How Marriage Ruined the Gay Bar Scene. Or Not


There’s probably a few studies out there showing how cruising the Internet impacted socialization between strangers outside the home — namely, limiting it. Everyone’s all hopped up on Manhunt and Craigslist to worry about $10 cocktails and a hope to find someone to take home from the bar. In Massachusetts, though, gay nightlife knowitalls aren’t just blaming the Information Superhighway for revenue woes and venue closures. They’re also pointing the finger at all you gays who wanted your silly marriage rights!

“Once gay marriage became legal, people were more comfortable mixing (in straight environments),” Boston radio host Jim Clerkin tells the Herald.

We’re not aware of any scientific data that says this is true, so we’ll just have to rely on anecdotal evidence (our favorite, since it let’s us claim anything!). And based on that, it’s silly to think legalizing same-sex marriage had much of an impact at all on gay nightlife, which the Herald reports is suffering in Boston.

Blame the economy. Blame police raids. But don’t blame married folks. Why? Because those gays who tied the knot — we’ll call them “domestics” — probably weren’t out hitting the bars that much even before they were allowed to marry; they were still browsing Pottery Barn catalogs and meeting other couples for dinner dates and cab savs just like they are now. They just weren’t raising their wine glasses wearing wedding bands.

And it’s not like single gays were impacted much by marriage here, either. Just because gays can get hitched doesn’t mean unattached dude-loving-dudes and lady-loving-ladies suddenly think a straight bar is going to be HQ for finding a mate. It’s not. And despite your naysaying (especially from those of you in relationships!), we all go to the bars for the off-chance of meeting someone who finds us pretty. Even if it is just to flirt. So we’re not abandoning gay bars en masse for the chance to pull up a bar stool next to someone of the same-sex who’d never sleep with us.

Besides, after ten thousand of you got married in Massachussets in the rush after 2004’s legalization, you’re barely getting married at all anymore.

(Photo: NYT Magazine)

Get Queerty Daily

Subscribe to Queerty for a daily dose of #boston #marriage #massachusetts stories and more


  • Ted B. (Charging Rhino)

    Here in NJ we saw the same thing happen when the state passed a fairly-comprehensive gay rights law several decades ago; the gay bars started to fade away. Once you didn’t have to sneak-off campus to a gay bar to hold hands with, or even be seen with your boyfriend…or go to that out-of-town bar where no-one knew you or your car…the need for the “gay” bar as a safe-place faded. Plus public attitudes have changed and certainly among the younger generation it seems there’s few barriers to mixing and blanding-in. Now two guys, or a group of guys, can go to any bar or watering-hole and fit right in.

  • richardgawker

    I’m confused by the implication that Boston ever had a gay bar scene to ruin.

  • thatguyfromboston

    @richardgawker – OUCH!

  • M Shane

    For anyone who has been around since preaids and the there is no question that it has ruined the gay community and any sense of belongingness to a larger body of gays & the complex networks of friends and support structures like bars. etc that once existed
    It’s sad and rediculous that so many of these ‘married ‘ queens think that they are just versions of breeder couples.

    Of course this is not in our natures and will come to a sad disilusion as young people see the disatisfaction of isolation with one other queen.

  • AlwaysGay

    I like being around gay people. A lot of gay people are delusional about the level of anti-gay bigotry, it’s omnipresent. Thirty state constitutions have heterosexual-only marriage amendments.

  • Carlos

    @M Shane: The notion that the gay community is ruined somehow because there are less gay bars is absurd. Partnering up doesn’t lead to isolation – my partner and I are together coming up on 20 years now and we have more friends and more of a sense of belonging than ever before. Living alone the 99% of your life you don’t spend at bars, now THAT’s isolation.

  • drresol

    Well, I’m in Tennessee…and it’s still very hazardous to your health to be openly gay here in public. If all your gay bars up north fade away due to increasing public acceptance and tolerance, come down here…I have a feeling our gay bars are going to be around for a long time.

  • Alex

    The Scene in Boston has a lot going against it. Facebook was invented there, and a large portion of the population are in or just out of college, so they are especially web savvy. Also, college provides forums to meet people outside of the scene (affinity orgs, political groups, etc). Finally, while people cruising may still go to gay bars, in a city that’s so tolerant those who already paired up who want to go out and show their affection without fear of harassment don’t need these venues.

  • ctprep

    The gay bar scene was dying way before gay marriage. A wedding ring won’t keep people from hitting the bar anymore than a committed, long term relationship . . .

    I’d say Manhunt, M4M, Real Jock etc. has had a greater effect. Why go to the bar to get laid when you can find someone in 20 minutes online?

  • jerrycarlin

    M Shane’s thoughts and perhaps experiences are different than mine

    I like his description of ‘complex networks of friends and structures’ during the pre-AIDS era. Armistead Maupin captured those networks rather well in his “Tales of The City” series. I was living in San Francisco when the tales were serialized, appearing daily in The San Francisco Chronicle. It was the Seventies. I saw those networks members’ playing out on daily basis and played with them.

    After we came out of denial that AIDS was gonna be around for awhile the networks blended and became a great big volunteer, fund raising, caretaker world. Leather queens mixed with sweater queens and the dynamic in the city changed. Forever.

    As all of us matured, the result of negotiating The Eighties, a decade of illness and death, I sensed that our priorities about life were changing, albeit subtley. After living 25 or so years in San Francisco, my partner and I moved to Bainbridge Island a bedroom community of Seattle on The Puget Sound.

    We have a great house and garden, an interesting and warm circle of friends, and an affiliation with a wonderful Episcopal parish. Our friends who are gay have children. Our friends who are straight never had kids. We all seem to have a good, healthy sense of who we are and that, to me, means we live according to our personal beliefs and values rather than simply identifying ourselves by our sexual orientation.

    It is a pleasure to watch younger couples–and I’ll focus on a same gender couple we know–mature within and develop a life together that includes the so called trappings of suburban life while still attending to their more urban social lives. I have no concern that these folks have any belief they are playing house or trying to pass as a heterosexual couple to fit in.

    Perhaps I’m lucky that as I’ve grown older–I’m 52 and my partner is 65–I’ve found that life is full and fulfilling. I can’t say I’ve felt isolated or disillusioned living with my best friend for these past 20 years. It has been just the opposite.

  • TANK

    Who goes to the bar to get laid anymore? It seems like lesbians are doing that more than gays (probably wrong, but an observatoin…anyway). I go to get drunk and get into fights. You can’t replace that with manhunt and adamforcrabs or whatever.

  • Alexa

    @TANK: Well that probably helps confirm that it’s Manhunt etc that is killing off the bars. I don’t know any lesbians who hook up online (a friend put an ad on Craigslist once and got some very scary responses and swore never to do it again), we prefer to meet face to face first. Apparently that’s not so important for some guys.

  • galefan20004

    The gay scene has changed in the last 30 years (not that this is news) and the gay bars haven’t. So, if the bars want to pick up more business maybe they should start addressing means to improve the experience of going to one. I personally have had my fill of loud horrible music, over used smoke machines, and dark cramped rooms.

  • Tommy

    There will always be a need for gay bars. If you are single and looking for someone to have sex with (or a relationship) you can’t go to a mixed or a straight bar and start randomly hitting on guys! Some people like to meet face to face so they know what they’re dealing with. I use the Internet for other things, but not for cruising or dating.
    Now when I’m in a relationship, me and my partner have no problem going to straight or mixed places.

  • rigs

    I live in Boston and the gay bar scene is lame, but it was lame before 2004 too. I mean, it’s not awful, but it’s pretty bad for a city with so many gays, I don’t get it!!?

  • drresol


    Gay bars have changed a lot in the last 10 years, even. I’m 28; went to a gay bar for the first time when I was 18. 10 years later, and there’s noticeably less ‘cruising’ going on. At the little gay bar we still go to, people don’t mingle around as much. It’s become more customary to come with a group of friends, get a table, and pretty much stay with your group. Even if you see a guy whom you find attractive, it’s considered rude (and a little intimidating) to walk up to the table of strangers and interrupt. Besides, one of those guys is probably his BF, and that would just be awkward.

    On the other hand…maybe I’m the thing that’s changed; not the bar itself. Those 3 guys sitting at the bar are no long ‘3 hot guys’, that’s Mark, Rick, and Steve. Instead of flirting with one of them, I now ask if he got that promotion at work or how his mother is doing after her surgery last month.

    The cruising is now done on online venues like Manhunt…the bar has become more of a social scene.

  • galefan20004


    I think that is much more of a generational thing. As you said cruising is done online. The truth is, the younger generation has spent so much time sitting in front of its computers that it really doesn’t grasp the concept of open and honest communication with strangers in public. Its intimidating to talk to someone you don’t know now. I notice that older people I know have no problem talking to someone on the street; however, younger people I know just walk right by.

  • drresol


    Hmm…I might agree that it’s possibly a generational thing, but I think I may put a different spin on it.

    Thanks to decades of hard-fought battles over gay rights, my generation was able to grow up in an environment that was considerably more relaxed and tolerant than it was prior to Stonewall. (There is still a long ways to go, but homosexuality isn’t a criminalized mental disorder anymore and police raids are no longer commonplace) Hence, I think more of us were able to come out of the closet – and do so at a younger age – then gay people in the past could. Hence, perhaps we had greater opportunities to network with each other.

    The internet had a role in this, too. Not every gay cyber-interaction is through Manhunt…I’ve met tons of friends I wouldn’t have otherwise known through social networking sites like facebook. Especially in a small-medium sized city, with a smaller gay community, the end result is anonymous sex is difficult when almost no one is anonymous. With our little community more connected and more known to each other, it seems like the rules sort of shift. Random sex seems to be becoming increasingly taboo, while more people are seeking legitimate relationships then they were even 10 years ago. Instead of cruising bookstores, dinner parties and the gay softball league are taking over as how gays interact and meet one another.

  • TANK

    Dinner parties and softball leagues…LOL! I may become the first openly gay basher.

  • TANK

    I mean, to become waspy goys…”I’ll have a gin and tonic, darling.” Ugh…death is preferable to that dry white bread toast.

  • ggreen

    In San Francisco gay bars its fag hags, icky straight people and black out drunks. Who wants to socialize with that mess?

  • Prof. O. G. Whataschnozell

    @Ted B. (Charging Rhino): Outside of Atlantic City I didn’t even know gay bars existed in NJ.

  • beergoggles

    Drresol pretty much hit all the right points about Boston. Heck, for a 30something guy, pretty much all my friends are on facebook, we have weekend cookouts and dinner nights with each other at restaurants, wine tastings, etc. and my husband and I are friends with far more gays and gay couples now than we were when it was all about the gym and the bars in our 20’s.

    Besides, afaik, the Alley still seems to be doing pretty well; it’s packed on the weekends and it’s a very social atmosphere with the after work crowd on weeknights. It is pretty funny how the Herald article managed to miss one of the successful gay bars.

  • Scott

    Marriage has nothing to do with the death of gay bars. I can’t stand smoking so I stopped going to bars 20 years ago. I found gay folk dancing and love it! You start at 7pm and finish by 11pm. When you ask someone to dance he or she says yes. The lights are bright and it’s possible to talk in the back away from the music. Not to mention refreshments. It’s a fantastic, warm, and welcoming community. And that’s in Boston. You people who say Boston has no night life are looking in the wrong places. You can go bowling, volleyballing, hiking or biking, networking parties, board gaming, all with great people. Bars are so passe.

    But I don’t dance anymore. I don’t do anything anymore. I’m in a longterm relationship and all we do is work. Work, work, work. 7 days a week, no friends. By 9pm we’re sleeping on the couch. Retirement’s only 20 years away and the only social security is what I had in the folk dance community.

  • TANK

    You can go bowling, volleyballing, hiking or biking, networking parties, board gaming, all with great people.


    Boston has no night life

    Are inconsistent how? Because it’s not because of “looking in the wrong places”.

  • Craigslist Proxy

    I do not post too much, but this was a good read. Craigslist never ceases to amaze me. There was this post about a guy who was going to buy a car for his gf, and he came across an ad with Hitler hidden text… Very odd. That is Craigslist…

  • Bob Lablah

    @ggreen: Speaking of San Francisco does anyone know whatever happened to Sister Boom Boom?

  • Dennis

    Living in the Chicago area now, seems like our bar scene is hanging in there, comparatively…still a variety of places to go and indulge in your favorite proclivities, from twink to yuppie to leather, but I do think online cruising has had some impact.

    Sorry, but ain’t nothing going to replace the fun of having a cold drink in your hands, laughing with your friends and looking at cute/hot guys, and then a great song hits…bars may be down, but I don’t think they’ll ever be out.

    I enjoy BBQ’s, dinner parties, theatre and all that, but on a weekend night, that shit’s a bit too tame to be the main event.

  • Anthony in Nashville

    I agree that the internet is the major reason why gay clubs aren’t as popular as in the past, but I put some of the blame on the bars.

    I’ve been going to gay bars since the early 90s and most of them haven’t changed other than banning smoking and black clubs going from house music to rap.

    As far as I’m concerned, the truly diverse gay club is a figment of people’s imagination. Everything still appears segmented by gender, age, and/or race, with the “pretty young white boy” being the default demographic owners are trying to reach. And from what I see, those types are still hitting the club, so perhaps it’s good business.

    But for people who aren’t seen as fitting the “ideal profile,” it’s not surprising they prefer being online to the typical club.

  • Forrest

    As another gay in the South ( North Carolina) I concur with others in the region that gay bars are still needed. And often serve crucial functions as safe places to be yourself in this mostly conservative section of the country.

  • J. Clarence

    I don’t think marriage can be considered the only culprit. The use of the internet has had a big impact on that industry in more socially liberal places, as old patrons and new ones avoid the bars altogether.

    That being said, in places where we have seen marriage-equality for some time there is less and less a feeling that gays have to go to gay bars to be in a safe environment or meet other gay folk. The newer generation was not self-aware during the AIDS crisis when gay bars were the chapels of the queer community, so for them it’s really just a bar.

    And if you look at them as just bars they do not fare too well. They usually cater to a certain audience, and you can’t paint the gay community with a single brush, anymore.

    Combine the fact that people use the net to find sex a lot. The necessity for a gay bar becomes less and less.

  • M Shane

    I agree with Tank in that there are a number of superior activities that gay people can be involved. These are exclusive of the marriage fetish and give gay people an opportunity to express themselves as a separate group and to make friends and sexual partners. Since i don’t even drink , bars are not my favorite thing except for when I liked the great feeling of belonging which can occur with dancing–a healthy and enlivening experience. It’s great when you’re young.
    We are ignorant of history if we neglect to allow that marriage is part and parcel of the right wing, shame based Catholic promtings of dimbos like Andrew Sulivan and Bruce Bawer who want gays to hide out in the mainstream of middleclass mindless American culture and deny our uniqueness as gay people and different lifestyle needs

    Everyone should check out Mark Simpson’s (UK) URL and his article “Respectability and the New Closet” It will give you some insight into the dim prospects of Marriage. Great reading.

  • Frosty

    What insights did the Simpson article give us??? Its the same old tired schtick : Being a “real,” gay means you need to a live in an urban area, and sleep around, if you aren’t you are basically selling out and causing damage to your brother and sister queers.

    I spent my 20’s living in an urban area and being a slut (and frankly, other then the great sex, never felt comfortable in that life)…now I live in the suburbs, in the middle of a *gasp* cul-de-sac, and yes, discuss with my neighbors how to treat the insects that have invaded my arborvitaes (and no, even the boredom of that does not drive me to “Manhunt,”)It is called growing old and growing up, gay or straight it happens to the best of us. And actually, I think I have definatly subtly changed more minds by just living in the midst of this mid western suburban world being gay and being here.

    I don’t understand that there is this perception that “married,” homos look down on single people, and apparently from what I am reading here, single gays putting down the committed among them (what a sterotype there, “waspy goys,’ ordering a gin and tonic like Mrs. Howell!) The great thing about the world we live in is that we now have choices, we aren’t confined to the gay ghetto if we dont want to be, and we can live a great life in the burbs and not be closeted…or, we can live in a gay hood and live out our wildest dreams! Its win-win for us all so why all the bitching???

    Now if anyone could tell me how to get rid of bagworms from my arbovitaes (sounds like a personal problem I know) please let me know!

  • M Shane

    It boils down to an ethical issue. If you look at the history of the “marriage’ movement you will see clearly that it is a shame based reaction to the perception that HIV was Gods’s punishment for our sexual behavior. The reaction led primarily by Right wing anti Gay Liberationists(assimilation or mainstream reactionaries) was to guilt confused and shameful gays into copying the straight sex model(climbing into a ‘new closet.”)
    A Sullivan announced the death of gay liberation if you recall.
    saying that we would be just like straights if we could get married and join the army. The who mess was a lot of B.S. and had no basis in anything but an attempt to copy straight and deminish our guilt.

    You will note that Simpson is not against a model which is not shame based: Civil Unions, are our own kind of partnership, something which does not launch a religious battle and is not based on shame or a need to hide out.
    What Americans are doing is not based on gay pride or a desire for rights but a need to hide out in a respectable institution.

  • Bitch, please!

    Oh please! Do we really think a wedding ring is going to stop the gays who are in the habit of yelling out “NEXT” before the last trick is even out the door? We need to come down from our dillusional high from pnp and face the real selves in the most of us! And don’t come yelling with “so and so being together for 100 years”. While those gays may not be like unicorns, they might as well be! There are only a few that are like them. We may not have had marriage rights but we could have still paired up and tried living monogamously. In fact, if we had done that, it might have helped us to win the marriage fight that we are in right now. Public opinion counts.

  • J-Like

    I have no idea how the gay scene in Boston could be ruined…aside from being even more segregated than San Francisco’s, it has been pretty limited for a VERY LONG TIME. Here’s a thought: maybe bars and businesses, of all stripes, would thrive if, you know, they offered a fun experience for their patrons! Different nights/parties drawing different kinds of crowds and appealing to different scenes. Isn’t this marketing 101? If online hookups are starting to bite into your $$$, change things up so that people will have more than one reason to go to the bar. It IS true that people go to a bar either to get laid or at least have someone else think they’re cute; I’m in a committed relationship, but I like to be noticed too. But everyone also knows that most of us don’t have people fawning over us when we go to a bar. So we need other than alcohol to make things fun for us and our friends. SF is the epicenter of all things internet and technology. People get real creative here about using technology to do politics, get their groove on, whatever. And the SF bar scene is not going anywhere. Does it change? Sure. One watering hole loses prominence, and another one takes its place. But overall, the bars are pretty strong here. Maybe we have more gay tourists than Boston, but when I was going to bars regularly, it was really the same people all the time. I’ve lost my train here. Peace.

  • Wes

    Boston sucks. This is coming from someone who grew up and lived there for 24 years.

    FYI, Boston never had a real gay scene to begin with. The clubs there are boring as hell. The DJs have no talent, the music is pathetic and EXTREMELY poorly mixed. There aren’t that many places to go to, either. What’s worse is that it’s so limited you’re forced to hit the same bars on the same night of the week, every single week. I’m not surprised that many of my gay friends who still live there are doing a lot of coke now, just to escape the lameness of it all.

    Luckily I’ve moved to San Francisco, and if it weren’t for visiting my family, I would never go back to Boston.

Comments are closed.