Gay New York is a many-horned (or is it horny-manned?) beast, but the scene's habitats are slowly becoming endangered. It's the oldest, most familiar tale in New York, but baby strollers—those awful by-products of unprotected sex—have slowly pushed gay strongholds from the West Village to Chelsea and all the way to Hell's Kitchen. (With a little more fucking and domesticating, straights could back them into a corner of Inwood Park.) To better understand the refuges of the "real men," we turn to Village Voice's Michael Musto, lifelong resident of NYC and resident expert on gay nightlife. He navigates us through the wilds of what he calls "Chelsea's last gasp" and the Jersey weeds who have sucked the Saturday nightlife from it. Andrew Krucoff and photographer Nikola Tamindzic report on the homoerotic fray.
[NB: More full-size photos from the night at Nikola Tamindzic's Chelsea Gallery.]
Michael Musto and Out Professionals President Michael Tracy
Shown, from left: Out Professionals members Michael Loman, Jack Schlegel, Brian Lipton, Bill Entwistle, Ralph Randazzo.
We start the evening at a house party for Out Professionals at W. 25th St. and 6th Ave., the nation's largest gay & lesbian networking organization, since Michael advised it would be a "delightfully civilized dry run for the rest of the evening." Here we get a view from the top of the gay stratosphere, meaning age and propriety would soon take nosedives once we moved on. Before we did, I talked to OP President Michael Tracy about the differences between the older and younger gay generations. He lamented how the under-30 crowd doesn't possess the cultural knowledge usually required to be a union card and man-purse carrying gay. Sure, they can gel their hair with the twist of a couple fingers and match furniture blindfolded but, as Mr. Tracy posits, "Do they even know what s opening on Broadway?" MM had a more holistic read on the situation: "Everyone under 30 is a retard." This was our cue to finish our drinks, thank our hosts and ask MM for his parting thoughts on the party: "I would have definitely looked into the ghost of Maria Callas lurking in that piano if I hadn't been so busy carving up the remains of the turkey." We couldn't agree more.
XES Lounge co-owner Tom Juliano in bottom right
Next stop was XES Lounge 157 West 24th Street at 7th Avenue. (Look, it s "sex" spelled backwards! And you pronounce it excess!) XES opened relatively recently on the weekend of the last Gay Pride March and it has been warmly received by the community as a "neighborhood bar" in the heart of Chelsea. Co-owners Tony Juliano and Jeremy LeCroy wanted to create an attitude-free atmosphere without a heavy sex vibe to cater towards affluent gays in their 30s, the kind of place you can comfortably take your straight co-workers for happy hour. By all accounts, it looks like it's working, especially with the backyard patio. (MM: "The gays love patios.") Drag entertainment is offered on certain nights during the week, but the unforeseen hit of the moment is the Sunday night showing of Desperate Housewives. MM notes, "They have the good sense to show it on everyone else's church day."
We're ready to debauch ourselves a bit further, so off to the Roxy we go. We stroll down 8th Avenue, Chelsea's main drag, tip our caps to a passing Michael Lucas and stop to check the scene at Big Cup, at 228 8th Ave between 21st and 22nd Streets. Students tap away on laptops at the gay coffeehouse, pretending to be working while they actually just send messages to each other. MM informs us that, "Big Cup has the best crunchy treats in town—and they have stuff to eat, too!" Bad jokes aside, their rice krispie treats are reported to be the best in town.
Before we could turn off 8th Avenue and onto 18th Street, we were accosted by carolers. Not just any carolers, but GAY carolers. The worst kind, Grandma! They were whipping out their merry-merry and sharing it with everyone within earshot. They went door-to-door, wishing all a, "Happy Holi-gays!" MM thinks it's all a little tame and says, "The carolers were great, but they should have sang 'O Come Up My Asshole' and 'I Saw Daddy Felching Santa Claus.'"
We finally reach the Roxy, "the queen godmother of all gay discos" at 515 West 18th Street, btw. 10th and 11th Avenues. MM sums it up best: "After the apocalypse, there will be roaches, Cher, and the Roxy. But the bathroom lady sadly passed on, no doubt while giving a paper towel to a queen to clean up his crystal leakage."
We got there a little early and were greeted by Derek the doorman-in-residence, a legend who also doubles at Beige. Due to the bathroom lady's misfortune, things were starting off slowly and we were also far, far away from 2am, or "shirts off" time. They were even playing dance music with—egads—vocals! MM notes, "This is a sign crystal meth use on the decline."
Dancers: Orlando (left) and Sam Champion, er, Dave (right)
Beefy guys danced while onlookers stuffed their stockings and couples did their own warming-up on couches throughout the club. We gained entrance to the dancers' dressing room and chatted with Dave and Orlando. Orlando is the American dream, working at the Roxy since the day he arrived here from Panama five years ago. This night was special though, as it would be Orlando's last. He's turning in his ass-less bikini bottoms to teach humanities to city kids. No Child Left Behind, indeed.
We couldn t tough it out until the Roxy's primetime, so we shuttled over to XL Lounge, 375 W 16th St btw. 8th Avenue and 9th Avenue. MM says, "XL's name has a double meaning as in both 'extra large' and 'excel.' That's a lot of wordplay for the gays to handle. People actually make out there, but only with folks they came with. You never meet anyone new at XL. You'd need a translator anyway." This was evidenced by the trio of South Americans I tried to interview on the club's upper level, but they couldn't stop touching each other long enough for me to use what little Spanish I know.
Michael with a lovely drag queen, Alexandria.
The night's appropriate finale was Heaven at 579 6th Avenue btw. 16th & 17th Street. This is where the college gay boys (often shirtless) and their fag-hagariffic girlfriends burn calories on Saturdays. They might be unaware of Liza Minelli and her mother, but I'm sure even Michael Tracy would be impressed by the gyrating dance moves and jerky elbows. Says MM, "Forget KFC—this is the ONLY chicken joint in town. Michael Jackson, leave Neverland immediately and get thee to Heaven. These guys are so young they haven't even heard of the Olsen twins. They're so unformed, they actually let a few women around (as long as they weigh 400 pounds and don't pose much of a threat)."
We talk to Jeffrey, 19, who attends the American Musical & Dramatic Academy (AMDA) and comes here about once or month or less. He was once a regular, at age 14. He says the scene is a mix of students from NYU, New School (Parsons and Eugene Lang), AMDA, and "young professionals wanting to stay 21 forever." Ah, isn t that all of us?
Hello Kitty Menendez! Actually, we don't know what this is.
With that, our tour guide hopped on to his famed bicycle and peddled off into the night. We headed to 12" Bar (oddly, not a gay establishment) to reflect on how we can finally say, as the Television Personalities sang in 1980, "I've been to all the parties in Chelsea." Of course, they were talking about London and the best gay night in New York City is Sunday anyway.