After stalking Ello for a few days, I figured I'd post something I had been thinking about.
While speaking with an old friend a few days ago the subject of New York City and the dying of the leather scene came up. One comment spurred a walk down memory lane: “It is hard to believe that at one time New York City supported three leather bars (technically 4 if one considers the Alter downtown).” Actually, there was a time well beyond my time when the city had supported at least that many gay leather venues.
I had begun going out and frequenting the bars before I hit legal age. However, when I did turn 21 there were still three gay, leather bars in operation: the Lure, the Spike, and the Eagle-or rather, the old Eagle, as the Eagle moved sometime in the early 2000s to a new location. Today only the Eagle remains and while it has its leather moments, it definitely is not a leather bar. It’s not a bad bar (it's actually a pretty great one), but I supposed due to several factors including economic factors, the Eagle is a more general, mainstream bar today than in the past. I find myself both reminiscing of and romanticizing the days between the years of 1996 and 2000ish (I believe the Spike closed in 2000).
During these days, hooking up on the Internet happened, but this medium was still in its infancy. As such, hooking up was still for a most part a very personal activity. It could happen at a bar, walking down the street, or even bumping into someone you found hot while going across the street at 3AM on a Tuesday morning for a pack of cigarettes. Bars could be really great for hooking up; just think, you would go out and do laps around the bar, stopping to socialize between them with friends. And there were all sorts of manner to cruise at bars. I always favored the direct approach, which often translated to something either funny, dirty or both. Others would stand in a corner or against a wall and play the stare game all night; I so did not have the patience for that.
A typical Saturday night for me during this period had me going out anywhere between 10:30PM and Midnight; I’ve never been able to get my shit totally together before 11PM and I’m much better at and after it than before. Showing up at a bar around Midnight on a Saturday night in NYC really did not make a difference as bars were open until 4, after-hours’ clubs existed, and people seemed to stay out later.
However, there were exceptions to this rule.
One of these exceptions was the very first time I went to the Lure on a Saturday night, which incidentally was the first time I visited that bar after my 21st birthday. I had realized long before that on most nights I could get in without ID, but on Saturdays that was an impossibility. This particular Saturday I had thrown on Cammos, boots, and a black tee-shirt. After dinner with a friend and neighbor that night we had decided to take a drive to Queens to this old Movie Theater which showed great and not so great old films on the big screen (that night was Arthur 2: On the Rocks), and down the hall from the big screen as well as in the basement were video-porn booths where they would let two guys in at a time to mess around as long as you had tokens in the machine; I always found this place funny because they didn’t have a problem with two guys in the booths but if three went in they raised hell (and yes, that happened on this night and it fun, and sexy, and dirty, even after the manager started knocking on the door because we had exceeded the two horn-dog limit). After I had finished up in there, I went back to the main theater for the really bad movie and to wait for my neighbor.
Within a few minutes, my neighbor had finished his bacchanal of flesh and appeared in the main theater. From here, it was back home to Manhattan for a quick addition of some accessories and off to the Lure.
The great thing about the Lure was that on Saturday nights one had to be wearing boots, and some other type of gear (leather, rubber, uniform/military) to get it. We got there about a quarter to Midnight and waited on line to for our IDs to be checked out and to pay our seven dollar cover (which came with a drink ticket). To describe the Lure on a Saturday night one needs to imagine an immense space, mostly painted black, thumping music, and packed full of men in boots and gear. The smell of cigars, cigarettes, leather, rubber, alcohol, and sweat in the air permeated everything; it was wonderful. There definitely was a testosterone charge to Saturday nights there, and hell, it did not matter if some of the men in gear were discussing what they learned on Martha Stewart Living that week because they were in gear for fuck's sake, and hot. Stepping in behind the bouncers the bar was on the left and there was a straight shot to the back of the bar. However, before the bar but after the bouncers was an access corridor which ran to a passage behind the bar which I dubbed “the Tunnel of Very UnPretty;” as with the rest of the bar, cruising and heavy petting took place here. This passageway, perhaps the second best lit place in the bar also was a straight shot to the back of the bar-where there was a small, single step up stage and the DJ Booth.
At the end of the Tunnel of Very UnPretty lay the bar to the right which curved around a corner to head back up front. The bar was dark and bathe in the warm red and black bar lighting that allowed for some sight. It was very packed that night and there was a lot of cruising taking place. I was in heaven. At the far end of the back of the bar and to the right was a room with bleacher type seating and a few bondage props; this room was more well-lit and packed. I remember having a few drinks, and wandering around, and hitting it off with this really hot guy in leather jeans; we were making out and stood there boot to boot, crotch to crotch. As we were making out he managed to wedge his hand between our pants and unbuttoned my fly, and then proceeded to shove my cock into his leather jeans, pulled his tongue out of my mouth and whispered in my ear: “piss in my pants.” I obliged while continuing to make out with him; fuck I was turned on. This was quite fortuitous for me for several reasons, not the least of which was that it turned me on (every other Saturday night he would be there and whenever I needed to pee I could bypass the lines for the restrooms grab him by the back of the neck, shove my tongue in his mouth, get our zippers own and piss down his pants-usually leather jeans). I met a ton of guys that night who I had never met before, and I could have gone home with several of them, but I didn’t-although there was heavy making out. The reason why I didn’t go home with anyone from the Lure that night because this was my first Saturday night out legal and I wanted to do the crawl (which I saw as a piece of a greater rite of passage).
At about Two AM the Lure crowd in the Lure started to thin out. Many were taking the short walk up to West Street and the 20-21 Streets (or was it 21 and 22, it doesn’t matter). Located just one block away from each other were the Spike and Eagle. These were two bars that people went back and forth between all night on a Saturday night; these bars were remnants of the past, a time more dangerous (and probably even more fun). I didn’t walk-I drove (because I didn’t know if I would end up going home with somebody and having the car with me was more convenient even though I lived a few blocks away from the Lure). The first bar of the two I entered was the Spike, it was packed, and a voice which would become familiar to me (and also a friend) yelled: “watch your wallet” to the patrons of the Spike. The bar was packed; I met another guy there who ultimately would become a very close friend-in fact, one of my few plutonic, gay friends at the time. I made my way through the maze of sweaty bodies, all of whom were groping and grabbing at every inch of me (except the wallet as I only carried my license and money in the bar with me). There was some making out, and a drink, and then a walk block on West Street to experience the Eagle. There were not as many guys in the Eagle as in the Spike when I walked in, but it was a good crowd and as said people walked back and forth between the two. I spent some time mingling in the Eagle and then walked back to the Spike; this circuit happened several more times that night. About a half hour before last call I met a guy-a recently discharged Marine (and a top, which is ironic), who was visiting New York; I found myself accompanying him back to his hotel room. All in all, it was a good night.
There were many Saturdays which followed, all with similar results. If I was more in the mood for socialization, I ended up visiting all three bars (and ultimately picking up at the Spike or Eagle); if I was horned and did not care as much about socialization, I usually would only make it to the Lure and go straight from there to play. Each of these places was so damn special-sacred to me in fact. There were many firsts for me at the Lure, it was the first bar where I actually went home with a bar tender (about an hour after closing, he told me to wait for him outside, and I did-damn he was hot). It is in these places where I met some of my closest gay friends, and best playmates of my life (in fact, there are a few playmates from the old days which I still go for a romp with every now and again).
Today, something is missing in New York, and in many other parts of the country. There’re fewer gay, leather bars for sure, but also many people have lost the art of cruising in person. This is a shame.