There's no shortage of eulogies for and debates about the declining gay bar in recent years. Do we still need gay space? Should straight girls be allowed to have bachelorette parties there? How have Grindr and ManHunt and other sex-centric sites and apps impacted the business? How have LGBT rights impacted the gay bar economy?
The first two questions are completely subjective. The second two are easier to answer, and the answer remains the same: gay bars are suffering. Case-in-point: the closure of legendary New York City staple Rawhide last March. And the notes that the website Slate found a 12.5% decrease in the number of gay bars from coast-to-coast. That trend's definitely being felt in suburban Philadelphia, neighborhoods and hamlets to which closeted gay men flocked before coming out was an option.
"David Ralston came out in the early 1990s the only way he knew how: He went to a gay bar. Not just any gay bar, but one in the suburbs, far from his Northeast Philadelphia home and the eyes of anyone in his large Irish Catholic family. "I would still feel funny going into gay bars in Philadelphia," Ralston, now 46, recalled. "I would wonder who's watching me going in and out? Who's going to tell my mother?" So he drove to Gatsby's in Cherry Hill, just one of a wide variety of gay bars tucked discreetly in the suburbs at the time. There was the Lark in Bridgeport, for instance, and the CR Bar was in Upper Darby...No more."
Another one of those small, gay-inclusive towns, New Hope, which I recently visited, once had three long-running bars. Now only The Raven remains.
Mark Segal, the publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, told the Inquirer, "Those were our ghetto bars. We were stuck there. Today we're not stuck. Our dollars are welcomed everywhere." And Penn PhD student Brett Bumgarner, who's writing his dissertation on how gay men meet, suggests that bars, once a bastion for single men, are more group-oriented now that we can find sex partners online and elsewhere. Thus, younger or newly out LGBT people are more inclined to visit mixed bars, rather than seeking out gay-only environs. This is just a fact.
But, like the first two questions posed above, whether this fact is good or bad remains largely a matter of opinion. What's yours?