Closing Time

Why are so many gay bars closing?


“Guys my age stopped going out to bars all the time,” said Jack LaFary, a former bartender at Indianapolis’s 501 Eagle, which closed this year.

He’s interviewed this week in a piece by the Chicago Tribune, which examines the fact that gay bars are slowly but steadily going extinct.

The story echoes a similar sentiment in The Economist’s recent article that explores the same subject, reporting that over 16 gay bars closed in London between 2014 and 2015. They suggest this “points to a larger, and overwhelmingly positive, trend.”

Related: The Best Destinations And Gayborhoods Around The World? You Decide!

One problem is rent. Gay bars tend to pop up in more downtrodden parts of a city, but as those cities become richer, watering holes and dives are eventually squeezed out altogether.

Of course, hookup apps have also hindered business, providing a cheaper (and far less slurry) way to meet potential partners.

“It all changed with smartphones,” LaFary says. “When I first came out, you went to a gay bar to meet gay people. But the smartphone changed that, and it was an all-of-a-sudden thing. Business just dropped, and it wasn’t a gradual thing. It was, like, boom.”

The Economist article maintains that the number one culprit of gay bars’ slow fade into obsolescence is the fact that homosexuality is now accepted more than ever before, making the need to seek out friends in darkened corners all but unnecessary.

“Now gays can go into a straight bar and it’s no big deal,” says Colby Palmer, a gay activist interviewed by The Chicago Tribune.

It’s “a good thing for the gays,” says 501 Eagle’s former owner Tom Vester, “because they should be accepted anywhere. But it wasn’t good for me.”

It’s also a rather bittersweet victory for people who gravitate towards dives and dance clubs as a matter of personal taste rather than a lack of alternatives.

“I was… visiting my [gay] uncle in New York,” says Stavros, a 24-year-old Londoner.

Related: Five Reasons The Death of Gayborhoods Is Highly Exaggerated

Talking to The Economist, he says, “It got to 1am one night and he said, ‘Let’s go out.’ It just blew my mind. It was the first time I saw guys kissing. It was more than I dreamed of.”

While it’s hard to imagine a cultural landscape in which the magic of gay nightlife is gone altogether, there’s no question that most cities in America are losing gay bars and they aren’t being replaced.

The Chicago Tribune reports:

San Francisco was down to just a few dozen gay bars compared with more than 100 in the 1970s, according to a 2011 report in Slate, and Manhattan had but 44, half as many as it did at its gay-bar peak in 1978. In London the Queen’s Head, a gay bar since the 1920s, closed in September, going the way of other prominent gay bars in that European capital.”

Michael Bohr, founder of the Chris Gonzales Library and Archives, tells The Chicago Tribune that bar closings are “a definite loss to gay culture.”

“A man’s first trip into a gay club was a rite of passage,” he says, “both to his own self-acceptance and the realization that he was not alone, that there were a lot of LGBT people out there and they weren’t miserable and alone — they were having a great time.”

What are your thoughts on the slow decline of gay bars around the world? Have you experienced the same phenomenon where you live? Sound off in the comments below. 

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