Bar Districts as Subcultural Amenities

Finally my bar research sees the light of day in City, Cuture and Society 6(1).

Gay Bar, from Dallas Voice

Bar districts, agglomerations of drinking establishments, are important to urban economies by nurturing urban subcultures. Their vernacular nature presents important contrasts to planned urban entertainment districts (UEDs). Unlike UEDs, bar districts are not necessarily amenities for middle- and upper-class consumption and identity, but the subcultures they nurture can include potential gentrifiers. I present a case study of Polk Street in San Francisco, showing that it supported a uniquely diverse and countercultural LGBT street scene in 1999. By 2013 it had been displaced by a heterosexual nightclub scene that was first hailed for revitalization, and then regulated as a rowdy urban nuisance. These transformations show how bar districts provide two interrelated spatial resources in the gentrification process: (1) infrastructures of adult leisure and consumption and (2) sites of subcultural networking and creativity. This case study suggests the importance of distinguishing between creativity desired by potential gentrifiers from that which is not. If gentrifiers, as a subculture, benefit from creative nightlife networking opportunities, countercultural creativity is especially fragile because few outsiders recognize it as such.

Bohemian creativity that can be commercialized, the target of creative cities promoters, is only one form of creative practice, and queer practices without commercial appeal are especially fragile.


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