Easternbloc, the legendary queer bar in Manhattan's East Village, officially closed its doors for good on Sunday, but not before delivering one last unforgettable night of debauchery. Locals, friends, and family came together to dance to disco, clink glasses, and celebrate the landmark the best way they knew how: without shirts. Under the hands of Darren Dryden and Benjamin Maisani (AKA Anderson Cooper's partner), Easternbloc served the LGBTQ community for the last 12 years near the corner of 6th Street and Avenue A. It had the bones of a cruise-y leather bar, the theatrics of drag, and the dressings of a queer communist circus.
News hit earlier this year that actor Alan Cumming and party promoter Daniel Nardicio would be teaming up with the current owners to renovate and re-launch the space under the new moniker, Club Cumming. While the proposal had a somewhat polarizing effect on the community, excitement began bubbling about much-needed structural and cosmetic improvements. After all, the space already had prior incarnations and an established history as a gay bar—it was previously dubbed Wonderbar, and well before that, Chameleon. Long-standing natives had become familiar with the reinvention of 505 East 6th Street over the decades.
Entering the space on closing night was not unlike most other nights before it: a warm greeting from bouncer Xavier Strange and a recognizable waft of musk and booze. The soundtrack of the night was the usual and welcomed classic hits: Donna Summer, ABBA, Robyn. The crowd of women and men seemed to share the same bated expectation of a special farewell—you could sense the collective hopefulness that a night like this would live up to the beloved lore of the space itself. And it delivered. Patrons included Andy Cohen, DJ Dicap & DJ William Francis, and playwright Paul Alexander.
DJ Cameron Cole warmed everyone up as they finished their first (or third) cocktail—paid for with cash only, of course. It only took until about midnight for the breathing room diminish and the intimacy to hit a crescendo. The music swelled and the crowd was dancing. Temperatures hit such boiling heights that shirt after shirt was yanked off and tucked into a waistline, a sight that essentially likened everyone to the night’s hunky go-go boys, Grant Roth and Tim Young. By the time Darren Dryden hit the DJ booth for his final set, the energy was thick and arousing.
A punctuated series of performances was kicked off by live act Michael T and Emma Craig, who delivered a sky-rocketing duet of Queen’s “Under Pressure.” Then came lip-syncs by cult entertainers Daphne Sumtimez and Severely Mame, both of whom have had longstanding weekly parties at the venue. Then there was the riveting Princess Brittany who, to put it simply, let everyone have it. Every phone was out documenting some of the last performances this bar's modest stage would have to offer. All of New York would know what they missed that night.
From that moment on, there was a full-scale send-off that highlighted what had made Easternbloc so special: sexual decadence, incredible DJ sets, and a staff devoted to a sanctuary that allowed everyone to let go of their reins. Between clusters of people twirling to hits by George Michael, you could peek and catch some delightful sleaze on the concrete dance floor, like an encounter between two people who swiftly shifted from strangers to friends. As the hours passed the bacchanal's crowd thinned down to a group that was palpably committed to staying until the lights came up. Mame gave a monumental lip sync of Nina Hagen’s “New York, New York.” Sumtimez sang her darkly comedic (and genius) riff “Hey Big Spender, I’m Transgender.” Eventually, as Celine Dion bellowed from the speakers, people were drinking more water than cocktails, and when the lights came up, you could see were surreal tableaus of impromptu drag performance and public blowjobs.
When taking a moment to scan the room one last time—the animal heads; the porn on the TVs; the vintage smut wallpaper; the stools that read GREEDY BOTTOM, ROUGH TRADE, and SAD CLOWN—questions surfaced. What will the next iteration of this space take on? And who gets to take home the zebra head? Dryden took to the microphone to share a few warm and thankful words, bittersweetly welcoming change. His bartender, Cedric Antonio, gave Dryden a benediction in return. The night comes to a full stop.
While Easternbloc’s era is coming to an end, the legacy is lasting, and many of the staff will continue onto Club Cumming, which is slated to open September 15. People seem to look excitedly forward to the new version of 505 East 6th Street, while fondly recalling a place where they could feel safe, visible, and uninhibited. And, of course, for not getting too upset when people continually broke the one cardinal bathroom rule: ONE GAY AT A TIME, SWEET JESUS.
Photography: Jeff Easton