Who Needs Gay Bars?

Bar-Hopping through America’s Endangered LGBTQ+ Places

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Gay bars have been closing by the hundreds. The story goes that mainstream acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, plus dating apps like Grindr, Lex, and Tinder, have rendered these spaces obsolete. Beyond that, rampant gentrification in big cities has pushed gay bars out of the neighborhoods they helped make hip. Who Needs Gay Bars? considers these narratives, accepting that the answer for some might be: maybe nobody.

And yet…

Jarred by the closing of his favorite local watering hole in Cleveland, Ohio, Greggor Mattson embarks on a journey across the country to paint a much more complex picture of the cultural significance of these spaces, inside the “big four” gay cities, but also beyond them. No longer the only places for their patrons to socialize openly, Mattson finds in them instead a continuously evolving symbol; a physical place for feeling and challenging the beating pulse of sexual progress.

Pink map of the United States for the book Who Needs Gay Bars? with map pins for featured gay bars, illustrated with dancing people, a yellow unicorn, and a bartender under a rainbow

Table of Contents

Preface A Sociologist Walks into a Bar

A Man’s World ■ CLEVELAND, OHIO


Part One Ambivalence 

1 Ambivalence about Gay Bars

The City Nightclub ■ PORTLAND, OREGON 

2 Changing Bars and Aging Bodies

aut Bar ■ ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN 

3 Outpost Bars Put Assumptions under Scrutiny

Garlows ■ GUN BARREL CITY, TEXAS 

4 Gay Bar History

Garden of Allah ■ SEATTLE, WASHINGTON 

5 Not-Quite-for-Profit, Privately-Owned Community Assets

Blackstones ■ PORTLAND, MAINE


Part Two Gay Bar Fundamentals 

6 Mom and Moms and Pop and Pops

Splash Bar Florida ■ PANAMA CITY BEACH, FLORIDA

7 The Training Grounds of America’s Next Drag Superstar

Independence Place ■ CAPE GIRARDEAU, MISSOURI 

8 Bars for People of Color and the Ambivalence of Racial Camp

Wang Chung’s ■ HONOLULU, HAWAII 

9 There Are Easier Ways to Make a Buck in the Big City than a Big Nightclub

Club Cobra and Club Chico ■ LOS ANGELES COUNTY, CALIFORNIA 

10 Queer Spaces in the Gayborhood

insideOUT ■ SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA 

11 Small-City Gay Bars and the Only Gay in the Village

Studio 13 and Belle’s Basix ■ THE CORRIDOR, IOWA CITY & CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA


Part Three Safe Spaces for Whom 

12 Gay Bars Were Never Safe Spaces

R&R Saloon ■ DETROIT, MICHIGAN 

13 Undocu-Queer Dreaming and Government ID

REDACTEDFRESNO, CALIFORNIA 

14 Owners Behaving Badly

Easy Street Tavern ■ SOMEWHERE IN THE SOUTHWEST 

15 Our Gender Is Medicine

Various Bars ■ INDIAN COUNTRY, OKLAHOMA 

16 Conflicts over Safety in the Queer Pub

Wayward Lamb ■ EUGENE, OREGON


Part Four Lesbian-Owned Bars 

17 Lost Womyn’s Spaces, Found Lesbian Bars

Wild Side West ■ SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA 

18 I Always Hated Lesbian Bars

Sneakers ■ JAMESTOWN, NEW YORK

19 Why Can’t We Be Straight Friendly?

Alibis ■ OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA 

20 White Folks, Gay Men, and Straight Black Folks Don’t Come

Club Xclusive ■ HATTIESBURG, MISSISSIPPI 

21 The Drama of Owning a Queer Bar

Blush & Blu ■ DENVER, COLORADO 

22 Women First, Lesbians Second, But Everyone’s Welcome

Walker’s Pint ■ MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN


Part Five Cruisy Men’s Bars 

23 Democratizing Sexy Community

Jackhammer ■ CHICAGO, ILLINOIS 

24 We Were a Bear Bar. The Trans Community Was Extremely Forgiving

Wrangler ■ DENVER, COLORADO 

25 Rebranding The Eagle for the Next Generations

The Baltimore Eagle ■ BALTIMORE, MARYLAND 

26 Leathermen at Drag Bingo

Leather Stallion Saloon ■ CLEVELAND, OHIO 

27 Queering the Gay Strip Club

The Stag PDX ■ PORTLAND, OREGON


Part Six How to Save a Gay Bar 

28 Crowdfunding While Black

Alibi Lounge ■ NEW YORK, NEW YORK 

29 Nonprofit Ownership Means We Celebrate Pride Every Week

The Park Dance Club ■ ROANOKE, VIRGINIA 

30 Part of an Otherwise-Straight Hospitality Group

Chumley’s ■ STATE COLLEGE, PENNSYLVANIA 

31 The Benefits of Employee Ownership

Caven Enterprises’ JR’s, Sue Ellen’s, TMC, S4, and Rose Room ■ DALLAS, TEXAS 

32 #SaveTheGayBars from Another Pandemic

Troupe429 ■ NORWALK, CONNECTICUT


Part Seven National Monuments 

33 National Archive

The Stonewall Inn ■ NEW YORK, NEW YORK 

34 National Memorial

Pulse ■ ORLANDO, FLORIDA 

35 Municipal Landmark in Exile

The Stud ■ SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA 

36 AIDS Altars in Plain Sight

The Raven ■ ANCHORAGE, ALASKA 

37 A Post-Gay, Not Gay, Very Gay, Un-Bar

Dacha ■ WASHINGTON, DC

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index

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