The evolution of gay-exclusive spaces: are gay bars on the demise?

I found this article at American Public Media … actually, the teaser ended up in my inbox.  The premise seems to be an exploration of a recent claim by Forbes Magazine that gay bars are among the top ten businesses facing extinction, along with crop dusting and record stores.  Ouch.

APM took a look and noted some interesting trends.

First, some gay bars are becoming more mixed or “evolving” into gay-friendly bars with a healthy mix of heterosexual patrons.  Owners spin this as a sign of progress, of the cultural enmesh we've been seeking all these years.

Although, some gay exclusive bars haven't pulled off that transition and are closing their doors. Ironically, this happens at a peak of gay spending power …$750 billion according to this article.

Others attribute the drain on gay bars to generational issues.  Back in the day, the gay bar was the community center and provided the loci for everything from socialization to organizing and advocacy.  Today's generations are using the Internet and increasingly accepted gay-identified alternative spaces and organizations to accomplish those goals. 

Finally, there are the nay-sayers who say in certain parts of the country, there is a need for gay-exclusive bars given the dynamics of that region. 

So, gay spending is up and so is the number (and types) of places to spend.  The gay bar generation is aging.  Young gays are being raised in mixed-environments where they can identity as openly queer and still find their space.  Not all of American has evolved this far. 

I personally don't have an intimate knowledge of this history of Pittsburgh's gay bar scene.  Wouldn't that make for a wonderful documentary?  Or thesis?  Anyone in queer studies done that?  I've been to Donny's, the Eagle, CJ's, Lucky's, Pegasus, New York, New York and that place that used to the Liberty Avenue Saloon, I think.  Oh, and True.  I think that's it.  I loved True because it was smoke free, but the crowd wasn't very friendly.  The Eagle was my favorite — they seem to do a lot of benefits and I thought the different floors were a hoot.  Plus, the staff were friendly.  Granted, this is a very limited sampling — probably 20-25 visits over the past 15 years. 

So, my inexpert opinion, is that Pittsburgh is probably one of those places that still needs a core gay bar scene even while queer-straight mixed places are emerging.  The Firehouse Lounge had a successful run of L-Word parties.  When the season ended, the women stopped coming.  They'll be back next season.  They don't do reruns. 

The coffeehouses are a great example of an entirely new mixed venue that's providing queer supportive (and queer owned) spaces.  I love the coffeehouses in Pittsburgh, although I have to admit that I tried to go to the new one in Lawrenceville  — Your Inner Vagabond — and it took me exactly 2 minutes to feel uncomfortable and head right back out the door.  Actually, come to think of it, it is a very similar experience to a gay bar when you walk in and people stare at you like you are an intruder.  For someone like me, that's all she wrote. I go where there is less staring b/c I equate staring = get the fuck out of here.  If I want that experience of hostile begrudging sharing of space, I'll go visit my aunt at the holidays.  Or my Catholic university reunion. 

Anyway, I was saying … I think The Firehouse Lounge project was a good one.  But I suspect that some of those lesbians went back to their familiar haunts and, assuming they drink responsibly blah blah blah, that's a good thing, too.

Pittsburgh's gay bars are driving PrideFest this year so they certainly don't seem to be on the demise.  I wouldn't mind going for a drink if they would just go smoke-free.  Until then, I'll do my socializing at events and order my coffee without the splash of a withering glance. 

Check out the article. 




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