Dianne Brill, Musto, and Darian Darling | Photo by Mauricio Padilha
Dare I leave the house for one more breathless jaunt on the NYC gay bar go-‘round? Can I really stomach it after so many years of propping my eyes open amidst the din of clinking, schmoozing, bitching, and lip-synching? Absolutely, because it’ll be fun! After all, as I’ve said for centuries, NYC gay nightlife is famous for attracting cracked toys from around the world who become celebrated for the very qualities they were made fun of back at home. Here, we create a whack but wonderful family where you’re encouraged to reach into your inner diva and pull out someone flamboyant and unselfconscious, at least after midnight and before the stroke of noon. The more openly gay and radioactively creative you make yourself, the harder you’re embraced by the other clubgoers, who feel comfortable in a world far removed from the Puritanism, hypocrisy, and bad taste they grew up with.
Some of the characters might have changed from the previous week—NYC nightlife is a transient place, full of trap doors and booby hatches—but the steady stream of entertaining weirdness is a constant, and it takes on pretty colorful forms, no matter which cast of fab “freaks” you’re enraptured by at the moment. Of course you need to consider that there will always be a few really annoying types in the mix—the ones who talk too much about too little, while their eyes are rolling back in their heads like pinballs—but I guess that’s part of the “fun”.
Bearing all that in mind, here are some titillating overheard tidbits from my recent club travails:
Clubbie heading to the bar: “I drink vodka mixed with Red Bull. This way, you get the energy plus the drunk feeling.”
Young photographer: “Someone just told me that, since I was not holding a big bag of cocaine, I was not fit to talk to!”
Clubbie to his friends: “I just met a woman with Alzheimer’s. Oh, sorry, Mr. Musto.” Me: “Why are you apologizing? I don’t have Alzheimer’s.” Clubbie: “But I’m talking about a mature woman.”
Restaurateur: “I’m in my 50s and I’m marrying a 28-year-old twink, but it’s not about sex, it’s about companionship.”
Male European singer: “I’m bisexual. I just started having sex with my female best friend, and it’s very hot. It makes sense—and besides, what’s the difference between a relationship and a best friend you have sex with?” [I couldn’t answer except to say, “Your friendship with her probably won’t be quite as tight now that you can no longer tell her about all the hot guys you’re fucking.”]
Party hostess Darian Darling: “At 5 years old, I loved Victor Victoria, and I made my parents rent it for me weekly. This should have been the first of many warning signs to my parents that a gender identity scenario was about to unfold. But as a kid, the entire fact that Julie Andrews was pretending to be a female impersonator went completely over my head. I just thought she was fabulous. I was also confused about what Lesley Ann Warren’s character was named. When she tells James Garner, ‘I’m horny,’ I thought her name must be ‘Horny!' I used to go around the house imitating her to my parents and their friends by standing in doorways and seductively announcing, ‘I’m Horny.’ Everyone would hysterically laugh, and I never knew why.”
Female singer/promoter: “Everyone says New York nightlife is dead, but it isn’t. It’s like the cockroaches in your kitchen. Whenever you turn on the light or open the cabinet, they run away to another spot, but they’re still there.”
Fruit fly/socialite: “My mother-in-law is so hateful. She gave me a ruby, but I went and checked it out, and it was fake! Now I want to strangle her to death.”
Stylist: “Want to hear a joke? A guy walks into a gay bar. Every night for 30 years.” I guess he’s Horny.
But hold on to your stack of free drink tickets. Let me interrupt this stream of queer quotables with an amazing thought bubble of my own: I just figured out why every bar in town—including the scads of them that stud Hell’s Kitchen with studs—has a drag show! In the old days, gay guys would obsessively go to bars to get picked up, and they didn’t want to be interrupted by entertainment of any kind. Sex was their primary mission. But now, of course, everyone hooks up on apps and sites, not in the nightlife. They go to bars simply to hang out and have fun, and the drag entertainment is provided to help lure them there. Sheesh, I’m brilliant for a mature woman.
Drag has become so de rigueur that even the ‘phobes are starting to pluck their eyebrows. When a Chelsea bar called Boxers opened a few years ago, they ballsily declared that they wanted to cater more to “real men” than drag queens. Well, soon enough, they started catering to drag queens. A lot. And just recently, I went to an event at the third Boxers in the chain—it’s a mixed, Times Square-area hangout called Shadow Boxers—and I was virtually the only one in the room who hadn’t tucked! I’m just saying.
And whether we’re talking drag or just D’Ag bag carriers, let me tell you just who it is that makes LGBT nightlife tick in this city, promotion-wise. “Penthaus” throwers Justin Luke and Alan Picus lure the twinks, Westgay’s Frankie Sharp attracts hipsters and go-go boys, Chris Ryan nabs more twinks, and surreal party empress Susanne Bartsch mixes up clubbies, drag queens, transsexuals, and CEOs to ebullient effect. Meanwhile, Brandon Voss, Kenny Kenny, and Justin Luke bring in a frisky crowd to Up & Down (where they gape at celebs like Nick Jonas and Lil’ Kim) and Erich Conrad and Drew Elliott do the new, buzzy “prettyugly” every Saturday night at the Diamond Horseshoe, launching with a gorgeous mixed crowd of glitzy fashion people and bohemians—a.k.a. “glohos.” The same night, John Blair and company throw the crown jewel of gay thump-thump, Viva, while Jake Resnicow fixates on body-licious circuit events all over the place. Oh, and “the gal with the hairy armpits,” Ladyfag, brings out her own cache of young gay professionals on a regular basis. So the next time someone tells you gay nightlife is dead, please hand them this list of names and tell them to shut up and buy you another Shirley Temple.
Photo by Dustin Pittman via Instagram
I’ll exit this mishmash by giving you a clue as to just how many nocturnal options there are in naughty, bawdy NYC—even more than all the above-mentioned events. I recently broke down and accepted a friend’s offer to play Bingo—you heard me—on a Saturday night at a club called Le Poisson Rouge (hosted by drag star Linda Simpson, who should obviously be the tourism ambassador of New York, not Taylor Swift). Well, I got there at a reasonable hour—8 P.M., in fact—but it turned out the bash was overbooked, and I couldn’t get in! For Bingo! On a Saturday night! “The Bingo Brothers?” asked someone stupefied on the street. No, Bingo—your grandma’s game! Ah, I love the nightlife.
But hold onto your Bingo card! The “Every night is Halloween” crowd turned it out for the real Halloween on Friday, wearing even more elaborate costumes than usual thanks to an exhortation from the aforementioned party diva Susanne Bartsch and her wondrous crew of wild things like Amanda Lepore, One-Half Nelson, Gage of the Boone, and Muffinhead. La Bartsch has been branching out to the other boroughs (her monthly Kunst bash is in Brooklyn), as well as to other disciplines (she recently fused art and style for Fashion Week events around town). And now she beckoned us to the forgotten borough of Queens for her HalloQueens! event in Long Island City, a sumptuous MoMA PS1 ball followed by an art-laden after party. The ball was held in a ghost-white dome filled with all manner of queens—rim queens, pier queens, drama queens, and even some crown wearers. Naturally, there was a costume contest, and creative artists Gazelle and Scooter LaForge (dressed as giant eyeballs) edged out the runners-up, Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe, though stiff competition was provided by yours truly done up as a big, unreturnable gift box. (But I graciously declined the chance to poke out the eyeballs when I didn’t even place as a finalist.)
I was on the host committee for the after-party, a sprawling scene held in a jam-packed warehouse about a half mile away. Once I found it after glamorously schlepping in the rain, I flirted with a skeleton, cruised a Viking, caught up with a midget wrestler, and told a witch to go fuck herself. But I held back when noticing a giant representation of a woman’s spread legs, with a strobe-lit lounge situated in between them. “It’s a symbolic vagina,” someone noted. Honey, I can’t even deal with a symbolic vagina. Anyway, I’m still pulling glitter out of my ears thanks to this extraordinarily sexy night of ritualized showing off, and everyone has now officially decided that thanks to Bartsch, Halloween has become Gay Christmas. Merry Gay Christmas, everyone.
>>>MORE BROADWAY: INCLUDING EWAN MCGREGOR IN THE REAL THING
Cynthia Nixon and Ewan McGregor in 'The Real Thing' | Photo by Joan Marcus
GOT TO BE “REAL”
Judging from this Broadway season alone, it’s clear what playwrights most like to write about: playwrights! But fortunately, they seem to enjoy taking a healthily self-mocking tone about their hallowed profession. Newly revived is the old screwball comedy You Can’t Take It with You, in which the ditzy materfamilias writes horrible plays like Sex Takes a Holiday, mainly because a typewriter was mistakenly delivered to the house years ago. In the new The Country House, a frustrated actor makes his extended family do a reading of a play he’s written, and the reaction makes Soul Doctor look like a smash by comparison. In Terrence McNally’s revised It’s Only a Play, an author ducks for cover on the high-pressure opening night of his new drama. (Fortunately, McNally didn’t have to do the same, despite some kvetching.) And now we have a revival of Tom Stoppard’s 1982 The Real Thing, which is right in line with the modern playwright’s fixation on the problems inherent in bad writing. The play focuses on one excellent writer (the Stoppardesque playwright, Henry) and one hopeless one (an activist dabbling in TV work), but fortunately, the real Stoppard’s work is witty and insightful throughout, as it spans humanity’s eternal striving for real love and true art.
The play holds up as a scintillating meditation on fidelity, jealousy, lies, and love, as well as on the playwright’s mission to use precision and beauty in lieu of cheap tricks and lousy language. The two themes intersect thanks to the Henry-penned play within the play, which starts the evening off with a man searching through his wife’s personal things and leaping to the wrong conclusion about it. (Something similar happens to the real Henry later, but with even more potentially devastating results.)
In Sam Gold’s cleanly unfussy production—of the whole play, that is—the scenes are framed by the cast singing kitschy, romance-drenched ‘60s pop hits of the type Henry is obsessed with. And does the ensemble really sing? Well, making his Broadway debut, Ewan McGregor pushes too hard to be the effortlessly witty and vulnerable Henry—a part that nabbed Tonys for both Jeremy Irons and Stephen Dillane—but he grows into it by Act Two and becomes an able center of all the loving and lying. Alas, he has little chemistry with Maggie Gyllenhaal—also making her Broadway debut—who lacks a sort of ungraspable charisma and shimmery texture as his new wife Annie. Cynthia Nixon and Josh Hamilton are also in the cast, and while the play has seen far less tepid productions, it’s still worth the retread since it shows that real playwrights’ obsessions with fictional playwrights can pay off big time.
BARB IS WIRED FOR SOUND
Truly the real thing, British cabaret star Barb Jungr scores with her new show at 59E59 titled Barb Jungr: Hard Rain, the Songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Jungr, 59, emerges in a blonde pageboy, diving into some of the most obscure and esoteric works of those two composers and turning them into theater pieces, thanks to an intimate connection with the material, which allows her to take her fluidity of voice and movement to daring places. Gays might particularly love the Cohen song she does that goes, “Give me crack and anal sex. Take the only tree that’s left and stuff it up the hole in your culture.” But Jungr also catches fire with a version of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” that’s stirring and original, and not something you should try at home. Jungr’s cute banter includes the story of her arranger telling her that one Cohen song she wanted to do had 47 verses. She replied, “You don’t know my audience.” Anyway, Jungr might be in need of a vowel, but she’s not wanting for anything else.
BAD NEWS IN CLUBLAND
Alas, the dark side of nightlife is begging to get noticed this week. On Wednesday morning, Sean Verdi, an enterprising 23-year-old man who was the manager at HK’s Bar-Tini Ultra Lounge, was found unconscious in the bathroom of 45-year-old hotelier Ian Reisner’s apartment and was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead. (Reisner is the developer of the OUT NYC Hotel complex on West 42nd Street, which includes the BPM nightclub.) Drug abuse and/or mishaps are a sad, regular part of clubbing, and in this case it’s especially tragic since Sean was extremely well liked. I just talked to Jesse Reid, who worked for Sean at Bar-Tini and here’s what he said: “I started as a bar back. Sean liked me, and told me I worked hard. We got to talking one night and he asked me what my future was. I told him I wanted to get into bartending. He made me a bartender!
“I really, really liked him. He was very gracious—probably the most gracious person I’ve ever worked for. He told me how grateful he was that I was there, and said he wanted to help me get ahead. He wanted to stay at Bar-Tini and try a bunch of different parties there and turn it into something special because he believed in New York nightlife. He wanted to create an atmosphere that was for everybody. He wanted to create new parties for each night of the week and have it be really cool, not just a bar.”
Any evidence of drugging? “I didn’t know him well enough to know,” said Jesse. “But he had a really good head on his shoulders. I’m really shocked by what happened. This is the last scenario I would have ever imagined. He was there seven days a week and constantly working, running errands, and checking in with everyone. He always seemed very coherent and on top of things.”