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Are We Letting Gay Nightlife Die a Slow Death?

madmyrnas

Anecdotal evidence out of New York City’s nightlife scene led us to believe that even in the recession, gay bars and lounges were doing alright. The theory goes: Even if we’re out of jobs and earning less, we now have more time to be social with friends, and what better way to pass through this miserable time than with a highball? Lesbian bar owners told Queerty they were trying all sorts of new things — themed nights and of course, drink specials — to attract nightlife crowds. But what if the one thing that will save gay nightlife around the country involves entering a territory that arguably preempts the entire reason for having gay bars? Yes, some same-sex institutions are catering to — *gasp * — heteros.

Say it isn’t so, Anchorage Daily News:

[Mad] Myrna’s has been home to a drag show for a decade, and straight people have long been part of the audience. But on some Friday nights lately, gay patrons have thinned dramatically, replaced by military couples, bachelorette parties and curious young professionals. It’s part of a national trend.

From San Francisco to Pittsburgh, Boston to Nashville, gay bars are closing their doors and shuttering drag shows, citing lack of patrons.

There are plenty of theories why clientele is changing at Myrna’s. People are making connections on the Internet. Growing social acceptance means there are few establishments were gays don’t feel comfortable. Simply put, the need for gay bars is fading.

“I have this feeling now that it’s like ‘mission accomplished,’ ” said Mike Richardson, board president of the Imperial Court of All Alaska, one of the state’s oldest gay organizations.

“We really don’t need safety in numbers.”

Myrna’s had to get creative to attract new customers to fill in where the old ones used to be, said manager Jeff “Myrna” Wood. Over the last few years, that has meant retooling the drag show to appeal to a wider audience. And now the venerable gay bar depends at least in part on the dollars of straight customers to keep its doors open.

As Wood likes to say, gay or straight, “everybody’s money is green.”

Of course, we’ve got zero hard numbers here, so it’s impossible to know what the real story is. (Our own nightlife friends tell us drink receipts are staying level, and sometimes increasing, which is actually do to more people going out but each person buying fewer drinks.) But the circumstantial evidence remains, especially for drag bars. Back at Myrna’s:

The class of drag queens once at the center of the show are aging — most are at least 40 — and like a fading order of nuns whose convents are closing, fewer among the younger generation are stepping into their size 13 pumps.

Some worry drag has become so mainstream, it may have lost its edge, so the younger generation isn’t as interested. And, with fewer bars, there’s fewer places for new queens to learn the craft.

That’s what makes Trevor “Ashley” Council unique. At 24, he’s the youngest of the queens by at least 10 years. On his hands and knees, he’s pulling shoes out of a suitcase, naming each style as he examines them: “French Whore. French Whore. Hooker Shoe.”

“I’m a boy during the day and girl on Friday nights and for special events,” he says.

He stands in front of the mirror in a black dress, fluffs his wig and flashes a set of perfect white teeth. He’s doesn’t know what gay bars used to be like but likes the way they are now.

Photo: Bob Hallinen/Anchorage Daily News

By:           editor editor
On:           Mar 23, 2009
Tagged: , ,
  • 22 Comments
    • egoiste
      egoiste

      This article could use a spell check.

      Mar 23, 2009 at 11:36 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Javier
      Javier

      Younger people want mixed clubs, clubs where bisexual, gay, and straight intermingle. We are also tired of the tired stereotypes and subculture identity. Today, it’s about assimilation and integration. A lot of gay and bisexual dudes are hanging out with their straight friends in mixed straightish or straight clubs today.

      Mar 23, 2009 at 12:01 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Kevin@BGFH
      Kevin@BGFH

      I think this article is total bullshit.

      I’m sure the experiences at Myrna’s are true and valid. But a single drag bar in Anchorage isn’t even enough to call it anecdotal. The article claims “From San Francisco to Pittsburgh, Boston to Nashville, gay bars are closing their doors and shuttering drag shows, citing lack of patrons — but doesn’t cite a single example in any of the cities.

      In San Francisco, gay bars in the Castro are remodeling and expanding at a rate unseen in years. Two of them are doubling in size. The owner of one bar told me that their top shelf brands aren’t moving quickly but everything else is selling faster to make up for it. It may be that more people are out, but drinking less, as was suggested here. It may also be that they are slowing down the speed of their drinking but staying out longer (drinking the same amount over a longer amount of time) since they don’t have to get up early. Not sure — but certainly business seems to be thriving in San Francisco. At least in the Castro. Other neighborhoods may be having more trouble.

      Mar 23, 2009 at 12:06 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • kevin (not that one)
      kevin (not that one)

      @Kevin@BGFH: Oh SNAP!!! Kevin, I was thinking exactly the same thing. I was just in the Castro last Friday and noticed the old Detour was undergoing a renovation as well as the Cafe San Marcos. Also, SF has always had mixed crowds, going as far back as the early days of the Stud and Trocadero Transfer. Booty is one of the hottest mash-up dance clubs in the city and is 50/50 gay/straight.

      As far as drag, Finochios closed LONG ago and Trannyshack recently ended their 10 year run because of burn-out, not because of the economy. There are still “traditional” drag shows happening every week at the Starlight Room and Aunt Charlies (among other places) and AsiaSF is always good for the ladyboys (not really drag, if you ask me).

      But while it’s been brought up, let’s face it. Drag queens are a dying breed (yes, I love RuPaul’s Drag Race). They are a bit like the Imperial Court and the Leather scene. There will probably always be a scene for these subcultures, but they’re getting smaller and smaller as the LGBT community evolves.

      I’m not that old, and I remember when the Leather scene in the south of market and Castro was pretty huge. Now you have to actively seek it out and I can’t think of any “dedicated” 24/7 leather bars.

      Mar 23, 2009 at 12:35 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • hardmannyc
      hardmannyc

      The bars in NYC seem to be doing fine. It’s true that more straight people go to certain ones, but I suspect it’s because of the ambience or a specialty, like the infused vodkas at vlada.

      Mar 23, 2009 at 1:14 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jason
      Jason

      It seems to vary a lot by city. Gay nightlife in Boston has been all but eradicated while it seems to be humming along in San Francisco.

      Mar 23, 2009 at 1:26 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Bertie
      Bertie

      This past Saturday night – ALL of the West Hollywood bars were jam packed. Most of them are filled with mixed crowds of straight girls and lesbians and gay men.

      Mar 23, 2009 at 1:31 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • afrolito
      afrolito

      How is the gay scene in Anchorage reflective of anything outside of Anchorage? I didn’t even know they had gay people there.

      Here in New York, there are definitely certain bars that draw a mixed crowd, but it hasn’t gotten ridiculous…yet. I’m not bothered by a sprinkling of hets here and there, as long as it doesn’t throw off the balance. Drunk straight women in a gay bar are the most annoying, and tragic spectacle ever.

      Mar 23, 2009 at 2:10 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Qjersey
      Qjersey

      Both of NYC’s drag restaurants, Lips and Lucky Chengs, had to start catering to the straight crowd to stay in business.

      Mar 23, 2009 at 3:04 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • dizzyspins
      dizzyspins

      Im don’t think what happens in Anchorage is indicative of the gay-bar scene nationwide, but I also doubt you can use SF and NYC as barometers either. Those cities have the biggest gay populations in the country, and get a continuous stream of new young gay men moving to town. (It would take a neutron bomb to keep the boys out of Eastern Bloc on a Friday night.) I’m curious how nightclubs in medium/small-sized cities like Baltimore, Savannah, Pittsburgh are faring.

      As for straights “invading” gay bars, there have always been drag bars that cater more to straights looking for a “wild” night out. (think about some of those Vegas stage shows). Most gays wouldnt step within ten feet of them.

      Mar 23, 2009 at 3:07 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Lee Marie
      Lee Marie

      New York gay nightlife is still thriving albeit on a smaller scale. Gone are the large gay club nights like The Roxy and Sound Factory but, new smaller, fun night are here for both men and women. Vandam on Sundays, Raunch on Wednesday and a fun mixed gay/lesbian dance party, Milk and Sugar in Brooklyn on Saturdays. Support these events and keep GAY nightlife alive.

      Mar 23, 2009 at 4:09 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • cruiser
      cruiser

      Here In Seattle in just the last year one of the oldest gay bars in town folded, as did the ONLY gay bookstore after 20+ years they closed their doors. It seems as though the gay bar is rapidly becoming the dinosaur of the present day, quickly becoming extinct(with the few exceptions of course) When I was still going out(back in the day)there was a proliferation of bars, now they are few and far between. As stated in the article a lot of has to do with the state of the economy true, however I think the majority of it comes from the fact that as someone staed in their post the younger genration is all about assimilation(think the Borg from Star Trek)they want venues where everyone regardless if they are gay, bi straight or somewhere in between all intermingle together, as gays & lesbians (as well as everyone else in the community that has an initial)become more accepted(with those few exceptions of course), the bar scene is either going to die a slow painful death or they are goingto have to re-invent themselves in order to survive the changing nite life climate.

      Mar 23, 2009 at 4:23 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Ted B. (Charging Rhino)
      Ted B. (Charging Rhino)

      The experience here in NJ after decades of basic gay rights in the workplace, school and at public accomadations is the gay-venues have mostly-closed as no-longer needed. Once you no-longer “needed” that gay-bar to sneak-off to meet guys…or hold-hands or dance with your BF…they closed. Twenty-five years ago we had 4-6 gay bars in Trenton and 3 in nearby New Hope, Pa. for the closeted State-employees, nearby state colleges and Princeton Univ. students, and the local residents….now there are NONE. Now, you can be out at work or school, and go with your BF to ANY bar, restaurant or club.

      And all this happens before the real rise of the Internet and gay-chatting.

      Mar 23, 2009 at 4:25 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Lena Dahlstrom
      Lena Dahlstrom

      @kevin (not that one): Thanks for shout-out for Aunt Charlie’s — you can see me there on the second Wednesday of the month .

      I can’t speak for other cities, but in SF the drag scene is pretty vibrant, I can think of probably a dozen shows (on all nights of the week). Haven’t been to all of them, but most draw a mixed crowd, in part because half of them descendent from people involved in the punk/club kid drag-style scene of Trannyshack.

      Locally, I’m not sure drag queens are dying as much as diversifing and evolving — most of the queens in town aren’t involved in either the Imperial Court or Ducal Court, which as you said, appear to be becoming more of a subcultural one has to seek out.

      As far as the “heteros in bars” issue, aside from “not throwing off the balance,” I think it’s mostly an issue of being respectful in someone else’s house. i.e. don’t act like you’re Steve Irwin on safari…

      Mar 23, 2009 at 6:56 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Attmay
      Attmay

      Maybe some gay people just plain don’t like going to bars. I know I don’t.

      Mar 23, 2009 at 7:17 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Rob
      Rob

      @kevin (not that one):
      Any theories about why drag and leather are both in decline?

      Mar 23, 2009 at 11:33 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • derrysf
      derrysf

      @kevin@bgfh

      Many gay venues in San Francisco are indeed doing well. However the sheer number of gay bars, restaurants, & lounges has decreased by 50% in the past 15 years.

      Mar 24, 2009 at 12:04 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mollywoodto
      Mollywoodto

      Gay bars are closing everywhere, even NYC and SF. (just do a google search “decline of gay nightlife”) My friend who is a New Yorker, told me that NYC has less than half the bars it had in 1990. (New York used to have well over 100 gay bars and clubs)

      I know where I live in Toronto, we always had between 35 to 40 gay & lesbian bars. There was always a good choice of dance clubs but not anymore. We now only have 3 gay places to dance and even then, they are not very busy. (not counting straight clubs who have gay nights once a week or month) There used to be happening places to go, any day of the week. Now, you won’t find a busy bar accept on weekends.

      The gay scene has changed a lot.
      I think a lot of the reason for it is the Internet. While gay people have more ways to connect, there is also a larger number who are feeling lonely and isolated. (so surveys say) The Internet gives one the illusion of being part of the gay scene, but at the same time, allows one to be totally anonymous. Almost everyone I know, at one time or another, has tried to meet friends or lovers through the Internet but few have found any success. For most people it’s just a way to fight loneliness but does little to help people connect. After much disappointment and frustration, many gay men just stop meeting people and resign themselves to just Internet chatting, to pass time. The Internet has produced a whole generation of social retards, who can’t seem to carry on a decent conversation. lol Can the Internet replace face to face social interactions? I think not!

      The younger gays have grown up with the Internet and are not used to the socializing that used to exist in Gay Villages. They seem to be quite anti-Gay Village and prefer straight bars. (so I’m told) The percentage of single gay men, especially the younger ones, is very high.
      So how do future generations find love, if nobody wants to meet face to face? I don’t think they will, I think gays will just get used to being alone. While all their straight friends meet partners and get married, we will be sitting all alone by our computers, wondering why we are still alone. I see that now happening to many of my “cyber friends” who all claim to love gay chat sites but never get laid. (or find love) I think it’s rather sad but what can you do, life changes.

      I gave up on the Internet dating thing a few years ago. I had way too many bad Internet dates, fake pics and no-shows. When I want a man, I get my ass to a gay cafe or bar in the village. I just hope some are still around in 20 years, for the few of us who still use them. I may be a middle-aged faggot but my best times were always in gay bars.

      Apr 10, 2009 at 9:08 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Raquel
      Raquel

      Now this may seem a bit ”homophobic” but I am SO glad that gay nightlife is dying… now don’t get the wrong idea!

      I’m from S.F., am a straight/hetero woman and for once in my life I can walk down the street ANYWHERE in S.F. or in a hotel or whatever place, hit on a guy and you know what? There is a HUGE probability that he is straight (:

      I’m so happy!
      Same thing with New York

      Now I have moved on and no longer live in the USA but this seems to be a general pattern everywhere in the big cities (London, Paris, Rome, Toyko,Singapore, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Barcelona —despite the rumours that it is becoming a gay mecca it is not… only a section—,Cape Town, Athens, Madrid,Berlin, etc) and thankfully even rural or small town areas everywhere are not being innudated with gay men!

      (I know I know that on average 95 % are straight/hetero but still even though gay men are small in number sometimes they travel quickly (:)

      So where are the gay men? On the Internet
      (Straights are there too in great numbers but who cares…)

      ” The younger gays have grown up with the Internet and are not used to the socializing that used to exist in Gay Villages. They seem to be quite anti-Gay Village and prefer straight bars. (so I’m told) The percentage of single gay men, especially the younger ones, is very high. ”

      Yeah they prefer straight bars… I do too ^__^

      It’s just not because they are ”anti gay village” but because straight bars focus on being a bar/club/etc first and not like gays bars whom choose to be gay first and bar/club/etc second

      ” So how do future generations find love, if nobody wants to meet face to face? I don’t think they will, I think gays will just get used to being alone. ”

      Sadly ):

      ” While all their straight friends meet partners and get married, we will be sitting all alone by our computers, wondering why we are still alone. I see that now happening to many of my “cyber friends” who all claim to love gay chat sites but never get laid. (or find love) I think it’s rather sad but what can you do, life changes. ”

      True to that (we’ll get married sooner, have kids, etc) but how on earth are gays not going to find anybody on the Internet??? ALL of my straight friends (even though have had weird experiences true dat!) HAVE found somebody and have had plenty of great dates online

      ” I gave up on the Internet dating thing a few years ago. I had way too many bad Internet dates, fake pics and no-shows. When I want a man, I get my ass to a gay cafe or bar in the village. I just hope some are still around in 20 years, for the few of us who still use them. I may be a middle-aged faggot but my best times were always in gay bars ”

      ????
      -__________-

      I agree that gay bars should be and will be around BUT do NOT mix them! I suffered SO much in the past due to ”mixing”! Bad BAD idea

      If people are ”mixing” have a tag or a sign saying ”Gay” or ”Straight/Hetero” on you LOL

      (Don’t use the ”Rainbow” since it’s God’s Rainbow from the Ark of Noah and not the gays lol)

      Jul 9, 2009 at 3:10 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • galefan2004
      galefan2004

      @Raquel: Just because you went into gay bars and expected gay men to accept your advances doesn’t make gay bars bad. I think you are absolutely full of crap. God doesn’t own the rainbow, for to do that he would have to exist, and since he doesn’t the rainbow belongs to gay men everywhere.

      Jul 9, 2009 at 3:34 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Fitz
      Fitz

      It’s easy to underestimate the importance of the gay bar, or to say that it’s just a place to get drunk or meet a trick. For many people the gay bar is the meeting place, which is still very important. AND I know I am dating myself here, but I remember when AIDS funding was all done from jars on bars or pianos in gay establishments. I remember when ride-share and home-care for AIDS patients was signed up for in gay bars.

      And I live in SF, I was out for a while last night. POPPING. Fun, energetic, sexy, silly. People arguing in the front of the bar, getting blown in the back. It’s all still here.

      Jul 9, 2009 at 3:40 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Raquel
      Raquel

      GALEFAN2004 – Honey you’re the idiot … the rainbow is NOT of the gays … it belongs to the Earth … to God … not you or me … it’s something of nature

      Also if you didn’t notice I did NOT go to gay bars
      I went to STRAIGHT bars

      And even there I used to see gay men everywhere!
      Gay men were NOT segregated to just one place in S.F.

      If you think that then you’re far more ignorant than I

      Don’t you know ”mixed” bars???
      Well there you go

      That’s why I said to wear a tag if one is in a ”mixed” bar lol
      Because gay men were in straight bars too

      And it didn’t help at all
      That’s why I moved out

      Unfortunately right now S.F. is getting better and well it’s too late for me… moved on nonetheless

      Kisses to you all

      Jul 9, 2009 at 7:01 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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