First published May 17. Gay bars are closing and there’s misleading agreement on why: gentrification, social networking apps like Grindr, and the rise in the social acceptance of gays and lesbians. Yet bars are closing fastest in the regional cities of Middle America, such as Cleveland or Birmingham, cities where gentrification is a pipe dream, social acceptance is still elusive, and apps aren’t very useful. By my count, about 33% of gay bars outside big cities have closed in the last 10 years, but only 15% of those in cities with gayborhoods. Even in big cities, the bars hit hardest are those for lesbians, people of color, and cruisy bars for men and leatherfolk—hardly the queer folk who are most accepted. In other words: the kinds of bars that are closing the most slowly are receiving the most attention, and social acceptance isn’t the most likely explanation for the bars closing most quickly.
To learn more about why gay bars are important, and for whom, I’m hitting the road to visit the bars that are outposts for LGBTQ people: gay bars that more than a one-hour drive from their nearest bar:
Blue=Outpost bars I hope to visit; Black=Gay bars that closed 2016-; Green=Bars with neighbors that interest me
If you’re the owner, manager, employee, or regular of a gay bar along my route, I’d love to speak with you. I’m also interested in bars that closed that left a region without any gay bars at all, or gay-friendly bars in regions without a full-time establishment. Contact me at gmattson [at] oberlin [dot] edu or (779)-GAY-BARS. Yes, that’s (779)-429-2277. Operators are standing by, and by operators I mean my fantastic research assistants Tory Sparks and Charlie Sherman.
Tentative dates and Notes from the Road (updated frequently):