“Gays love a recession!” said Robert Cogan, a 27-year-old patron of the brand-new East Village gay bar the Hose on the night of Feb. 7.
It was a Saturday night, and he was checking out the scene in the bar’s “back room,” which was, well, a room in the back. More later.
At a little after 2 a.m., the little room was packed. So was the bar. So was the dance floor.
Before Sept. 15, the day the economy was sort of officially declared dunzo, the bar’s location on Avenue B might have recommended itself to a trendy, starkly furnished Asian-fusion bar-resto for investment bankers with a little imagination or Queer Eye on permanent TiVo.
But walking in to the Hose was like walking into a time warp: an East Village gay bar from the last recession. Drinks were sloshing across the bar at breakneck speed; and there was nudity! And scattered smoking! (Though on one recent visit, a patron lighting a cigarette in the back room was told to put it out. “That’s so not sexy,” the bartender scolded.)
“A bunch of us noticed the same thing when we got together on Monday,” said Brian Moylan, the editor of Next Magazine, a gay nightlife guide in New York. “We came in, and we’re like, ‘I went to blah-blah-blah and everything was packed! And my colleague is like, ‘Oh my God! I went to so-and-so and it was packed! And we put it together. Everyone is fucking going out. It’s January—or February now! And the weather is cold. It’s not a time when clubs are full. And people are standing in lines in the cold! That’ll kill your party quicker than anything.”
“There’s something definitely happening out there,” he continued.
Meanwhile Mr. Cogan was continuing his proclamation.
“I’ll give up nothing!” he said. “You know what’s going to cure the world? It’s people going about their daily business!”
“It’s crazy here!” said Sean Bumgarner, a 34-year-old magazine art director, who is one of the creative talents behind Spank, a xeroxed gay art ’zine (remember those?) that was playing host to the night’s revelry. “We’re definitely in a downturn, and everyone is out.”
Outside these walls, all you hear about is the sagging economy and stimulus packages. Inside, things were … stimulated!
“Wait, is that guy naked?” asked Mark Damien, a 44-year-old writer, whose jaw dropped to the floor when he confirmed his first impression. “Uh, I guess things have loosened up a bit.”
The naked man was named Tony. When asked for two names, he offered, “Naked Tony.”
So, Tony, is the gay scene getting its edge back?
“There are pockets of it,” the 36-year-old murmured.
Over the past few months, while the straight party scene has been left for dead, gay nights and venues look like they are surviving, with new ones sprouting up everywhere. And, in some cases, like this night at the Hose, they really are Events (not vodka promotions!) with Themes! There is buzz! Costumes! Sleaze! There is planning, for a whole week before, aimed at getting into the right place at the perfect time of the night.
“Given the news about the economy that came out of the late summer and fall, when we were in November, I was saying that all of us have to hope for a mild winter,” said Bob Pontarelli, the longtime co-owner of Chelsea gay bar Barracuda and of the very gay-friendly Elmo restaurant on Seventh Avenue. “I was anticipating a perfect storm of cold weather and the economy. And then we had a worse winter than we’ve had in five years. So it’s been very, very, very cold and add to that the recession. But you know what? We haven’t been affected by a percentage point. In some places, we’re doing better. What I was worried about actually hasn’t happened, and it hasn’t affected us.”
According to some of his patrons, the downturn has, if anything, redirected their budgets to Going Out.
“I mean, we’ll skip going out to dinner and go out for drinks instead now,” said Christian, a 27-year-old in fashion PR, to his 27-year-old friend Jon at Barracuda on Friday night.
They both agreed, emphatically, that giving up on their night on the Crawl, whether it be on Eighth Avenue or Avenue A, was not an option.
Michael Formika Jones has been promoting gay-themed parties and nightclub evenings for 18 years in New York, but has found himself without much to do over the last three years.
“Oh I’m loving the recession!” he said. “I’m jumping on this recession bandwagon. I haven’t done a big party. Period. In three years.”
But in the next eight weeks, he’s booked three big events. One of them is at 55 Gansevoort, a two-floor restaurant and a loft apartment above it, as well as a basement bar. It’s always been one of those straight, bottle-service type clubs on weekends before.
“Buh-bye to that!” Mr. Jones chirped. “No more $15 drinks!”
He’ll be opening it up for a Saturday party.
“My take on all of this is after the crackdown with the Giuliani era, it affected the way nightlife was run. A lot of venues had to take the bridge-and-tunnel tourist dollar on Saturday night,” he said. “Now in recession big venues are losing weekend business, so they’re opening up their weekend business to promoters for stuff that wasn’t open to the gays before.”