Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Goodbye Boots and Saddle, Hello Climaxx!

So I went to the "last night" party of Boots and Saddle, a gay bar that has been an institution in the West Village of Manhattan for 32 years, and two nights later attended the opening night of its new incarnation, Climaxx.

Oy vay!

Although I went to other bars beside Boots and Saddle, that place meant a lot to me. It used to be a very cruisy, crowded, extremely laid back [if sexually charged] bar with a friendly crowd of average joes who happened to be gay. No attitude, no fuss. As the bar got older, so did the crowd, until I realized with some amazement a couple of years ago that in certain quarters B and S was known as a "wrinkle room." The crowd was still mixed ages, but most of us were over forty and a few even older than that. Still younger people came in, and we were still a fun-loving, highly-sexed bunch of fellows.

I had some bad memories, of course. The only time I was gay-bashed -- believe it or not -- was in Boots and Saddle [some day I'll relate that story]. Even worse were the times a perfectly nice guy would give me a hug and say good-bye and tell me he was leaving New York for good, going home to his family. We never put it out there in so many words, but we both knew the poor fellow was going home to die. And what could you say but hug him and hold him and wish him the best? No one who didn't live through the eighties can imagine the toll of the AIDS epidemic, which is still ongoing. Today it no longer seems to be a death sentence, but in the 80's, it pretty much was. And so many customers -- gone. And so many bartenders -- gone. So many were still in their twenties ...

I thought the bar was still doing good business, but apparently it wasn't good enough for the nice straight couple who owned the place. So they decided to turn it into more of a club called Climaxx. The idea was that "everyone is welcome," which meant gay, straight and bi, anyone with the price of a drink [although I think they were appealing to more of a straight crowd]. I knew Boots wouldn't be the same, but I figured it just had to be accepted. I HATED the idea of walking into this historical place which meant so much to the gay community and having to watch straight couples in their twenties necking not so much because they were straight and in their twenties, but because they had no idea of the significance of the bar, they didn't know all those men who bravely told their friends that they were "going home." I told myself as long as I could neck with a guy in the place the straight people could do their thing, too.

Yeah I figured, as long as gays were welcome I would be okay with the changes. These included stand up comics, karaoke, go go boys and "girls," "Hunk of the Week" contests and "Bear Nights" (this last being the only thing that interested me).

The "last night" party did not begin auspiciously, with the entertainment consisting of several obese women [I was later told they were drag queens] shaking their boobies and lip-syncing to records. I came back when the big gals were gone and things were much gayer and much better.
[Let me make it clear that I am not prejudiced against big gals, big people, or drag queens, but I confess that I do not in any way think of lip-syncing as entertainment or as any kind of "talent." Sorry.]

Two nights later, the bar officially debuted as Climaxx. The crowd was still mostly gay, and so was the new host, an elderly gentleman by the name of "Barry Z." [Barry Z is a host of a public access show that bears his name, although I had never heard of him before.] One little gal at the bar was wearing a dress that was nearly falling off of her and I hoped someone would tell her that she was wasting her assets at Climaxx. The entertainment was somewhat better than on the "closing" night but still no great shakes. Still, I and a few friends were enjoying ourselves.

Then came a female trio who call themselves The Glamazons. The gals said "We're happy to be spending St. Valentine's Day at a gay bar." A big-headed lunkhead [who will probably never go back] a few feet from the bandstand shouted out "It's a straight bar"...

...and, to my amazement, so did Barry Z!

Now, let me remind you. The bartenders, who had worked in the place [Boots] for years, were gay, the go go boy was gay, most of the singers were gay, at least half of the customers were gay, the new "celebrity" host was gay, and this was a bar that served [and been supported] by the gay community for years ... but it was suddenly a straight bar!

I thought it was supposed to be a mixed bar; I thought everyone was welcome.

I decided to spend my cash elsewhere and went down to Ty's where I reported on what had happened and some of the customers told me I must have been mistaken, Barry Z was joking, he was being supportive of some straight friends, or maybe he had simply said "it's a straight bar, too." If only he had just used the word mixed. Who knows? [Then I went to Julius and got a bigger shock, which I'll report on in a later post.]

Well, I -- or rather we gays -- had the last laugh. I went to the bar after eleven and most of the straights were gone, Barry Z was gone [thank goodness], the "entertainment" was gone, the owners were gone, and it was just the gay bartenders and the gay customers up to our usual tricks, having a ball and acting like it was still Boots and Saddle. Which in a very real way, it was.

How long will this situation remain? Will actual bears go to the bar on "bear night?" Will leather men and their fans go on "leather night?" Will most of the straight people disappear by midnight like panicked, vanishing Cinderellas and leave the place to us guys? Or will the spirit of Boots and Saddle disappear forever? Will Climaxx turn into another Five Oaks, a classic mixed bar in which gays and straights seemed to intermingle in perfect harmony, or will it be an uneasy alliance where an open door policy lets in everyone regardless of gay or straight-friendliness? Will it be one of those bars that is gay one night and straight the next or even switches orientation from afternoon to evening, or in the middle of the night? Will it make any difference? Is this a disaster in the making, or will it work no matter what?

Only time will tell.

UPDATE: A little over a month after the opening night of Climaxx, the bar went back to being B and S and most of the Barry Z crap went with it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What's up with Brian? -- straight guys in gay bars

A friend told me to turn on the TV and look at a sitcom called "What About Brian?" One of the sub-plots had to do with a guy who decided he wanted to be celibate. His friends arrived at his office and told him he needed to get out and they wouldn't take no for an answer. So he wouldn't be tempted to have sex, the guys -- remember these are straight guys -- take him to a gay bar. Cute, huh? Naturally there was the scene when this gay gay comes up and speaks to one of the guys, clearly interested in him, who manages to be minimally friendly [he even thanks him for the compliment] even though he wonders why the guy thought he was gay [gee, maybe it's because he was in a GAY bar?] with the usual somewhat distressed reaction. The same gay guy misinterprets a conversation during which one of the straight fellows tells his roommate he's moving out, and offers one of the guys a tissue [for tears or something]. The straight guy takes the tissue but has this kind of what-a-weirdo look on his face as he walks away.

The actor playing the gay guy wasn't especially effeminate but he was a little "precious," undoubtedly so that the actors playing the straight guys [one or two of which are probably gay in real life] would seem more masculine. More tiresome stereotyping. The straight guys weren't exactly homophobic in a blatant sense, only terribly snide. In fact, they were the kind of straight guys who in real life wouldn't be caught dead in a gay bar. If guys like that occasionally wander [generally by mistake or accidentally on purpose] into a gay bar, they might make it past the front door, but chances are good that they'd be asked to leave before too long. Most gay men don't really tolerate straight people arching their eyebrows and making "cute" remarks while congratulating themselves on their heterosexuality. Just the dismayed look on the celibate guy's face as he realized what kind of bar he was in would have been enough to get them all sent packing in a hurry. The sequence wasn't offensive in any particularly outrageous manner, just silly and dumb.

I've read here and there that there are straight guys who go into gay bars -- get this -- to allegedly pick up women. The theory is that these straight guys figure that many gay men bring straight women -- or "sisters" -- into gay bars with them, and they can score with these gals because there's little if any competition [Brian and his friends obviously didn't consider this possibility]. What's wrong with this theory? Well, first of all, many of these women are themselves gay. And straight women often go to gay bars because they don't feel like being hit on, or because they're married and have boyfriends and like our celibate friend on the sitcom don't want to be tempted. But if a guy is such a total loser that he can't stand the competition in a straight singles bar, what makes him think the few straight women he may run across in some gay bars are even going to be interested in him. They're more likely to think he's a closet gay [or bisexually curious], and chances are that he is.

Yeah, you can picture it. Straight guys in Brooklyn and the Bronx coming home from a hard day at work and thinking to themselves: "I want to get laid tonight. I think I'll go into Manhattan and go down to Chelsea or the Village and party with the gay guys. I'll pick me up one of those straight women that come in with the gay guys. Yeah. That's what I'll do."


More likely a legitimate straight guy will go to one of the many hot singles bars all over Manhattan and in the other boroughs where there are LOTS of straight women anxious and willing to [hopefully] meet him.

Unless, of course, he's a loser who tries to pick up women in gay bars!

[And don't get me started on straight bartenders in gay bars, all 0 of them!]

Saturday, February 3, 2007

First of Many

This will hopefully be the first post of many dealing not only with my life but with the lives of many other people who also belong to the various groups/designations that I belong to -- as well as other and related matters. I do not define my identity with any one designation. My identity is a combination of all these designations plus a little something extra that adds up to me.

Although raised in another faith, I consider myself Jewish because my mother was. She was not a practicing Jew for most of her life and neither am I. I am not in the least religious, but I may feel an affinity to other Jews on the racial level. In any case, I become a full-blooded Jewish person the minute I hear an anti-Semitic remark.

I am also Gay. Non-stereotypical in most ways; vaguely stereotypical in others. I am constantly annoyed by the way the world at large seems in so many ways unaware of the diversity of the gay community. But I can't always blame "straight" people for this as there are many gays who are also unaware of the diversity of the gay community. Or unwilling to explore it.

I am generally considered a gay "bear" because a.) I am hairy; b.) I am generally non-stereotypical; c.) I am of a certain age [over forty]; d.) I am not a "pretty boy." The sub-designation "bear" is also very diversified. Some might not consider me a bear because a.) I only occasionally sport facial hair --generally a mustache and sometimes a beard, but I find them a pain in the neck to keep carefully trimmed, and I'm not into "soup catchers;" b.) I do not have a massive frame or a big belly (any more) although I am by no means a ninety-pound weakling; c.) I am masculine but not necessarily hyper-butch with a deep voice and super-muscular arms. But I have been called a bear and I do not fit comfortably into any other classification.

As I say, I am of a certain age, and while I'm nowhere near being a senior citizen, I am prepared to be a Gray Activist as well as a Gay Activist. I deplore the fact that in our society [gay and straight] age is not revered but reviled. Every day younger people who will someday be middle-aged and old themselves chip away -- or try to -- at older people's self-confidence. Sometimes they are unaware of what they are doing and sometimes they are acting out of their own insecurities. I refuse to be put down simply because I am no longer young.

I also refuse to be put down because I am gay. While currently I do not belong to any gay groups, I was a militant [but non-violent, let me make that clear] gay activist for many years and that spirit reignites in me whenever I see an injustice directed against myself as a gay man or gay people -- male or female -- in general.

As for being tough, let's just say that in this world you sometimes have to be. But I am also tender. I can not consider being any other way.