Nightlife, Night Worlds, and a Rapidly Changing NYC


Word is out. Or rather, the lights are going out on many beloved queer night spots throughout Manhattan. For good. I remember the disbelief I felt when my friend and I were reminiscing on the year that had passed at The Hangar, a beloved predominantly Black and Latinx gay bar on Christopher St., this past New Year’s Eve. Our favorite bartender told us that G-Lounge would be closing upon the approaching new year. G-Lounge was one of those places, much like The Hangar, that felt more like a sanctuary than a whimsy of capitalism. It was a sexy lounge, without a cover charge, where the interior experience of the space was more important than upholding a respectable or marketable image. The walls were painted in designs that vaguely evoked Keith Haring– perhaps if Haring had lived to make glossy work in the early 2000’s. Most importantly, the lounge was one of the most racially mixed establishments in Chelsea (Along with ‘Splash’ and ‘La Escualita,’ both of which had already closed). People of all races/ethnicities, genders, and ages would be lounging, and jamming, together there in a kind of utopic, new millennium, night spot which was nestled right next door to Bill T. Jones’s performance company, New York Live Arts.

Within the past decade, Chelsea (one of the most notoriously LGBTQ ‘friendly’ neighborhoods in New York, along with The West Village and Hell’s Kitchen) has become prone to high cover charges, expensive drinks, exclusivity, and seas of unwaveringly straight passing and athletic white, thirty/forty- something, cis men. G-Lounge was a kind of exception to this trend. The place was a kind of respite for me as a femme/genderqueer person because I never felt scrutinized or condescended to there. It was holy, familial, territory– just as The Hangar still is for many Black and Latinx queer people, communities, and their families/friends.

It’s easy to become nostalgic for queer spaces that have passed on. Sometimes I fall into reveries about places that blossomed and closed before I was born. My queer friends/family that are a generation or two older than me have contributed to my nostalgia. My first love and several friends saturated my imagination with memories and images of the famous Paradise Garage from the 70’s/80’s on King Street. Called a “vision of paradise,” the politics of belonging there were expansive. According to  Vice, “It was all about getting your dance on. So everyone was welcome, you could have been 18 or 80, black or white, asian or hispanic, straight or gay, there were people in wheelchairs too. If you came to have fun that’s all that mattered.”

Night clubs and bars aren’t the only spaces losing ground. The Christopher Street Pier has long been a public haven for LGBTQ youths, many of whom are from outer boroughs, to interact and be themselves,  has experienced from local businesses and the more white and established straight, or even monied gay, residents of the area. Given the heavier policing, privatization/sky rocketing real estate, and the ‘advocacy’ of Business Improvement Districts such as The Village Alliance and other organizations, like The Christopher Street Patrol, the Queer home that so many youth, and adults as well, flocked to (and still flock to, despite hostility) has become less and less hospitable since the early 2000’s. Curfews and the removal of LGBTQ health trucks, among other measures, have hampered this historic site of celebration and worldmaking. However, these measures haven’t halted the flow of peoples who mingle and seek laughs, companionship, or joy in the area. I still link up with friends at the pier and ‘make it work,’ finding freedom in tighter spaces.

For those who do seek a dance club or a bar, the outer borough neighborhoods now  often offer more affordable and welcoming night spots than Manhattan. This can be a respite for those who disavow or grapple with the more mainstream, or whitewashed, offerings of Manhattan below Central Park. Castro’s has been an Inwood staple for years and Harlem has seen the emergence of a new lounge called Alibi, adorned in erotic art and the sounds of cross-decade R&B. Jackson Heights could be considered the mecca of queer (night)life in Queens. Spots include Club Evolution and Friends Tavern. Poet and Queens College alumni Rajiv Mohabir writes about queerness in Jackson Heights in his poem “[Last Night] in Jackson Heights [This Morning] with Him, Not You.” He writes “Across from Famous Pizza, in the Palika Bazaar/of Jackson Heights,/you ask me if I consider myself white./I imagine dipping a brush into the fallen/stars in my own hands to paint you technicolor.”(60-64).

(PS– Go to Friends Tavern for 4pm-9pm happy hour. It fluctuates between “dive bar” and “pulsing dance party” according to the Queens Tribune).

 

While much of New York’s more organized, transactional, LGBTQ nightlife has assimilated, and succumbed, to the capitalist and normative pathologies mentioned earlier, traces of beauty and potentiality still linger. It’s depressing and unacceptable how my friends have experienced racism in certain clubs by managers, or how I’ve felt the brunt of anti-femme sentiments in how bouncers have treated me. These interior failures need to be addressed, confronted, and hopefully rooted out of any and all queer spaces because they are antithetical to the expansive power of queerness. This being said, it’s such a marvel how so many in our communities keep it moving despite setbacks and choose to dance, kiss, fuck, cry, laugh and claim space even when it often feels like it’s slipping away. It would be cynical to say that their aren’t still moments of diversity and world-making in nightlife sceneries.  What a great challenge it might be for us to remember them, spot those moments when we see them, relish them when we feel them, even if only briefly, and create them.

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