Slate’s June Thomas has a post titled “A Texas Ban on Gay Two-Stepping Shows Why We Still Need Gay Bars,” focusing on a case from that state’s 54th-largest city:
According to the Victoria Advocate, a gay couple was pulled from the dance floor of the Cactus Canyon on Dec. 20 and told that club policy prohibits gay couples from dancing to country music. Justin Meyer, 21, and James Douglas, 30, had already danced several songs without incident, but a manager intervened when the music switched to Dustin Lynch’s “Cowboys and Angels.” […]
Several [newspaper] commenters said that if gay men want to dance together, they need to go to a gay bar. Except, of course, that there isn’t one in Victoria. Indeed, there are fewer and fewer gay bars all across the United States. Back in 2011, when I wrote a series about gay bars, I reported that between 2005 and 2011, the number dropped from 1,605 to 1,405, a 12.5 percent decrease.
My recent conversations with gay men in their 20s leave me skeptical that the couple would even want to go to a gay bar. They may prefer a place like Cactus Canyon because they don’t want to be pursued by older — probably much older — gay men. I’d love to read about a gay bar opening in Victoria because of this story, but I wouldn’t consider it a wise business investment.
It’s true that the new mayor is raising hope for life after 10 p.m. on city streets. Marty Walsh helped to push the MBTA into running trains until 3 a.m. on weekends, and he’s backing the effort to raise a state-imposed cap on liquor licenses in the city. It’s all good news for about half the city’s population, with the other half still puzzled that residents paying the same rent as New Yorkers aren’t satisfied with an early dinner at Legal Sea Foods followed by a glass of Trader Joe’s wine at home.
But even if more liquor licenses become available, there won’t be a significant increase in the number of gay bars in Boston. (I count six, assuming Fritz is a lost cause.) The costs of operating a bar in Boston are still going to be too high to justify going after a niche market, and most big-city gay bars are actually niches of the niche population. Boston isn’t going to become someplace like Manchester, New Hampshire, where people can’t be too picky about where they drink. If a new gay bar opened in Boston, half the LGBT community would immediately loathe it for its décor, music, friendliness or lack of friendliness toward women, etc. It’s safer to open another faux speakeasy while that gimmick still has legs.
There’s also the problem that many young gay men and lesbians never get into the habit of frequenting bars. Gay bars have never recovered from the hike in the legal drinking age to 21 in the early 1980s. Now most gay men and lesbians come out before that age, and the first visit to a bar no longer serves as an initiation to the community. Gays figure out other ways to socialize, some with their own special benefits (sports leagues) and others that can be rather bleak (cruisy areas in parks, house parties with cheap alcohol). A lot of them never see the need to adopt a neighborhood bar when they become 21. This is especially true in a city where happy hours — a brilliant method of bringing together people of all income levels in the early evening, when they’re not too tired (or already too drunk) to meet new people — are against the law.
Now before I get a lot of comments from frustrated older gay men, I know all about Grindr and Manhunt and all the other tools of digital hook-ups. I’m as frustrated as anyone that the inability to take a good selfie can have such a deleterious effect on a single person’s social life. But I don’t blame this phenomenon for the decline of the gay bar. Young gay men like to get out of the house, and to drink with friends, as much as anyone. If a new gay bar is well-managed, affordable, and convenient — and, most difficult to achieve, popular — it will get customers. Unfortunately, it won’t get the buzz that a new craft cocktail bar or small-plates restaurant gets in Boston. A gay bar just isn’t good business in this town.
Photo is of Bar Relaxe in Montreal's Gay Village because it's too damn cold for me to go out and take a picture of a Boston gay bar today. And they're not very photogenic.