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.
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.