Saturday, January 26, 2013

New York City Gay Bars Rated: January 2013 Update

Back in May 2011, my BF and I - both native New Yorkers - decided to spend some time visiting and rating gay bars in NYC for the benefit of others planning a trip to The City. We have since decided to keep this rating list 'fresh' and updated every 6 months, so we continue to re-visit our rating sites and add new ones along the way. Keep mind that we prefer a “Bear” crowd of masculine men, and will take 'small and dark' over 'glitzy and pretentious' any day. If you agree, or disagree, or believe that there are other bars or nightspots we should review…let us know in the comments! We’ve rated all of these from “zero woofs” (don’t bother) to “5 Woofs” (our favorites), all from a Bear's perspective, and have arranged them by neighborhood. Here is the full list with the most recent January 2013 updates, organized by neighborhood.  On this particular update, we visited growing 'gayborhoods' in Hell's Kitchen and Jackson Heights (in Queens).


The Eagle, 554 W. 28th Street at 11th Ave. New York’s premier Three-Floor Leather/Levi bar, though on crowded weekends most men are more likely to be seen shirtless and in jeans rather than in leather. It is a very cruisy, woofy crowd in an overall “bad-ass” atmosphere (we've seen at least one military man in uniform here...) The Eagle atmosphere is “Uber-masculine” but friendly at the same time. If you scare easily or are a leather-bar virgin, take a friend. Beefy bartenders who know how to pour a drink; Casual first floor; 2nd floor is always crowded, sometimes with a hot dancer; Third floor Roof Deck often packed, with a small smoking crowd. A constant favorite, this is a very *late* crowd (it normally doesn’t open until 10 pm); Good drink prices and strong mixed drinks. A MUST for Bears, Leatherman, and NYC visitors. We've returned several times in the last six months, all different days and events, and every time it was top-notch for sheer Eye-Candy, decent drinks, and capable bartenders. Spent my birthday here in December, and wasn't disappointed ! :-)   5 WOOFS

The Gym Sportsbar, 167 8th Ave., at W. 18th Street. The first time we visited, we thought from the start that this gay sports bar had definite potential…but it didn't seem 100% sure of what it wanted to be.  There were many male couples, and many hot men, but the lights were WAAAAAY too bright. We rated it 3 WOOFS, and decided to re-visit.

We tried it again on a Saturday afternoon and a Sunday night, and found that the Gym has indeed found its footing.  With classic brick walls, about a dozen flat screen TVs broadcasting different sports, and a room full of men, this is a *real* gay sports bar.  Older guys, a softball team still in uniform fresh from the diamond, college guys, and bears all comfortably intermingled.  The Owner/managers Erich and Rick were outgoing and upbeat, and their bartender - Jerry, the "Cele-Bear-ty" - was adorable. The lights were low enough to make it a 'bar,' and the music perfect: loud enough to make it a party, but not so loud you couldn't talk to the guy on the next bar stool.  4 WOOFS

Rawhide, 212 8th Ave., at W. 21st Street. I had visited this small neighborhood bar years ago…and I have to say, it is better than ever before. A cool antique motorcycle hangs from ceiling in the rear, and the smell of leather and beer as you walk in the door is absolutely intoxicating. There was a mixed-age, masculine crowd and HOT bartenders. There were 2 strippers that knew how to move, and a third not so much, but still nice eye candy. Great drink prices, and a great bar even if it is somewhat tiny. We returned in January with some younger friends, and found everyone still just as friendly, (especially Michael the bartender!), dancers still hot, and everything still just as good as we remembered it. [UPDATE: We have visited this bar two more times in January, and three more time this June, and three more times in Dec/Jan.....and we have NEVER been disappointed. On our most recent visit, our woofy/beary bartender, Miguel, treated us like close family. Drinks were good, crowd was friendly...there is just never a bad night here!  We also discovered that Rawhide is the home bar of ONYX, New York's leather club for men of color - we attended one of their events, and found ourselves as welcome as ever. This is consistently the BEST guy's bar in Chelsea!] 5 WOOFS

[MARCH UPDATE: in a casualty of gentrification, the rent on Rawhide was increased to $25,000/month, and the bar closed at the end of March 2013.  There is an empty place in my soul.]

Boxers NYC, 37 West 20th Street at 6th Avenue. Billed as New York City’s newest “Gay Sports Bar,” it aims to break stereotypes, and should be a natural for Bears. One wall is covered with HUGE flat screen TVs, all with different games on. Unfortunately, in spite of the large crowd, no one was watching them. Any men who could be described as bears were standing, each one very much alone, exiled to a rear corner. The front of the bar was occupied by young, straight women (at least 30% of the crowd) with their harems of male suitors surrounding them, blocking aisles and taking up thrones at the bar like any other after-hours, after-work pick-up bar. Nothing identified Boxers as ‘gay,’ or even gay-friendly. The bartenders were annoyingly young, in red boxer shorts with no shirts – and no visible sign of having reached puberty. They were entirely uninterested in conversation or being friendly. Boxers was our most disappointing visit. A True Gay Bar, it is not. We felt like we were pulled in by the Boxers PR machine and the Hype of being a “Trendy” gay bar. We advise gay men – even masculine gay men into sports - to avoid this trap, unless you really want to watch the game. If that is the case, we have a very nice recliner in our living room and the drinks are better and much cheaper. ZERO WOOFS.

Barracuda Lounge, 275 West 22nd Street (nr. 8th Avenue) I have to admit, we stumbled into Barracuda (literally!). We had not intended on stopping here, but we were walking home from another bar and figured we might as well try it. As we walked in, we immediately noticed that the bar is divided into two sections: a small, fairly standard bar area as you enter, and a large room with a stage in the rear. And the reason for the stage was obvious: about a dozen drag queens were competing that night.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that as a general rule, I’m not partial to drag. But in the next breath, I’ll admit that we had a great time at Barracuda.

The crowd defied pigeon-holing. It was was amazingly mixed: young college guys, middle-aged bears , drag queens, muscle boys, average joes – you name it. An older man sat at one end of the bar, and it was clear that he was just as welcome and a ‘part of the bar’ as any young flamer bouncing across the room. My partner and I were the only ones decked out in leather, but in this mixed crowd we did not seem or feel out of place. In fact, everyone was incredibly welcoming. The bartenders poured decent drinks and were efficient and friendly. The Drag Queens were some of the best we’d ever seen. And the crowd was, overall, in very good spirits. We were pleasantly surprised, and will definitely return. 3 WOOFS


The Boiler Room, 86 E. 4th Street at 2nd Ave. The Boiler Room is a ‘big enough,’ nice neighborhood bar, with a good mix of guys from young twinks to daddies, all relaxing together. Take your pick of men: Bears, fashionistas in wool scarves, working-class stiffs arriving after work, a dreadlocked rasta-looking guy, professionals, college-aged, black, white - you name it. Each time there the bartender has been friendly and attentive, and the crowed friendly and warm as well. A nice place to simply spend the evening…or the place to start and/or end the evening. This place is solid as a rock and an east village fixture. 4 WOOFS

The Eastern Bloc, 505 East 6th Street, just east of Avenue A. Remember (or write down) the address, or you may not find it - and you definitely want to find it! This is a small neighborhood bar, with no flashy sign on the front. In fact, the exterior is dark wood and the name is stenciled in letters only three inches high in an alcove above the door. Once inside, you are in a unique place with its own quirky decor. The low red lights and the black walls and furnishings keep it appropriately dark; Retro pictures evoke eastern european communism, small TV screens showed vintage and sepia images, and a stuffed zebra head hangs on the back of the bar. The bartender, Rob, was on during "Happy Hour," which lasted until 10 pm and feautured $4 drafts. Everyone, from the bartender to the patrons, was friendly and conversational, and we were made to feel like 'regulars' from the moment we arrived. The early crowd was Daddy-like without being trollish - perfect for us. We revisited later in the same evening, and the next shift's bartenders were just as friendly and efficient, the crowd a tad more diverse, and the pole dancer hot. A definite 'regular stop' for us. 4 WOOFS

The Cock, 29 2nd Avenue at E. 2nd St. A Total Dive. The Cock is one large square room, very, very dark, with a crowd of people walking (or being pushed upstream like salmon) in circles hoping for a grope. The $15 weekend cover charge was not worth it…though drinks were cheap. Dancers on the bar willing to be a bit naughty. It is something that should be experienced as part of the NY Club scene…but only once. 2 WOOFS

Phoenix, 447 E. 13th Street, between 1st Avenue and Avenue A. This was probably the hardest bar to "get a handle on;" much was simply not 'adding up.' Upon arrival, we noted a beautiful long (and well-stocked) bar, wooden floors, and vintage wooden cabinets behind the bar. The music was great, and the lights at a nice medium-low level; the crowd was decidedly young. It seemed odd to us that there were 5 bar staff (four dressed in unmistakably twinky attire), and not one of them appeared to be able to give the time of day to customers; they huddled together and engaged in intense discussions with each other about who-knows-what. I had barely finished my drink when one of the barstaff came zooming at me from across the floor to grab my glass and run off with it. I held on to it, and watched him smile for the first time. We noted that there were no bar stools, and no place to sit except for a small clumsy room off to the side. At the end of the bar, a middle-aged lesbian stood watching the bar staff like a hawk and speaking with friends as they came over to her. The atmosphere was intense and cold, so I finally asked someone for some details. It turns out that the lesbian was the new owner as of the start of the year. She removed the bar stools to pack more people in on weekends, and apparently believed that her only 'role' was to intimidate the bartenders. Meanwhile, her friend made sure that give-away magazines were in perfect stacks, and we suddenly realized what was happening here: A new owner (or owners) more interested in packing people in and micromanaging staff than in making customers feel welcome. Sorry, but I'd rather sit on a stool in a crowded bar and joke with my bartender than be shoe-horned into someone else's vision of The Perfect Bar. This bar has much potential, but very poor senior management. They need to back off and relax, let the bartenders be bartenders, and let the bar be a bar. ZERO WOOFS.

Nowhere, 322 E. 14th Street between 1st Ave & 2nd Ave. With it's long green awning running to the sidewalk, and an underground location with fairly low ceilings, Nowhere is a unique but popular club for the young set. Long and narrow, it has some interesting little stone-and-brick side nooks common to basement bars, but it was appropriately lit, and even has a quirky faux-fireplace. We arrived a bit after 11 pm on a Friday night, and it was packed wall-to-wall with a young crowd of straights, lesbians, and gays that mixed well. The bear-cub bartenders were working quickly and efficiently, and in spite of the pace, were still friendly and in good spirits. There was a covenient and much-needed coat check at the front door, and a pool table in the very rear, which, in spite of the crowds making a game difficult at best, was quite active. There was no room to dance, but the music was very good. This is a young person's place: my BF and I were definitely the bar Daddies.

After our initial rating ("We give it ZERO WOOFS for Bears like us, but highly recommend it as an East Village stop for the younger crowd. And the bartenders *were* adorable :-)"), we received an email from "Damien C.," who wrote,

"I've been throwing a weekly Bear Party at Nowhere every Tuesday called "Buddies" for four years. It's really popular. Most nights there are plenty of Bear-types there, too, even Fridays. Were you there on the 17th by chance? [As a matter of fact, we were!] I was spinning at The Eagle and just about everyone who might have gone to Nowhere was with me."

Many Thanks to Damien for his response. Since we haven't witnessed his "Buddies" night, we feel we should hold off assigning any rating until we see what Tuesdays are like...but either way, we liked the place!


Barrage, 401 West 47th Street (nr. Corner of 9th Avenue).   Stayed for one drink, and fled.  This place is about as far removed from a neighborhood named "Hell's Kitchen" as you can imagine.  It is really a "lounge," where you expect people to order martinis, barely loosen their ties, and bring their fag hags from the office with them to enjoy the over-the-top pastel lighting and bohemian sitting areas.  The only thing we enjoyed were the amazingly hot bartenders....but the place, overall, made this guy's skin crawl.  (Now, if you could take the bartenders from Barrage, and put them to work in the labor-lacking 9th Avenue Saloon, you could possibly have the newest, bestest hot spot on Manhattan's west side.  but until then...) ZERO WOOFS

Flaming Saddles, 793 9th Avenue (near W. 53rd Street). If there is any bar worse than Boxer's in terms of claiming it's one thing and being something entirely different, Flaming Saddles takes the prize.

Billing itself as New York's Gay Country Bar, and using all sorts of cowboy-motifs and jargon, one would think that this was a real meat-and-potatoes, rodeo-man's home.  We should have read the Yelp reviews that called this a real "Cunt-try" bar for a clue.

First off, we walked in and the efficient, and very nice but oh-so- twinky-boi bartenders were dancing on the bar (Couldn't grab a beer until they were done.)  In fact,  I have since learned that Flaming Saddles actually posted a help-wanted ad for "bartenders who can dance, and dancers who can bartend."  The only patrons who were 'regular guys' were clustered at a back table just drinking their beers, while a young, loud, mixed-gender crowd were playing quarters up front.  Several lesbian couples hung around the bar, and some young guys played the jukebox - which ran from hard core country to 1980s rock and roll.  The red, flocked wallpaper covering the place was more reminiscent of a 1970s long island suburban living room than a country-western bar.  For some people, this would be a fun location (and the group playing quarters was clearly enjoying themselves) - but in terms of looking for Bear - well, we give this ONE WOOF.

9th Avenue Saloon, 656 9th Avenue, between W. 45th & W. 46th Streets - A great location with a ton of potential...and inept bartenders.  On our first trip, we stopped by the afternoon. We liked the classic old wooden bar and brick walls...although it was very odd to see modern paintings on the walls of what was otherwise a very 'blue color' gritty place.   On our second trip there, the paintings were gone, so we assumed that someone was doing a favor for a local artist.  Mixed messages on the wall are no big deal in the grand scheme things - but bartenders who shouldnt be bartenders is another story. The first bartender was more concerned about asking everyone (multiple times in several minutes) if they wanted popcorn. I had to wonder if his obsession with popcorn was an effort to cover up for a lack of bartending know-how: when I asked what single malt-scotches they carried, he looked befuddled, and pointed at the bar and said "here's what we have."  Except he wasn't even pointing at scotches. The second bartender was no better: he spoke to no one, engaged in no conversation, and just poured drinks and went back to reading his newspaper.  Overall, it was an incredibly disappointing experience, because the place HAS great potential...its just that no one seems to care. TWO WOOFS.


The Toolbox, 1742 Second Avenue (Between E 90th & E 91st Streets)   A Tiny, tiny, long narrow neighborhood bar….but just about the only choice for a gay man on the Upper East Side.  We stopped in early – at 9:00 pm – so my recollections may not be ‘typical’ of a late night experience.  On the down side, it is SMALL…if someone at the bar pushed their seat back, they hit the rear wall.  And there was nothing overly memorable about the decor or the set-up (although they do an amazing job maximizing what little space they have!).  But on the upside, this place is FRIENDLY…bartenders and patrons made this a clear “local watering hole,” and we were welcomed as if we were regulars.  And some of the men were pretty damned hot.  We will return late night to get another view . 3 WOOFS


Boots & Saddles, 76 Christopher Street, nr. 7th Avenue. Once a small, boring ‘old man’s’ bar, Boots & Saddles is now ...something else…though we’re not sure exactly what. The small crowd combined older regulars with younger “twinks” and a surprising herd of young girls ogling over the stripper/dancers on the tiny dance space. One twink behind me thought of me as a prize and kept squeezing my tricep muscle. There was a cadre of very bored strippers. Would have been better if the lights were dimmer, the twinks would have quit their whiny bitching, and if the annoying inebriated fag hags would have found other quarters. ZERO WOOFS.

Rockbar, 185 Christopher Street at Washington Street. On our first visit, this became our new favorite bar, and we stopped in three nights in a row to make sure. This bar has had a rough time under previous ownership, but it has overcome this spotty past with a vengeance. Home bar for a group of NYC Bears, each night it was full of masculine, beary men, and featured contests and special events. The shirtless bartender was 100% Grade A Beef, who took the time to talk to his clientele and get to know them. This was just a great group of guys and a lot of fun beyond belief.

Then came our 6-month revisit in January, and some serious disappointment. With a sparse and self-absorbed crowd and a new pretty-boi bartender who couldn't be bothered pouring drinks or giving patrons a second thought, we shook our heads. There were three signs posted about a new coat check, and when we asked about it, the bartender literally blew us off because he couldn't be bothered. If this had been our first time, we would have given it a ZERO or ONE WOOF rating. So, we tried again this June, hoping that we had just run into a bad night.  And fortunately, that appears to be the case: We arrived on a Saturday night, and Rockbar was back to normal.  An event called "Body Rock 6" (BR6) was taking place, with a DJ projecting his eclectic and wonderfully weird video montage, and the place was FULL of some of the best-looking, beariest men in NYC.  Many seemed to know each other, and it was clear that Rockbar was "home base."  We'll overlook one bad night:  An emphatic 5 WOOFS!

Ty’s, 114 Christopher Street nr. Hudson Street. Ty’s is THE Classic neighborhood Men’s Greenwich Village bar. Open every day at 2 pm, it features a Thursday evening Bear Night, but in reality, Ty’s always has a Bear-crowd. We walked in the door fairly early in the evening and got woofed at by the patrons; the bartenders were equally friendly. Ty’s only real drawback is its relatively small size, but as men’s bars go, it’s a must. Home Base of New York City's "FireFLAG," a gay-supportive firemen's organization. The 6 month revisit was no disappointment: As always, a friendly bar full of woofy men. A consistent anchor in the West Village. 4 WOOFS

Stonewall Inn, 43 Christopher Street at Stonewall Park. Unfortunately, this historic site where the gay rights movement began over 40 years ago, is a mere shadow of its former self. Friendly men & women, but not a single person on the dance floor upstairs two nights in a row on the weekend, and fairly quiet downstairs. Groups of people came together, and tended to stay together. I wanted it to be better because of its history, but it wasn’t doing anything to excite me. It’s historic but needs to have something to make history new every day. A must for history…but that’s it. On the 6-month update we returned with a crowd of nine. It was still "under-populated," but drinks were decent and the bartender was fun and attentive. Definitely a better experience than the first time. 2 WOOFS

The Hangar, 115 Christopher Street nr. Hudson Street, convenient walking distance from Rockbar and the Stonewall, and right across the street from Ty’s. The Hangar has a significant African-American presence (probably a 50/50 black/white mix) where everyone is welcome. Very crowded, nice bartenders, and probably the most attentive and best male dancer we saw all weekend. Like many bars we visited, the lights were too bright. Lower the lights and this place would be great. 3 WOOFS

JACKSON HEIGHTS (Unlike the above neighborhoods, all of which are located in Manhattan, Jackson Heights is a neighborhood in the Borough of Queens.  One of the newest and growing 'gayborhoods,' there are a number of gay bars opening up along Roosevelt Avenue, easily accessible from the L line, in a heavily trafficked, upbeat Latino neighborhood)

True Colors, 7915 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Hgts, nr. 79th Street   From the outside, there is little that appears exciting: just another fairly darksmall store front, tucked in among bodegas and salons and food stores that post signs that are bilingual....or solely in Spanish.  Up and down the street (which is under the L tracks), Columbian, Dominican, Ecadorean, and other flags from various Latin American nations were flapping in the wind.

Then we entered....and felt right at home.  This bar is still a neighborhood bar, with a complete spectrum of men, women, older, younger, latino, and anglo customers mingling together well.  The lights were low enough to make it a bar atmosphere, but light enough so you could see what you were doing. The music and videos playing were loud enough to create atmosphere...but not so loud that you couldn't have a conversation. The place was already decked out for Valentines Day (we visited Jan 23), the bar very well stocked, the prices very reasonable, and the bartender (Anthony) was friendly, efficient, attentive, and hot as hell. (His black T-shirt was stretched across his pecs and you had to wonder if it would just rip in half if he moved the wrong way...)   We stopped in for one drink, and stayed for six. Nice place, fun neighborhood, well done! 3 WOOFS.

Friends, 78-11 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Hgts (nr. 78th Street).  We visited Friends after having started the evening a block away at True Colors, and wondered if it would be as welcoming as the first...and to our surprise, it really was.   Once again, this is a bar that is neither too small nor too large, but just big enough to be a good neighborhood bar.  The lighting was right, and the largely Spanish music was just the right level.  The walls were covered with impeccably clean glass, and the wooden bar is a classic - I had to believe parts of it were 100-year old antiques.  Once again,the drinks were very reasonable (maybe half Manhattan's prices!) and we felt right at home, even though the Latino flavor is a bit stronger here than at True Colors.   If there was one disappointment, it was that the bartender (and two other workers) were so fixated on the sound system (and in chatting with a single friend of theirs at the bar) that they ignored everyone else.  Will definitely return here and check out the late night we were leaving (fairly early, around 9:30) we started getting approving eyes from some patrons....a good sign all around.  3 WOOFS

No comments: