Counting bars with Damron Travel Guides

My data about the changes in the numbers of gay bars over time are based on Damron Travel Guides. These slim address books have been published by the same company since 1964 and under the same editor, Gina Gatta, since 1992. This stability and their national coverage makes them a unique resource in an era where their function is being overtaken by consumer rating sites like Yelp and social networks like Facebook. These sites, in fact, allowed me to double-check the Damron listings, locating some new bars that aren’t (yet) listed.

There are problems with them, to be sure. For any particular city they are likely to be out of date as soon as they are published because bars come and go. But assuming that the errors are equally distributed, and given the longevity of many establishments, my database of hand-entered bars from their listings over the last 20 years gives general estimates of rates of change for state, cities, and regions. Maps that I generated from these listings allowed me to identify the outpost bars I’m particularly interested in.

I started the dataset with my original 1997 book that I’ve been hauling around since I was an undergrad, supplemented with copies bought from online used booksellers, those in the Gerber/Hart LGBTQ Library and Archives, and the LGBT collections at the New York Public Library, thanks to the hard work of my Oberlin undergraduate research assistant Charlie Sherman.

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