Who Needs Gay Bars? Summer 2017 Tour, Updated

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.

You can follow along on this blog or @greggormattson on Twitter. The feed @whoneedsgaybars provides all your non-tour gay bar news.

Tentative dates and Notes from the Road (updated frequently):



10 thoughts on “Who Needs Gay Bars? Summer 2017 Tour, Updated

  1. As a former employee at a gay bar in Akron, Ohio, this really resonates with me. I was part of the long generation of people who “came out” by going to gay bars (usually terrified and curious) and found some of my identity and first friendships there. It wasn’t about becoming an alcoholic–though plenty of drinking did happen–but finding an oasis from the straight world around us.
    The bar I worked at closed and moved to a new location a mile or so away. So many places I’ve been and made wonderful memories are just derelict buildings now. And several businesses I wrote about less than a decade ago have since closed their doors for good.
    It’s argued by some that we no longer need these safe havens, given the more openness of society, but maybe I too am becoming a relic of those fading times. I was a bit sad to visit Toronto this year and see its own gayborhood as just a shadow of its former self. And as our “members only” spirited dives grow evermore rare, I feel an ever-growing loneliness and loss of our community.


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