Take Back The Night
By Joshua David Stein
A husky man with a mullet and stonewashed jeans is tying a husky police officer with a mullet to the bars of a jail cell on the wall of the Hose, a new gay bar in the East Village. The scene, from a vintage porno, is being projected during Moose-knuckles, a weekly party hosted by the otter king of New York City, Paul Short. The room is packed with men who seem to be having a good time. Otters chat up art fags. Bearded East Village homos hit on each other and others. On the bar, a go-go dancer in strange grandma panties lethargically humps a pole, but seems more interested in watching the porn and the bartender with a torso teleported from the '70s who's doing a brisk trade in Stella Artois below him. A guy in a pea coat asks in a thick English accent, 'Where's the coat check?' His hand brushes my thigh.
Heralding the return of the gay bar is a bit like trumpeting the resurgence of long shadows at dusk. The observation is predictable, perennial, and at the same time, true. Gay bars are back.
Across the country, new gay bars are opening, old ones are filling up, and new nights are being created. In New York, there's the Hose; Main Man, Ryan McGinley's Thursday night party at B.East; and Manthrax!, a gay metal night. Susanne Bartsch, den motherof all gay nightlife, recently launched a party called Vandam with former club kid Kenny Kenny. In Washington, D.C., a 'danceboutique' called Town recently popped up, the first gay club to open there in nearly a decade according to its owners. In Huntington Beach, Calif., a 41-year-old lesbian named Ida Vallez opened Metro Q, the first gay bar in the area. And in downtown L.A., a slew of parties like Shits & Giggles and the newly launched Hideout are packed with boys three-deep at the bar. Is it, as The New York Observer's John Koblin posited, that gays are 'recession-proof,' or is something more important and, more likely, at work?
For years, Andy Starkweather was a metal spike trying to fit into the square hole of gay nightlife. 'I could never find a place to go,' complains the handsome, tattooed metalhead. It's not hard to see why. Not only are gays 'not supposed to like rock music,' as the gay punk rock author Jon Savage explains, but gay nightlife had long consolidated into a few large umbrella genres. To use New York memes, there were gay lounges like Hell's Kitchen's Therapy, leather bars like the Eagle, bear bars like the Dugout, and dive bars like the Cock in the East Village. But where was, for instance, a gay goth supposed to go? 'I'd go to the Cock and if it wasn't pop dance music, it was just disco,' says Starkweather.
That's changing. Though the Cock may always play frothy disco pop, people like Starkweather are making homes for themselves. In late 2008, he and his friend Randy Kaufman started Manthrax!, a night at the Hose that plays music they like to hear: metal, punk, and screamo. 'We're probably the only gay bar on the East Coast that plays Slipknot,' he says proudly. Since they started, Manthrax! nights have been packed. There are a lot of black T-shirts with skulls on them, but there are also Chelsea queens who grew up on Nirvana, indie rockers with Black Flag tattoos, and bears with Metallica hair and Rob Zombie beards. They're not here because they're queer. They just want to rock.
A few miles south is Main Man at the Lower East Side bar B.East, a bash started by Greg K. of the Misshapes and photographer Ryan McGinley as a 'gay party for gays who hate gay parties. That means: no techno or house music, no Abercrombie, no drag, no dark bars.' This is emphatically not the party for the tweezed, waxed epicenes of Chelsea who called the shots during the last decade of gay nightlife.