By Justin Luke and John Blair
Originally published on Advocate.com April 16 2014 5:15 AM ET
Almost 2,000 guys are lost in the spectacular music. They stomp their feet, sip their drinks, close their eyes, and lift their hands in the air to the glorious beat. No, this isn’t a scene from Queer as Folk or even Roxy Saturdays a decade ago. This is the visual you can expect at our current weekly gay dance party, VIVA Saturdays at Stage 48 in New York’s newest gayborhood, Hell’s Kitchen.
As you can probably imagine, it is very difficult for me to read the recent avalanche of articles mourning the death of gay nightlife after I sip my margarita and try my best to squeeze through the three jam-packed dance floors at VIVA. From where I’m standing, gay nightlife is doing just as well as it ever did. It’s even doing better in some respects.
New York nightlife isn’t dead — it’s just changed. And many of those who claim it is dead simply didn’t change with it. I’d like to set the record straight for you. Then I’d like to invite you out to VIVA to see for yourself.
Just taking a look at major metropolitan areas like New York and Los Angeles, for example, prove that gay nightlife isn’t dead. It just spread out.
If you go out any given night of the week in New York (choose your neighborhood: East Village, West Village, Hell’s Kitchen, Harlem, Washington Heights) or West Hollywood, you will find bars and lounges that are packed to the walls with gay men. Each venue offers something different: a drag show here, a stripper show there, a mustache party here, a ginger fetish party there. Once upon a time, gay men only had one place to go. This was the era of the megaparties. But as the battle for equality soldiers on and the metropolises have become more gay-friendly, many new gay businesses have popped up.
Now gay men in Manhattan have a choice of more than 25 gay bars (not even counting those in the outer boroughs) to go to every night. There are still megaparties like VIVA Saturdays, but nowadays there are more options every given day. And that’s not a bad thing. Variety is the spice of life. One night you want a super-packed megaclub, and one night you just want to watch some Broadway divas belting high C notes.
Some may argue that gay hookup apps have depleted the need for massive meetings of gay guys, but I don’t think those apps have killed anything. Yes, you can now get with a man as quickly as grabbing an Uber town car or ordering a salad on Seamless. And yes, gay nightclubs have always been the foundation of the hookup scene. But so what?
If you only summoned sex partners at home, you’d turn into a hermit. Nightclubs offer a lot more than a chance to get some action. Going out is a social experience. At the very least, going out allows you size up the guy you might be interested in without having to trust the selfie he selected.
Coincidentally, those same apps have also helped clubs become less “cruisy.” The guys who only came to get laid can now do so at home. The people at nightclubs today are there for a whole host of reasons: losing themselves in the music, meeting new people, spending time with friends, drinking and getting crazy, and, yes, also cruising.
So, sure, you can order groceries on Fresh Direct, but sometimes you just want to thump the melon before you decide to buy it. Clubs allow for that. And quite frankly, hookup apps tend to partner with parties anyway, so partygoers are often on hookup apps while they’re at the bar or on the dance floor. It’s not one or the other — it’s a mix of the two.
At the heart of the matter is the fact that all good things must come to an end. Yes, the legendary gay club Splash closed, but it was a case of natural progression. Splash had almost 25 years of business. What else runs that long? No one thought Broadway was done forever when Cats or Les Misérables closed. No one thinks that cinema is over because a blockbuster film went to DVD. Things open, and things close. In that same period of time that Splash closed, five new bars popped up, and countless large gay parties appeared in nontraditional, not-exclusively-gay venues.
Today’s party crowd simply wants new sights, new locales, new people, new experiences. A full-time gay club may no longer be sustainable, but large-scale exclusive gay nights at different venues are thriving, as are smaller gay niche lounges and bars with smart programming and promotion. You can hit 12 gay bars in Hell’s Kitchen before you’ve clocked a full mile of walking. Parties close. Bars close. Clubs close. But more will constantly rise up to take their place. It’s how it’s always been, and it’s how it will continue to be.
Gay nightlife isn’t dead. It isn’t even dying. As long as gay men live and breathe (and thanks to the progress of LGBT equality, more and more gay men are coming out every day), they will want and need somewhere to go to drink and dance and socialize and forget about their stressful days and lives.
No, gay nightlife isn’t dead. It’s thriving and changing and dynamic and exciting as ever. Now there’s some good news worth celebrating. I’ll meet you for a drink on the dance floor.
JUSTIN LUKE and JOHN BLAIR are night party promoters in New York City.