Last Call at the Cock

Photo: Ryan McGinley

After seven notorious years, the East Village gay bar the Cock crows its last on July 10. Not that this should be much of a surprise. Even—maybe especially—its most loyal patrons have been wondering how it lasted quite that long. The grimy, black-walled, low-ceilinged, graffiti’d dive on Avenue A, identified from the street only by a red neon rooster, was almost always packed with sweaty men smoking (long after the ban), dancing, ogling the go-go boys, and, until not too long ago, partaking in a rollicking backroom sex scene. But even after being caught up in the late-nineties quality-of-life dragnet, it managed to survive.

“We’re kind of perceived as a place for misfits more than anything else,” says the Cock’s owner, who asked that his name not be used. It opened in 1998 and quickly became known as the venue for promoter Mario Diaz’s popular Foxy party/ talent show, where “amateur exhibitionism,” as Diaz says, was the only talent. The sordid acts and general carefree air were soon attracting not only horny young men but also plenty of spectacle-seeking celebrities, like Christina Aguilera (brought in by photographer David LaChapelle), not to mention those whom the owner deems the “super gays” (Boy George, George Michael, etc.).

But its popularity also attracted the authorities. After all, this was the anti-nightlife Giuliani era. Before long, cops and inspectors were swarming the Cock as often as twice a week, ticketing for anything they could find. By 2000, when the bar was closed for being a public nuisance, it looked like the city had won.

Then the owner hired a crafty local liquor-law attorney named Ravi Ivan Sharma. “I got in front of the judge,” recalls Sharma, “and basically pointed out that every single citation had been dismissed—so how could they be shut down for nothing?” The court agreed.

The Cock could afford to fight on because, as one habitué puts it, “the place is like an ATM, it’s busy every night.” The club cozied up with the ninth precinct, and helped rid the corner of drug dealers. The backroom got tamed a bit, though smoking did not (still, its only summons was dismissed). Under Bloomberg, enforcement priorities changed. Giuliani “made us bigger than what we were,” says the owner. In the end, though, they were done in by real estate. When the lease came up, “my landlord wasn’t having it anymore.” So he’s combining operations with another bar he owns, the Hole, on Second Avenue, though he will be renaming it … the Cock. “It’s like an obscure TV show that just won’t go off.”

Last Call at the Cock