The Slow, Inexorable Demise of the Gay Bar (And Not a Moment Too Soon)
by James Killough
I’ve done something highly unusual for me the past two weekends: I’ve been gaybarhopping twice with friends. What makes it extremely the more unusual is I’ve been stone-cold sober; I’m currently in one of my Puritan phases. Most guys need to drink heavily when they’re in a gay bar, which is why liquor companies love us so much. We singlehandedly built the Absolut brand without help from an Ikea instruction manual. We own the Country of Sweden’s economy. Says so right on the bottle.
The reason one tends to get hammered in a gay environment is that this is no ordinary social gathering. You are shopping and being shopped for: the desire for sex is the mixer in your drink; the potential for sex could be standing next to you at the urinal. So you need to relax, and that’s what booze is for, as well as a few Vicodin, and maybe a bump of… etcetera.
In ancient times, before we became wired to each other with laptops and iPads and handhelds, a gay bar was divided into two sections: the guys who were alone and cruising lined the walls, drinks in hand, while the guys there in groups of friends clustered in islands in the middle or around the bar. Gheys were the first social group to embrace online “dating” full force, and we have become socialized in different ways now that we are gaining acceptance in the larger world. Like cavemen moving into purpose-built structures, we have long since left the darkness of bushes and backrooms, and have been ordering in our sex from the comfort of our desks at home. If it was easy to hook up with a guy using just pictures ten years ago, webcams have made bad online connections almost a thing of the past.
The last date I went on, which was arranged online, we met at the Cat and Fiddle, a straight faux British pub on Sunset. My prospective date and I decided it was either that or the legendary Hollywood dive bar The Frolic Room, likewise straight. Why didn’t we meet at The Abbey in Weho, arguably the most beautiful gay bar outside of Brazil? Because a straight environment is neutral territory. Why tempt fate? And in a straight bar you don’t have the pressures of the Gay World screaming and boom-booming and posing all around you, like some pushy, grabby, pinching souk in a Moroccan medina. You can focus on each other and just be two friends having a drink together, without being drowned in anthemic house music with wailing diva voices.
So one entire group, the cruisers, has basically stopped going to gay bars, and that’s a massive loss of income because all those guys did was drink. And tip the bartenders heavily in the hopes of getting laid by them, if nobody else.
The closing of the legendary Eagle Tavern in San Francisco recently has been something of a shock, apparently. There is an Eagle bar in most big American cities that can support a sizable gay culture; it’s the favorite thing to call a leather bar, for some reason. You would think it would be the Grizzly, or the Wolf. The Eagle bars in New York and LA don’t appear to be under the same ownership as the one in SF, but the leather community is a tight-knit subgroup, so they can be seen as being inter-related thematically with the same patrons, who meet annually at the International Mr. Leather convention, usually held in Chicago.
Our first stop two weekends ago was Akbar in Silverlake, which was featured briefly in Beginners, a scene in which the old man discovers house music, which I’ve never heard played there, and I’ve been going since 1998. When we were there the other night, it was a bunch of geeky pre-trolls dancing to Morrissey and lip-syncing the words. We decided there was too much depression and not enough pulchritude, so we moved on to The Eagle around the corner, which promised great music, and delivered.
My biggest problem with having become who I am physically — i.e., a big bad gay wolf — is I look like I belong at The Eagle, but I don’t. I don’t find those guys sexy, and I’m not hung enough to fuck fat even if I did find them sexy, to be brutally frank. I mean, take a look at the background characters in the lead image of this post. No. Never. Nu-uh. Why?
As a friend in London once observed, “Since when did they become bears? Whatever happened to ‘fat old queens’?” I agree. The beard and the leather cannot hide the Nelly Within.
For this Sunday night’s round of gaybarhopping, Tuttle and I started out at the beer bust at Faultline, which is sometimes a fun place to go if you’re in a big group and you haven’t seen each other for a while and have lots to catch up on, and don’t have to look at the guys around you, who might as well be background characters in a Harry Potter film, like the pre-trolls of Akbar only older. Tuttle and I had already been on a two-and-a-half-hour hike together mid-week, so there wasn’t much to catch up on, and when you’re with him you are instantly reminded that the world should be a lot better looking, not to mention better dressed, and maybe hair on someone’s head isn’t such a bad thing after all. So we left there, grabbed some tacos at the Tacos Arizas truck in Echo Park — by far the best in the whole wild world, and at $1.25 apiece well recession-friendly — and headed over to MJs on Hyperion.
Of the four bars, this was the by far the most our speed.
“People look like they’re having fun here,” Tuttle said. Indeed, it was a happy place, despite the grating pop music — the bad music is a real problem for me with gay bars in general. But it was mostly groups of friends, again no single cruisers lined up against the wall. Not one. Well, there was one delightful little old queen at the bar, Jesse, who was wearing a hooded white terry cloth track suit ensemble. He looked like a foreground character from Harry Potter, one of those adorable house elves. Pushing eighty, Jesse was fondling a barely legal Polish stripper named Johan, whom everyone seemed to enjoy a grope of throughout the night.
“Is he your boyfriend?” Jesse the elf croaked at me over his whiskey cocktail, regarding Tuttle.
“No,” I replied.
“Mine’s gone AWOL,” Jesse sighed.
“Awwwww,” I said.
“He went on before me.”
“AWWWWWW.” I find lovers/spouses dying to be specially heartbreaking.
We talked to one of the bartenders about the decline of the gay bar. “It’s the economy,” he said. “A few years ago, I would make five or six hundred a night, now it’s three.” When I postulated that online cruising was to blame, and the fact we could now go to straight bars with better music and more breathable atmosphere, he seemed to agree with that, too. “Yeah, they come in here looking at their phones with that Grindr thing, just to meet a guy who is standing at the bar ten feet away from them.”
Grindr is an app that uses GPS technology to locate a horny man near you. It was previously just for iPhone users, but they’ve now made it available for Android and Blackberry users as well. It’s basically sex in cars/bushes/toilets/back rooms as an app. I don’t use Grindr, never will, despite the fact they are signing up eight thousand users a day. I’m not in the hook-up mode any more; I’ve had my sex, I’ve been lucky enough to have had a lot of great sex and stayed healthy, so enough with the randy Peter Pan thing, already.
So, between Grindr and Gaydar and Manhunt and Adam4Adam, and becoming normalized in society, the old gay ways are indeed old, and if tips are any indication, revenues in bars are way down, too. And at $7 per round for us last night during happy hour, it ain’t the economy, baby. If anything, people drink more during bad times. A little online research reveals that in New York City there are half the amount of gay bars as there were when I was a teen fagelah.
Speaking of things that used to be gay, the “royal” wedding in Monaco this weekend went completely below anyone’s radar. The American press barely mentioned it, much less made everyone get up at 4 a.m. for it, which is strange because Prince Albert is the only American prince in the world, as far as I know, with the probable exception of Queen Noor of Jordan’s kids, although she renounced her citizenship when she married. I’m pretty sure that Eisenhower granted Princess Grace’s children dual citizenship after she married Rainier.
As every Ghey of our generation knows, the 52-year-old Prince Albert was “definitely gay” until he started fathering illegitimate children all over the place, something Gheys don’t tend to do. Apparently there is another little bastard about to pop out somewhere, which is why the new Princess Charlene allegedly tried to do a runner a few days before the wedding, but was stopped at Nice airport, maybe given a few Xanax and a fat check, and escorted back to Monte Carlo.
I’ve never liked Monaco. It’s glitzy and tacky, the worst of the leathery tanned, diamond-encrusted, face-lifted, boob-enhanced, mobster-riddled French Riviera, with the KERCHING of slot machines and the whirring plop-plop-plop of roulette balls thrown into the sound mix, over screaming Formula One race car engines. It’s the proto-Dubai, and not even Grace Kelly could give it any class, so she drove off a cliff.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong or scandalous about Charlene having had second thoughts. It’s a lot to take on. And so what if it’s an arranged marriage of sorts? These people are on stage all the time, might as well cast these roles like you would any other. And there’s a case to be made for arranged marriages working out better than love marriages in the long run, anyway. Ask any Indian housewife.
Prince Charles was “definitely gay” when I was a kid, too. As a multi-lingual, Italy-raised teen homo, I was the pet project of a clutch of twenty-something Euro Fags in New York, many of whom had titles, but all of whom knew all the scandal of the noble and royal families of Europe with dead certainty.
Like many upper-class women everywhere, Queens of a Certain Ilk are deeply concerned with titles and lineages, and are privy to everyone’s sexuality, drug and alcohol problems, financial woes, and so forth. It’s like being part of a salon in a Russian novel set poolside in a hotel on Capri. I was raised by these house mothers in Armani leather jackets to believe unequivocally that the Prince of Wales was gay because he had once been the boyfriend of the son of an Italian ambassador to the Court of St. James. And there was incontrovertible proof of this romance, a detail relayed to the den mothers from the prince’s lover himself: Principe Carlo ha un cazzo enorme, pero lungo e fino, Prince Charles has a huge dick, but it’s long and thin. And you thought Michael Jackson’s spotty pedo penis was a smoking gun.
Of course, it turns out that Charles not only likes women, he likes old women. So much for the wisdom of Euro Fags.
I dated the heir of an ancient European imperial family for a while. He whined to me one day, “You only love me because I’m a prince,” which was extremely misguided of him; I didn’t love him at all. Like some Old World aristocratic arranged union, we spoke to each other in literally a lingua franca: French. I had said je t’aime a few times rather than the more precise form of ‘I like you,’ which is je t’aime bien, but that’s a common mistake in French, wherein “like” and “love” are basically the same.
“But a prince is who you are,” I replied. “It’s not something you can choose to be or not to be. So it’s not something I can love you for or not love you for.” Which shut that conversation up for good.
I suppose he could have renounced being a prince, like Lord Siddartha when he left the palace and went off to become Buddha, except in this poor guy’s case the throne and everything else had long since renounced him, and that ornate title was all he had left.