I saved the best for last. The proverbial “playroom,” “dark room,” or “backroom” is a lights-off, “anything goes” space typically used for sex and drugs, and were once common features of gay establishments.
If you’ve ever been in a gay dance club or leather bar and wondered what that dark hallway across from the bathrooms is used for, this is it. Backrooms are relics of an earlier time, when managers and owners generously created a space where their patrons could do what they needed to do with each other and looked the other way — or perhaps joined in. But gay bars today are now flocked with bridesmaids and visited by health inspectors and must struggle to stay afloat in a world where hookup apps have hurt their business, meaning backrooms have all but disappeared.
Backrooms are useful when you’re a little fucked up and the guy you’ve been dancing with and rubbing on the dance floor decides to take matters into his own hands. It is true that you don’t really cruise in the backroom. You cruise on the dance floor — backrooms are where the cruising takes you.
I love backrooms and see them along with public cruising as part of the same picture, one that composes a big part of our history as gay men. Regardless of your views on sex, cruising defined our world at one point. It was how we met each other, how we fell in love, and constituted the whole of our sex lives years before apps and websites would take out all the guesswork (and, for many, all the fun as well).
Be on the lookout for a cruising zone near you. One is closer than you think.
Magazine spread above from Life, June 26, 1964, photographed by Bill Eppridge.