Gay Bars Wither, Where Is This Going?

For several months I’ve been meaning to suggest here that somebody should consider entering Orlando’s under served gay bar scene. In the last six months, three very long-running Orlando institutions have closed: Faces (a lesbians-only bar), Southern Nights (a disco/drag bar that I haunted regularly in the early 80’s), and Full Moon Saloon (the country/disco/bear bar and host of the popular annual Bear Bust event.) All three places were fairly popular right until their demise, but closed due various reasons – building code/tax issues and the death or retirement of the owners. Also gone is the Lava Lounge, a fun and quite popular place owned by four acquaintances of mine who decided on a whim five years ago that owning a gay bar might be a fun diversion. Lava’s lease ended earlier this year and the partners decided to go out winners. The eternal Parliament House, like Cher and cockroaches, will survive a nuclear war and remains busy.

A couple of days ago, the Orlando Sentinel took note of the dearth of gay bars there, interviewing a couple of the owners of surviving nightspots, mentioning that major gay bars are closing down all around the country. One Orlando bar owner blames the internet, of course, but the story primarily focuses on successful integration of gays into society and speculates on whether a need for gay-only bars will continue at all. As I’ve discussed here previously, it seems that we’ve at least seen the end of the gay mega-disco, as real estate prices and neighborhood gentrification have shuttered such institutions as NYC’s Roxy, DC’s Nation, SF’s Universe/Pleasuredome, South Beach’s Salvation, and many others. Most major American cities no longer have a single gay dance palace that can hold thousands. And many used to have several.

But are we also seeing a real societal change, something outside of the deleterious effects wrought upon the bar scene by meth and Manhunt? Perhaps, but as odd as it may seem, I hope not. I know it’s terribly unprogressive of me, but I don’t particularly want to see us get to a place where gay bars are no longer “needed” or desirable. I know the “post-gay” young’ens will chime in here, proclaiming that they just don’t have fun at gay-only bars, that they don’t want to disinclude their het friends from their social life. That’s admirable, that’s a good thing, but still I think that the loss of a vibrant gay bar scene, always and still (albeit to a smaller degree) the heart and soul of gay culture, would be a tragic thing.