Gay bars and clubs are the lifelines of the lgbqt community.
Pour out your mimosa. And take a trip down memory lane. Let’s reflect back on the memories and experiences of NY gay bars and clubs that have permanently shut down.
As adults we all experience some type of nostalgia, especially of places we used to frequent. Many persons with the LGBT community possess fond memories of gay clubs and lounges that have closed. These establishments were not just places to drink and party. Historically, they have served as vital spaces for social gatherings.
Gay Bars’ History
Gar bars are venues that’s catered towards gay persons. One of the first gay bars in the US was the White Horse. Located in Oakland, California this venue has been opened since 1933. Back then gay culture wasn’t tolerated and so the establishment was a safe haven for the gay community.
After World War II more gay bars and clubs began to become established. This happened as social changes began during that period. As reported by Alfred Kinsey, men who fought in the war returned to the US in major cities. This allowed for the growth of gay establishments.
The rise of gay bars continued in the 1950s. Author Steven Steidman wrote in his book, Beyond the Closet, that “The 1950s and 1960s were not easy times to be different. The Cold War, the red scare, and a culture of patriotism promoted a narrow ideal of the American citizen.” This meant that LGBT persons faced huge discrimination and were alienated during that era. People were even arrested for wearing certain types of clothing and accessories that were not gender appropriate. Gay bars and lounges were spaces where LGBT persons could freely express their sexuality. They could dance, drink, and social with one another without fear of physical harm or verbal abuse based on their sexuality.
The existence of gay bars accelerated the growth of gay rights organizations and lgbt advocacy groups. One example is the Mattachine Society. Founded in California by Harry Hay, gays rights activist, it was the first gay rights group in the US. The purpose of the Mattachine Society was to fight discrimination and oppression against homosexual individuals. Organizers traveled to different cities and gathered in public spaces like bars and lounges.
Gay Bar, Julius Bar
Stone Wall Inn is considered to be the birthplace for the gay rights movement.
Julius Bar is another major part of LGBTQ history. This venue was the first bar catered to the LGBTQ community. Prior to its opening homosexual, transexual, and bisexual persons were not able to be served in licensed establishments. There were other rules against gays in these venues such as not being able to have their back towards the bar under the assumption that they would be cruising or flirting. These rules changed after Julius opened.
In April 1966 a “Sip-in” event was organized by Dick Letisch, gay rights activist, to challenge the rules of gay persons being served at bars. Letisch and other gay persons sat at Julius bar even while the bartenders refused to serve them. The “Sip-in” event at Julius was one of the major events that predated the lgbt rights movement.
Gay Bars and Gay Rights
The LGBT rights movement took place at the famous gay bar, The Stonewall Inn. In June of 1969 police raided the bar and attacked patrons. Following this raid, the lgbt community demonstrated and protested for preservation of the space and to unite lgbt persons.
Gay Bars and Culture
Throughout time gay bars and clubs even influenced LGBT culture. House music became popular through clubs like the Warehouse and Paradise Garage. Drag shows were popularized through continued to influence the LGBT social scene. Fundraisers, drag shows, and other social events have occurred at these venues.
Gays Bars and Clubs Today
Fast forward today many gay bars and clubs have closed down for both economic and social reasons. Economic factors like rising rents and gentrification are primary reasons. One major social factor is the use of dating apps. With the creation of Grindr and Jack’d gay men have been able to meet other men at the click of a button without ever leaving their home. These social networking apps have allowed for many social connections. Another reason for the closing of many gay bars is that as homosexuality has become more acceptable more LGBT persons feel comfortable being in spaces catered to a primary straight crowd.
At the same time many gay bars have been renovated and new ones are opening. In Bryan van Gorder’s article, “The 50 Most Popular Gay Bars in the United States” he described the plentiful amount of gay bars. In major cities like Las Vegas and New Orleans you will see a vibrant LGBT nightlife.
Still though many LGBT persons long for gay bars and lounges of the past. Nothing beats being in a physical space and interacting with other LGBT persons. The experiences I’ve had at these places are still fresh in my head. I can still remember one of my first gay experiences at Desire Bar & Grill, a gay establishment in the Village. I used to frequent this place often but there was one experience that I can not forget. During my third time at the bar I met an older gentleman who spoke to me about “topping and bottoming”. I was just coming out and I wasn’t accustomed to hearing terminologies common in the LGBT culture. Initially, I thought he was a creep but he turned to be an amazing person. Today, he’s my mentor.
Here are some of the NY bars and clubs that bring nostalgic memories(There are dozens of them so I apologize for those I’ve missed):
Club Langston was the last gay black-owned LGBTQ club in NY(possibly in the US) to shut its doors. This was one of the first gay LGBTQ clubs I went to. The crowd primarily catered to a LGBTQ crowd but straights attended this venue as well. For many Brooklyn residents Club Langston will hold steadfast in their memories.
G Lounge opened in 1997 and was a very popular spot in Manhattan. The DJs here played a variety of tunes including hip hop, disco, house, and pop. On top of the counters you would dee dancers dancing their lives away. Sadly, G Lounge was closed down and replaced by another bar.
Desire Bar & Grill
This venue was located in the heart of the village. Attracting a diverse crowd this was the go to spot on Thursday nights. From the bartenders to the patrons the place was full of sexy guys.
This spot was a hidden gem which resembled speakeasy. Many partygoers could not forget this venue. Almost every weekend this place was packed. At Secrets you would hear a variety of music including house, hip hop, pop, reggae, etc. Secrets attracted a large clientele of black and hispanic men but you would also see groups of other people.
This Latin nightclub was located in the heart of Times Square. It operated for almost 20 years before it shut it down. Sayvon Zabar, former owner of Escuelita, helped bring a vibrant LGBT nightlife for queer persons of color through this venue. Lady Bunny and many other notable drag performers performed at this venue
Chi Chi’s Cafe
Also located in the Village this venue catered to primarly LGBTQ persons of color. However, the bar closed largely due to neighborhood complaints.
Luke & Leroy
Many parties took place at this 2 story lounge. Patrons had the time of their life at this gay club. This venue attracted a large number of black lgbt persons.
Young or old you’ve heard about Splash. This Chelsea bar operated for more than 20 years! Here you’ll find tons of go go boys and a huge crowd of gay men. The closing of this place signified gentrification in Chelsea.
This legendary nightclub was one of the most popular venues during its time. Roxy was originally a skate rink and later transformed into a dance club. It opened in 1978 and closed its doors in 2007.
If you know about house music you must know about Paradise Garage. This venue helped to created the music genre that many people continue to enjoy. Paradise Garage opened in the late 70’s and operated until about 1987. It was a melting for both straight and LGBT persons of all races and backgrounds.
This hangout spot was popular locale for gays during the 1970s and 1980s. As you can tell by the image above and the venue’s name the club was known for disco and house music. Both Crisco and Paradise Garage have been considered to be equally comparable.