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21 July 2010, 4:00 pm 36 Comments

Commentary: No More Gay Bars

This post was submitted by Cyrus

I think we’ve all had this conversation with many of our straight friends before, “Why are there ‘gay bars’ and ‘gay neighborhoods’? You don’t find places labeled ‘straight’ bars and straight’ neighborhoods, do you?  As with every excellent question, I like entertaining this one more often than not. An interesting conversation with my friend Megan this time around helped me  to arrive at a different conclusion than what I usually regurgitate to others.

My common and most readily used response in my tool belt goes something like this: The idea that a place can be marked by the queerness of its inhabitants is nothing new.  For example, Jews in medieval cities lived in separate spaces and different parts; in essence, having them live in the margins of society. Queer space in America is, I would like to say, similar to this effect.  Queers did not get to chose where they lived because of this marginalizing effect. To call a place queer is to communicate who belongs and who doesn’t, who has space and who does not, who is here and who is not.  To designate and sexualize a part of a city, a building or a neighborhood has been a very powerful political too in urban politics and gaining queer visibility.

As I’ve said, this response has always been replayed and reused in my mind that I don’t really need to elaborate any further. But Megan, giving me the skeptic look she is characteristically known for retorts “ I understand that much. But when I go to a bar, I don’t really care if it’s a gay bar or a straight bar. I just want to go to a bar and if it so happens to be a gay bar then so be it. But why does it have to be decked out with rainbow EVERYTHING?! Doing that makes me feel that it’s a separate spot.  It’s like having a fountain labeled ‘white’ and ‘colored.’”

Is It segregating to have such loud forms of celebration?

I didn’t have a response.  She did have a point. Hell, being queer most of my life, I even feel uncomfortable walking into a place that screams rainbows, wearing a feather headdress and a juke box with a healthy queue of Britney and Whitney. And while queers have negotiated their subject matter in creating safe environments where queers can just be queers, there is a difference between having an equality sticker or and rainbow triangle posted at eye level at the door and 14 rainbow flags around the perimeters of a bar. It feels awkward, in my opinion, to walk into gay bar nowadays with such loud and blatant forms of segregation. My favorite bar in Long Beach is not ostentatious and the more I think, it’s because I don’t feel like I’m walking into beginning of a randy drag show on the outside and listening to Hollister music on the inside. I like to just shoot the shit, watch the TV, talk with my friends and have a Fat Tire.

I’m not asking for gay bars to look more like straight bars or to stop being gay bars. Quite frankly, I like my bars with their gay men in them. In either case, they all serve the one thing I want: booze, booze and more booze. But they tend to be gay first and bars second. Moreover, not all gay bars are the same. Simply, there is something that self-segregates those types of “I’M GAY” bars that is self -imposed. No one is telling them to put those flags up or to take those signs down. But I don’t need a rainbow to help me feel comfortable. I like my beer just as it is, not with parade marching after it.

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  • Larry-bob said:

    If straight people stopped biting gay style and getting both ears pierced, growing beards like bears, being pants-wearing straight girls, etc. maybe we wouldn’t need our own places so we can recognize potential dates and get laid without hitting on metrosexuals.

  • Kate said:

    Um, but we need somewhere to meet gay girls. They’re not exactly easy to come by. Also, the gay clubs and pubs in my town are fairly low on the rainbows (although admittedly a little heavy handed with the Lady Gaga, but then where isn’t?). I mean if you’re not going to a bar with, at least somewhere in your mind, the hope of pulling, then yeah, go wherever.

  • Jon said:

    I’m not really sure what you’re asking. You want gay bars but you don’t want them to be stereotypically gay? I live close to the castro, and I’ve never really experienced this flaming gay you’re depicting. For sure, there are male go-go dancers, and lots of gay people, and mainstream pop music but I’m not sure what makes that so flaming? I’m not sure what the big deal is. Just like most businesses, these bars are catering to a particular clientele.

    Almost everything in society caters specifically to heterosexual sexuality. Commercials, billboard advertisements, pictures, movies, books, tv shows, churches, straight families, etc. Why then can’t there be bars that are designed primarily for homosexuals (but don’t discriminate against straights)?

    It’s nice for me to get out of the mainstream world of heterosexuality every once in awhile and go to a place where most people share homosexuality in common. And most homosexuals do share certain life experiences — many of them negative, unfortunately. It’s nice to be in a place that caters to a group of people who share a deep part of our identity in common (just like most of society caters to heterosexuality)

  • Jon said:

    * I mean, I’ve never really experienced “flaming gay” in a bar setting from the business itself. Of course, there are plenty of men in these bars who I might characterize as “flaming”

  • Cyrus (author) said:

    I originally intended for this piece to be strictly on the critique of the types of gay bars that need to deck themselves out with over the top Rainbows, pride rings and basically rainbow anything. While I still believe we need gay bars, we dont really need the over-the-topness some gay bars have been decorated. Moreover, in making a very declarative stand to mark a gay bar as gay, It sometimes is alienating to some and rather uncomfortable to enter a place that has such theatrical scenery. Sometimes, its great to enter a gay establishment without all the bells and whistles screaming “we’re gay!!!!” Hence, I say we dont need the really over the top “I’M GAY!” Bars but we still need gay bars.

    And Jon says it, there aren’t these stereotypically gay bars where he lives but there are plenty of gay bars where we cans till meet other queer individuals that do not need to be so out there. Gay bars can still be a commercially successful place and great place to meet other gay individuals without being so eye-popping.

  • michael said:

    Cyrus, your commentary here is exactly the purpose of this site: questioning the gay mainstream, turning it upside-down, shaking it, and seeing what falls out. It seems that in both your and my book, what falls out is all the over-the-top GAY-ness. All of my favorite gay bars have little to identify them as gay per se, but are still great places for queer people to socialize.

    On a trip to the bay area a few months ago, I was saddened yet overjoyed to find that the White Horse Tavern in Berkeley/Oakland had replaced their rainbow-zigzag carpet with something more tasteful. Yet the bad pop/house music remained.

    Currently, it seems that gay bars are analogous to sports bars. Lots of flags and pendants and symbols hung up all over the place to let the patrons know what kind of bar it is. But why does wanting to be around gay people have to be up there with sports fanaticism? I agree with you, I want my bar to be a bar first and gay second.

  • Bryan said:

    Hi Cyrus, I fail to really understand why it’s unnecessary for a gay bar to be over the top or for that matter why gay bars should be concerned with accommodating straight people at all. If Hooters can be a national chain, then certainly it’s perfectly acceptable for a gay bar to decorate itself in wall-to-wall rainbow decor. Truth be told, I don’t really care that your straight friend feels alienated by it. It’s not about her, really. As far as I’m concerned, we need all the gay bars– that means the ones that are flaming queer to the ones that are less so. I want places where gay folk can go and feel safe and able to express themselves.

    I live in San Francisco, too (hi, Jon!). There are lots of bars here that cater to straight people. There is no one out there upset because the Castro bars have one too many rainbow stickers or don’t cater to heteros. Don’t like The Edge or Moby’s? No problem. If you head out to North Beach or the Marina, you’ll find plenty of bars where a straight girl would feel more at ease. Unless she’s afraid of being date-raped, but I digress… (Kidding.) Frankly, I find that most people who complain about gay bars being overly gay are doing so because they have reservations with gay people to begin with. Not because, say, they want to hang out at The Eagle. San Francisco is really lucky in the sense that we have a big enough community that you have a full range of choices of bars and events to hang out at. Those cities that don’t have choices seem like all the more reason why the gay bars should identify themselves.

    Also, I would be careful about proclaiming that gay bars don’t need to be screaming gay. It’s great that you’re comfortable with yourself that you don’t need it. I’m down with that. I’m not the rainbow flag waving type myself. But there are a lot of people who do need it. There are still a lot of people out there who have never seen a business with a rainbow sticker, let alone a business decorated with 10 of them. And then there are the people who have seen the 10 rainbow stickers, but still need to see it again and again because it makes them feel better. I have no problem with that. I don’t go to these bars myself, but I have no problem that they exist.

    I just don’t see your friend’s intimidation or your own personal distaste of overused gay paraphernalia as enough of a justification to limit our expression. A rainbow sticker is *not* the equivalent of “having a fountain labeled ‘white’ and ‘colored.’” It’s just not.

    Lastly, I’m not a mainstream person and probably would hate a lot of the flaming, rainbow-clad bars that I’ve actually just defended. But it’s my personal preference to hang out at a bar that’s less stereotypically gay. I don’t want to see any of it go away just because a loud jukebox blaring Lady Gaga gets on my nerves. That’s just not how I roll.

  • Kyle said:

    I have long wished DC had a gay “pub”, with plenty of good draft beers, booths, wood-panelled walls, greasy food and rock, not disco, on the sound system. But I had hopes for Nellie’s but they didn’t pan out. I simply think it’s a matter of economics. The bars with the disco music and garish flags make more money. Setting up a business in DC is extremely costly, and if the proprietors don’t get a quick profit, they’ll close up shop, or remodel the venue to fit what the public demands.

    It’s a complex problem. I like going to The Big Hunt, which is my idea of a pub (and you can get vegan food!), but I never go by myself. Nor can I usually find a gay friend to go there with me. I may only rarely feel comfortable in gay bar, but at least there I feel safe. Alone in a straight bar, not so much.

  • David said:

    tbh, i do not see any different than living near a college campus, the pubs and bars all decked out in the particular schools colors, flags, pennants, etc. It is not designed to segregate, yet it is unapologetic to who its clientèle are. be it a lipstick, bull dyke, queer, twink, fem, bear, jock, even “DL” the rainbow is the flag of our community.

    I think it has a lot to do with seeing the older gay guys in flamboyantly bad wigs and leather in pride parades, its more of the fact that we can, we can have a sanctuary decked out in rainbows, and since June 28, 1969 we can gather with out fear, mostly.

    I do notice the newer gay bars, pubs, etc are leaning away from the decor though. Maybe it is just something to do with our past that we are moving past.

  • RT said:

    What are they teaching people in college these days?

    “I originally intended for this piece to be strictly on the critique of the types of gay bars that need to deck themselves out with over the top Rainbows, pride rings and basically rainbow anything.”

    This sounds like it came out of the mouth of a homophobic parent. “I know you’re gay, but do you NEED to bring your boyfriend to the picnic?”

    The hegemony here astounds. If this site represents “The New Gay,” count me out. Or count me among “The Old Gay.” Or The New Straight. Or anything but this.

    Free you minds, queers. You have nothing to lose but your chains!

  • RT said:



  • Keith said:

    I had avoided going to gay bars until a later year in college because I had nothing in common with mainstream gay culture (still don’t), but thought I’d check some out just so that no one could tell me I didn’t try. It was just as I had expected unfortunately, each one was offering the same mold that I was supposed to fit into. I just don’t like the typical gay guys that frequent these establishments, what can I say? That’s just not who I am and to be gay I have to be X, Y, and Z when I’m A, B, and C. Sorry (not really), but I’m not willing to throw away who I am just so I can get into someone’s pants. Out of all of my favorite nightspots each one is popular with open-minded, liberal city folk like myself: not a single one is a designated gay bar/club. It’d be like if I were straight and all of my options for straight bars are full of bros in Affliction tees and godawful tattoos and dolled-up girls with likewise horrendous tattoos (of the tramp stamp variety) who are only interested in said bros all while the worst top 40 plays in the background. God forbid there be some *diversity*, of which I thought we were fans.

    As a result I’ve realized that I’m homosexual and not gay, as my gay card was revoked since I was called out for not knowing the lyrics to a popular “gay” song in one of those bars. Unfortunately, there’s *always* a majority no matter what group you’re in and they’re more often than not mindless and insufferable.

    Unlike the original poster, when I said no more gay bars I *meant* no more gay bars and have not looked back. (OK, I’ve been dragged to a couple since then, but I was thankfully in the company of friends to nullify the effect of being in a place I otherwise still loathe.)

  • Josh said:

    So your straight friend compared a gay bar’s decorations in 2010 to a business’s refusal to desegregate its clientele in the 1950s. Nice.

    Look, I’m not the clubbing type, but I understand gay clubs’ importance importance: they’re GAY establishments. Gay. As in, places where men can meet men and women can meet women, and they can all dance and go home with each other and not have to worry about feeling weird or out-of-place or terrible for enjoying themselves. The very fact that they’re designated as GAY bars means that they are most certainly separate spots.

    I don’t know why Megan feels as though she still can’t enjoy herself at a rainbow-y bar; after all, most of the bars I frequent are “straight” (as in, they don’t explicitly exist for the benefit of the gay community). I have no problem being there, even though most of the other couples around me and my friends are straight (and, truth be told, so are most of my friends with me in the first place). Just because it doesn’t necessarily exist to help me find a date for the night, doesn’t mean I can’t have fun at a “straight” bar.

    Instead of having a good time and trying to enjoy herself at wherever she’s ended up for the night, it sounds like Megan’s problem with gay bars is that they don’t cater to HER. Which, well…duh. I don’t understand what the problem is here.

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