Are We Letting Gay Nightlife Die a Slow Death?


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