In Memoriam: Beige, But Never Boring
By Max Berlinger
Seventeen years is a long time. But in the breakneck world of "over-before-it-opened" New York City nightlife, it's an unfathomable eternity. Cut to 1994 when BBar and Grill, at the intersection of the then-seedy Bowery and E. 4th Street, hosted the first gathering of a gaggle of gays on a Tuesday night, organized by Erich Conrad, then -- like now --called Beige. Beverly Hills, 90210 was only in its fourth season, right around the time Brenda Walsh notoriously left for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, never to be heard from again. While New York, at its core, is a symbol of constant change -- from the momentous (The falling of the Twin Towers, electing the first black President) to the mundane (Amanda Lepore and Sophia LaMar's feud, the second coming of 90210), Beige remained unchanged for close to two decades, as if preserved in a bell jar.
If it was raining, you huddled closely with friends underneath the covered dining area and outdoor bar, smoking and drinking poorly-made, too-expensive drinks while scanning the crowd to avoid past sexual conquests and cruise for new ones. If it was warm, the horde unfurled into the far reaching corners of the verdant patio, still smoking, still drinking poorly-made, too-expensive drinks and still playing the delicate game of avoid-and-cruise. Trannies held court at large booths as twinkish boys (once outcasts in their small, suburban towns -- now part of the ultimate in-crowd) fetched them drinks. Celebrities often dropped by -- from Naomi Campbell to Dolly Parton -- but they were overshadowed by the towering plumes of hair from a nearby drag queen. The fashion-y crowd showed off their latest purchases, whispered the latest gossip and saw the same, familiar faces week after week. It was the pitch-perfect match of egalitarian inclusiveness and camp bitchery -- enough so that the famous, the semi-famous and the never-gonna-be-famous rubbed elbows with jovial familiarity.
Beige, its name serving as a pointedly droll contrast to the vibrantly colorful crowd, first played host to a coven of metaphorical troglodytes, long before the advent and/or popularity of email, cellphones, smartphones, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and the like. Now, people check-in on Foursquare in a desperate bid to be "mayor" (Cooper C. has that honor as of the time of writing). Yet on the other hand, some elements beyond just the enduring time and place must have remained constant. Although I can only personally speak from experience from the past four years, I can only assume that lanky, pompadoured boys have been spotted squatting on the corner of 4th and Bowery and vomitting since Beige's inaugural voyage (at least, I hope), or that the night I saw one man toss his drink in another's face (á la Samantha Jones' alcoholic slap in the face to Richard in Sex and the City) launching a brawl wasn't just a one-time aberration. And we've all waited in line -- annoyed -- for bathroom stalls filled with groups of men giggling in between sniffing sounds. Maybe good ole' Charles Dickens said it best: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
But enough waxing poetic. The fact is this: tonight is the last evening that Beige will be hosted at its original home, B Bar and Grill. The New York Times says that uppity new across-the-street neighbors in a newly constructed condominium have filed noise complaints (proving, once again, that some people don't deserve the right to live in New York) and thusly ended an era. Perhaps Beige will find another location that can capture it's unique blend of the contemporary and the nostalgic, but that seems difficult, if not impossible. As romantic and epic as New York is, she can also be a stone-cold bitch, kicking you to the curb when your time is up. Besides, it's a miracle of metropolitan proportions that it lasted even this long. And for that, dear Beige, we tip our hat to you and bid you adieu.