Cities around the country, and globe, have seen many of their most beloved gay and lesbian watering holes close down — often after the area's queer population disperses or the owner simply gets priced out. While many of these bars and clubs were a bit rough around the edges, they nonetheless served as de facto community centers, offering a kind of glue that kept our disparate minority together. In this first entry of an occasional series, we'll pay honor to dearly departed LGBT establishments that recently shut their doors in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Stay tuned for more "in memoriams" in other cities.
The Gangway, San Francisco
The Gangway closed this weekend (late January 2018). It was known as San Francisco's oldest continuously-operating gay bar — it opened in 1910 and began catering to a gay clientele in 1961. The Tenderloin spot brought in an older crowd and was rarely busy in its later days. A lawsuit and the death of a manager helped precipitate the closure — it will be replaced by a kung-fu themed laundromat.
G Lounge, New York City
The popular G Lounge in Chelsea is the latest casualty of the gay bar die-off, with kennithinthe212 reporting that the 19th Street institution will shutter by the end of the year. After opening in 1996, the watering hole became a mainstay for Gen X and millennial queers. Though appreciated for its hot bartenders and diverse clientele, online reviews have not been kind as of late.
Roosterfish, Los Angeles
This relaxed neighborhood bar has been an institution in L.A.'s Venice area since the late '70s but closed for good May 22. The jukebox featured an eclectic mix of music, while the outside patio in the back hosted barbecues (and plumes of marijuana smoke) during beautiful California afternoons. The building's owners wanted to triple the rent in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, which ulimately led to the closure. Thankfully, the bar got a nice send-off on its last weekend, with crowds thronging the 'Fish. Photo courtesy of David Loch.
MJ's, Los Angeles
As a club, cruisey MJ's was a happy medium between Silver Lake's other gay bars — the rough-and-tumble Eagle and the PG-rated, hipster-friendly Akbar. Either way, it couldn't survive and closed in 2014.
Bar-tini, New York City
This sleek space in Hell's Kitchen once drew throngs of upscale gay men to sip its variations on classic cocktails. Weekly drag shows were another attraction. A sad story is connected with the bar; a manager, Sean Verdi, died suddenly at age 23 in 2014, possibly of a drug overdose, in a Central Park South apartment belonging to Ian Reisner of Out NYC hotel fame (and known more recently for hosting a reception for antigay presidential candidate Ted Cruz). Verdi had hoped to open his own bar someday.
Deco, San Francisco
Drag shows. Karaoke. Amateur strip shows. Sassy, friendly bartenders. And cheap drinks. There was nothing not to love at the Deco Lounge in San Francisco's Tenderloin, where queens such as Ginger Snap, Duplicity, and Holly DeVille reigned supreme, and patrons had their choice of activities in the multiroom, multilevel space — there was one room with a dance floor, another with pool tables. And there was the gorgeous art deco back bar that gave the club its name. But the Deco era ended after an ownership change in 2012.
Esta Noche, San Francisco
This much-loved dive bar in the Mission shut down in 2014. Known for its drag shows and queer Latino crowd, Esta Noche made a memorable appearance on the first episode of HBO's Looking.
Jewel's Catch One, Los Angeles
Jewel Thais-Williams busted through the male-dominated, mostly-racist gay club culture of the early 1970s by opening Jewel's Catch One, a disco located in a struggling neighborhood near downtown L.A. Catch One would welcome all to its dance floor and become an institution, even hosting a Madonna record release party in 2000. The club still hosts some parties, though Thais-Williams is no longer affiliated — she runs a health clinic next door.
Kok, San Francisco
"Infamous" is a name often attached to the former Kok bar, known for its fetish-friendly, leather daddy crowd. The bar had numerous iterations before 2013 (Ramrod, anyone?), when it became the more family-friendly Driftwood. RIP Friday night Pants Off Parties.
Le Barcito, Los Angeles
This tiny Latino drag bar was a hoot until it closed in 2011. It actually occupied the same spot as Black Cat, a gay bar that was the site of protests and resistance in 1967 following a jarring police raid (the incident was the impetus for The Advocate coming into existence). After Le Barcito closed, a gastropub opened, appropriately called The Black Cat.
Lexington Club, San Francisco
This self-declared space for the dykes, queers, artists, musicians and neighborhood folks in the Mission shut its doors in 2014 after 18 years of business. In a heartfelt note to patrons, owner Lila Thirkield lamented her rent increase and the growing cost of living in San Francisco. She ended her post on a positive note, saying queer people will always have a place in San Francisco.
Marlena's, San Francisco
Marlena's was a beloved institution in S.F.'s Hayes Valley neighborhood, where it opened shortly after the 1989 earthquake. The cozy, friendly club was named for the drag persona of owner Garry McLain, a.k.a Marlena the Magnificent, Empress XXV of the Imperial Council. It was known for its weekly drag shows and for going all out for holidays; at Christmastime, McLain would display his collection of 1,400 Santas. When it closed in 2013, a contributor to SFist lamented, "We don't want to live in a world with no Marlena's, Hayes Valley's single greatest bar, gay or otherwise."
Numbers, West Hollywood
This second-floor upscale bar and restaurant overlooked the action on Santa Monica Boulevard. The bar's moniker didn't just refer to the digits exchanged within, but often the dollar amount required to keep certain young men in your company. The bar closed around 2009 and is now a branch of the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
Rawhide, New York City
When Rawhide closed due to a rent increase in 2013, after 33 years in business, the Chelsea spot was mourned as "one of the last of a handful of old-school, unpretentious gay bars" in the city, as a blog called Jeremiah's Vanishing New York put it. It was the oldest Levi's-and-leather bar in New York, and it was the hangout for a friendly neighborhood crowd. No less than Christine Quinn, a a former New York City Council speaker and mayoral candidate, sang its praises. "For many years there were Latino guys from the neighborhood who had a folding card table every Friday and Saturday night and played dominoes," she once told New York Magazine. "And they knew every guy who walked into the Rawhide, and every guy that walked in the Rawhide knew them. A leather bar may or may not be the best example, but it is the type of neighborhood experience we want to be able to have, what Jane Jacobs called ‘the eyes on the streets’ all watching out for each other."
Splash, New York City
THE Chelsea super-club—two stories, 10,000 square feet— for much of the 1990s and 2000s, Splash went dry in the summer of 2013. Yes, there really was a working full-length shower.
The Spotlight, Los Angeles
Before Hollywood got its glitz back, this dive bar was a notorious venue for drugs, sex, and cheap drinks when it closed in 2011. The Spotlight's colorful characters seemed out of a Charles Bukowski novel, especially in the morning (the bar operated nearly 24 hours).
The View, New York City
To New Yorkers, the View wasn't a talk show but a beloved Chelsea bar known for its drink specials and casual atmosphere. "Who can pass up $1 margaritas and cosmos?" noted one customer in a Yelp review. Plus the drinks were strong and the music was good — lots of classic '80s tracks — but not so loud as to drown out conversation. The View's reputation helped draw straight guys and gals to rub (and lift) elbows with the gay clientele, but everyone seemed to get along. However, the bar passed from view in 2010.
The Palms, West Hollywood
One of L.A.'s last lesbian bars, the darkly-lit Palms stopped serving Santa Monica Boulevard patrons in 2013. Open for nearly 50 years, the cozy spot was a favorite spot of celebrities from Janis Joplin to Melissa Etheridge to Ellen DeGeneres. This much-missed spot is destined to be the site of a mixed-use development on Santa Monica Boulevard.
The Other Side, Los Angeles
This piano bar operated for decades in Silver Lake, back when police raids were common. Surprisingly, the owner of the bar shut down the establishment in 2012 because he was retiring — not because of an aggressive landlord or a sudden drop in business.
Vlada, New York City
The Theater District, Russian-themed bar known as Vlada is no more; it became Infuse 51 in 2014 and then closed again. This watering hole looked like the interior of a submarine and was appreciated for its healthy vodka selection. Everyone from theater boys from power gays would stop in for a post-work drink.
The Roxy, New York City
This New York institution in far west Chelsea opened in 1990, before the area became a throbbing art center. Most gay New Yorkers can claim at least one drunken night here — there was an open bar if you got there early enough — and some can even say they say Madonna or Beyoncé perform there. The Roxy shut down in 2007.
The Parlour Club, West Hollywood
A hip spot in the Russian area of West Hollywood during the early- and mid-2000s, the Parlour Club featured alterna-dance parties, as well as 1920s themed events. Drag legends like Vaginal Davis (pictured) and Jackie Beat served as unofficial royalty there, while celebs like Drew Barrymore were regularly spotted.
Circus Disco, Los Angeles
Many continue to lament the recent closing of Circus, the mega-club that's welcomed a diverse clientele since the 1970s. When WeHo was pretty-much white-only, Circus welcomed everyone—well, until this year when it shuttered to make way for new apartments.
The Web, New York City
A rare space for Asian gay and bi men, The Web wrapped up about 2013. This Midtown East bar was known for its sexy dancers and late night performances; the bathrooms will be less fondly recalled.
Urge, New York City
The Urge Lounge on the Lower East Side was a small, dark space that was consistenly packed on weekends; part of the appeal was its sexy go-go boys — having a lot of dollar bills with you was a good idea. The club closed at the end of 2012.
Woody's, New York City
Woody's in the East Village used to pack them in, especially on weekends; the draws included a huge dance floor complete with stripper poles from which customers could swing. Before a remodeling, it offered cage dancers, which some patrons definitely missed. But the lack of a cover charge and the high-energy music kept the crowds coming until Woody's closed a few years back.