Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Is the Gay Bar Facing Extinction?

A raid on the Stonewall Inn provoked riots whi...The Stonewall InnThere's an interesting article by June Thomas at Slate.com that talks about the demise of the gay bar as a casualty of the fight for equality. In the first installment of a five-part series on the subject, Thomas asserts that as LGBT Americans see greater acceptance in mainstream society, there is less of a need for the segregated refuge of the gay bar, that has played such an important role in the history of  gay culture.

Thomas writes:
Once upon a time—back in the dark days of the late 20th century—gay bars were the only venues where gay people could let down their defenses. Now, at least in urban centers, gay men and lesbians feel safe in scads of straight restaurants and bars. But when new options open up, what happens to the old segregated institutions? In 2007, Entrepreneur magazine put gay bars on its list of businesses facing extinction, along with record stores and pay phones. And it's not just that gays are hanging out in straight bars; some are eschewing bars altogether and finding partners online or via location-based smartphone apps like Grindr, Qrushr, and Scruff. Between 2005 and 2011, the number of gay and lesbian bars and clubs in gay-travel-guide publisher Damron's database decreased by 12.5 percent, from 1,605 to 1,405. Could the double whammy of mainstreaming and technology mean that gay bars are doomed?
As Thomas points out, social media and smart phone apps have played a role in helping our hangouts go the way of the dinosaur. But real world alternatives are also playing a part. Gay/Straight Alliances in schools provide queer kids with a safer alternative to sneaking into bars with a fake I.D. where older members of our community with no scruples can take advantage of them.

I started going to gay bars when I was a senior in high school. When I look back on how dangerous it was to be in some really bad neighborhoods as a teenager, with no idea of what I was doing, I'm sort of glad the bar scene is dying out. Paul and I went to one in Charlotte over the weekend, for the first time in years. Except for the music, nothing has changed about the bar scene in 35 years.

In larger cities, competition to be the most popular bar in town has become ridiculously expense. Business owners have to spend more and more on upgrades to entice patrons whose attention span grows shorter by the nanosecond.

Here in Roanoke, The Park and The Backstreet Cafe (the only two gay bars we have) are showing their age. It takes more than a fresh coat of paint to keep people interested these days, but these decades old establishments haven't quite caught on to that fact. The same tired drag shows that were mildly entertaining in the past, just don't cut it any more when your customers can hang out in an upscale bar around the corner without the fear of harassment that the older generation went through.

Times have changed. Being the only game in town is no longer enough to keep a gay bar in business. Fewer people are drinking these days and those that do drink have more options than their elders did. With so much of our history, from Stonewall to the Eagle, taking place in the bar scene, what does the future hold for the gay bar -- and gay culture -- once we've achieved full equality? Only time will tell, but if they hope to remain viable in business, gay bar owners are going to have to try a lot harder.

Enhanced by Zemanta

1 comment:

  1. This article intices comments from our community, and I hope some will respond. I am speaking from my own perspective of course regarding this issue. I do not believe it is accurate to generalize that all gay bars will cease to exist here in Roanoke, or in other rural or conservative towns and cities across America. For the secluded GLBT communities in many,many of these places, the gay bar is the only place where they can be themselves...to congregate,hold hands or kiss openly. That is real, and the need will always exist as long as inequalities, bigotry and hate exist in America and perhaps even beyond that point.Our two bars continue to attract a good crowd late on Fri-Sun nights because they are simply the (only)safe,nearby place of refuge, meeting new gay friends, etc for many.

    Although many other bar venues exist in downtown, it is very highly unlikely that you'd get away with kissing your boyfriend in any of them w/o some real problems. So, yes, many do go to these other-more upscale bars yet they are closeted while inside them, curtailing their behavior, trying not to attract attention, and essentially oppressing themselves. Many, I would say, do not feel comfortable having to do that, and are afraid that they will slip up if they drink just a tad too much.

    It can be argued that to some degree our gay culture is fading as many are assimulated into straight behavoral patterns and customs.I call it having one foot in the closet unable to decide what to wear....should I be someone else-a straight acting man or woman, or should I be myself today/tonight? I think the effects of long-term oppression, and our own self oppression, are taking their toll. While our sexual orienation does not define us, it should not be ignored or sequestered or hidden from view out of fear.Never should we be embarrassed about who we are, or about a friend who you think is acting too gay out in public.

    It is interesting to note that even our bars here in Roanoke are frequented by straight people on a regular basis for one reason or another.. Bars do not care where their revenue comes from, nor should they. They just want to make some profit, or often just enough to exist maybe. In my mind, the best thing any bar can do, is to be known as place where everyone is truly welcome to be themselves...straight, gay,bi, trans, lesbian etc etc. Whether the patrons are comfortable with that or not is their problem or phobia or worse. That potential open diverse environment will challenge all to get along and to party together. It can be an instrument of equality-building, if the patrons choose to not flee out of territorial disgust that "others" have taken over their bar.

    If a straight man or woman kisses his/her partner passionately while at the Park or Backstreet, would their be problems from that? My guess is not. Reverse this for a gay couple in a straight bar...my guess is yes. I feel it is important for us to accept everyone within our two bars, yet we should also not deny our true selves if we choose another venue with friends. Without some(slightly measured if necessary) visibility, our equality struggle,esp. here in VA, is hopeless.


Please keep comments relevant and civil. Comments attacking other people will be deleted.

Subscribe in a reader