Jan 282010

From the UK Guardian:

Back in the mid-60s New York had just one leather bar, and it was inconspicuous and customers would wear their normal clothes and carry a change of costume in a bag, then switch to their chaps and black leather vest in the taxi. They were terrified a friend, even a gay friend, might see them going out in this freaky rig. Sadomasochism still sounded perverted and ever so slightly tacky – sort of New Jersey. And elderly. As if working-class, old gay men who couldn’t compete in the real bars could look appealing in leather, or at least threatening.


In 1975 a hardcore S&M monthly magazine, Drummer, started publishing. It had fairly technical information about how to torture and submit to it – we read it with avidity. The whole look and smell of gay New York culture was changing toward beefier bodies, beards, and the odour of brew, harness, sweat, and Crisco. A boyfriend of mine said that New Yorkers were so pale and unhealthy looking that black leather was the only look that suited them.

The leather bars kept pushing farther and farther uptown until they reached 21st Street and 11th Avenue with the Eagle’s Nest. There all the men seemed older and bearded and muscular and over six feet tall. At 5ft 10in I’d never felt short before except in Amsterdam. Now I was a shorty in my own city. To get from the West Village up to the Eagle, gay men had to go past three blocks of projects on Ninth Avenue starting at 16th Street. Gangs who lived in the projects would attack single gay men. We started wearing whistles around our necks to summon other gay men to our defence – a fairly effective system. I thought back to the 50s when everyone was a sissy boy with straightened hair, cologne, and a baby-blue cashmere sweater and penny loafers. Back then we would have been terrified of gangs. Not any more. Now many of us were taking judo classes.

And now the dress code was strict. The Eagle would allow “No hat other than leather cycle caps, western hats, construction hats or uniform hats. No jackets or coats other than leather or western style”.

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