)
  • I wouldn't pay any attention to that. You know how bitchy fags can be!
  • Ted Casablanca is NOT a fag... and I`m the dame who can prove it.  (Neely)
  • Don`t worry, sweetheart. If the show folds I can always get you a part as understudy for my grandmother. (Neely to Helen)
  • They drummed you right outta Hollywood! So ya come crawlin` back to Broadway. Well, Broadway doesn`t go for booze and dope! (Helen to Neely)
  • Now you get outta my way, I got a guy waitin` for me. (Helen) That`s a switch from the fags you`re usually stuck with! (Neely) Helen Lawson: At least I never had to MARRY one! (Helen)

 

There are camp classics that are fine movies such as All About Eve and The Women, then there are the trashy classics such as Show Girls, Mommie Dearest and then there is ... Valley of the Dolls

 

In the fall of 1996 there was an off-Broadway production of Dolls they played at Village in the Square in Greenwich Village (Bleecker St.) starring Jackie Beat as Helen.  It was a parody which seemed odd considering it was already laughable in its original release.  I saw it twice.