A Gay Old Time

Julius’Photo: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images

1890: So-called fairies turn tricks at the Slide (157 Bleecker St.), one of the city’s earliest gathering spots for gay men. It’s dubbed the “wickedest place in New York” by local press.

1890s–1930s: Webster Hall (125 E. 11th St.) and the long-gone Rockland Palace (280 W. 155th St.) host elaborate drag balls, igniting a brief “pansy craze.” The annual Masquerade and Civic Ball, a.k.a. “Faggots Ball,” debuts at the Hamilton Lodge No. 710 of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in Harlem.

1912-1919: Members of Heterodoxy, a feminist club “for unorthodox women,” meet regularly at Polly’s (137 MacDougal St.), a restaurant run by anarchist Polly Holladay. It becomes a hangout for notable lesbians, including Katherine Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Irwin.

1925–1926: Down the street, Polish émigré Eva Kotchever runs a speakeasy out of a West Village townhouse known as Eve’s Hangout (129 MacDougal St.), where “men are admitted, but not welcome.” She is arrested in 1926 when an undercover female police officer finds out she’s writing an “obscene” short-story collection called Lesbian Love. Kotchever is later deported to Poland.

1966: The Mattachine Society, one of the country’s first gayrights groups, organizes a “sip-in” at Julius’ (159 W. 10th St.) to protest regulations prohibiting bars and restaurants from serving homosexuals.

1968–1977: Steve Ostrow opens the Roman-themed Continental Baths in the basement of the stately Ansonia (230 W. 74th St.), where newly liberated gay men splash around together, engage in semi-public sex, and watch cabaret sets by Bette Midler and Barry Manilow.

1969: The infamous raid at the Stonewall Inn (53 Christopher St.) kicks off the modern gay-rights movement.

1976–1985: Mineshaft (835 Washington St.) earns a reputation as the most hard-core of the meatpacking district’s S&M and leather bars, thanks to its jockstraps, glory holes, and golden-shower tub. It’s the inspiration for William Friedkin’s 1980 film Cruising, which is later protested as an unfair portrayal of the gay community.

1977–1980: Though not a gay club per se, gay patrons are key to the scene at Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager’s carefully curated Studio 54 (254 W. 54th St.). As club chronicler Michael Musto puts it, “It was so cool to be gay at that moment that non-gays would want to be around them, giving the gays an extra glow.”

1980–1988: In its heyday, opulent gay club the Saint (105 Second Ave.) represents the last gasp of post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS excess. Its spirit lives on at the annual Saint at Large–produced Black Party held every March.

1980s–1990s: Boy Bar (15 St. Marks Pl.) and the Pyramid Club (101 Ave. A) become playgrounds for East Village New Wavers.

1990s: Saturday nights at the Roxy (515 W. 18th St.) give birth to the Chelsea Boy, defined by his (many) muscles and squeaky-clean attire (no drag-queen pageantry here). After promoter John Blair takes over, clubgoers are even assigned a rating on a scale of one to four: Ones were ugly and/or straight and fours were irresistibly attractive, friends of Blair, and/or important fixtures in the club world.

1993: The term lesbian chic is born, thanks to the legions of fashionable gay women frequenting bars like Henrietta Hudson (438 Hudson St.).

1997–present: G Lounge (225 W. 19th St.) opens with windows facing 19th Street, marking a turning point for gay bars. Until then, most were dark, dingy, windowless dens, reflecting the patrons’ need for protection.

1994–2011: It’s Studio 54 all over again with Erich Conrad’s Beige parties at B Bar (40 E. 4th St.). Boy George, Alexander McQueen, Naomi Campbell, and other celebrities—some gay, many not—are drawn to the Tuesday-night party by its strict no-cameras policy and uptown-downtown mix of plasticky socialites, fashion insiders, and gender-ambiguous nightclubbers.

2002–present: Between the Abbey’s (536 Driggs Ave., Williamsburg) gay Sunday parties and Metropolitan’s (559 Lorimer St., Williamsburg) Sunday barbecues, Brooklyn becomes a bona fide destination for otherwise dyed-in-the-wool Manhattanites.

2003–present: Therapy (348 W. 52nd St.) opens, highlighting the inexorable shift of the city’s gay center from Chelsea to Hell’s Kitchen, a.k.a. “Chelsea Heights.”

A Gay Old Time