Are gay bars dying? If you go out to gay bars enough you’ll inevitably hear someone talk about the death of gay bars. They’ll claim no one is going out anymore due to all the hookup apps and all the bachelorette parties are turing customers away. Their long diatribe will always conclude with the same point that gay bars used to be so much more fun. Most of the time I just nod in passive aggressive silence but in my head I’ve already started a list of why everything they’re saying is wrong. My first and obvious response is to point out is that if someone is complaining that gay nightlife isn’t as fun as it used to be it’s probably because they’ve changed not the the bars. Bars can be very fun but there’s an expiration date of how fun they can be especially if that’s all you do every weekend. When you’re young bars are fun and exciting. As we get older they lose their luster as we realize the whole scene is a bit repetitive. Many of us simply age out of that phase of our lives. It’s like going back to visit your old high school or college after you’ve graduated. Nothing feels as fun as you remember because you’re no longer in that phase of life. Going out every weekend is mostly a young man’s game which is as it should be.
It’s easy to use outside factors as a scape goat. Bachelorette parties are often cited as a point of contention and while I agree that these ladies are the worst I’d hardly blame them for a downturn in gay nightlife. Rather than blame the ladies with penis crowns maybe we should be asking the question, “Could it be that the bars just suck?” Regardless of all the excuses it’s the bars responsibility to bring in customers and stay relevant. Whenever I’m listening to someone complain that gay bars used to be more fun I’m always struck by the fact that the bar in question probably looks exactly the same as it did 20 years ago on opening day. How many of us have gone to a dumpy gay bar that hasn’t been updated or remodeled since the early 90’s? We’ve gotten so used to it that we often overlook the fact that most gay bars are ugly as shit inside. Just because a gay bar was a hit once doesn’t mean that it deserves to be successful forever. This is a problem for all over the country but I can’t speak for other cities so I’ll use Dallas bars as an example. A few months ago the gay bar The Brick closed its doors. It wasn’t a sign of the times even though locals might try and use gay apps as an excuse. The reality is that the bar had a shitty location without enough parking. Other bars have their own problems. While I’m told the old TMC was great the current incarnation is dark, dreary, and depressing. Thank god those pole dancers bring a crowd because otherwise who would want to hang out there? It’s one of those bars that you have to explain to out of town friends before you enter. Woody’s is better with it’s outside patio but as the gay sports bar there seems to be an overall lack of sports and over abundance of loud dance music. In contrast Cedar Springs Tap House sits at the end of the street as one of the newer editions to Dallas’ gayborhood. Along with having good food they also have an atmosphere that’s genuinely pleasant and inviting. Granted it isn’t perfect with problems such as slow service but overall it’s a space that you actually want to spend time in. Tap House is a great place to bring out of town friends because it doesn’t require explanation or apologies for the decor.
There is also the widely believed myth that apps like Growlr and Grinder are killing gay nightlife. Sorry but that’s total bullshit. It’s 2016 and any damage online dating did occurred a long time ago. I remember going out to my first gay bar back in college and hearing that Gay.com and Manhunt were ruining gay nightlife. It was a legitimate complaint back in 2001 when the technology was new. After almost 2 decades it’s time to stop blaming apps and websites for the lack of customers. Mobile meeting is a valid part of our culture. Again I ask myself, I wonder if the bars just suck?
Don’t get me wrong there are a bunch of good gay bars all across the country like Dallas’ The Round Up with it’s classic Texas atmosphere but there are also many old dogs in need of new tricks. To answer my original question, no gay bars are not dying. Some of them just need to evolve and change. Look at the innovative straight bars in Dallas like High and Tight and The Truck Yard for inspiration. Both have found huge success by thinking outside the box and offering customers a little bit of a different experience. I saw a Facebook quote from M. Brodeur that put it best, “90% of gay bars sound like a spin class and are about as sexually charged as a Sears. So maybe step up your homosexuality a touch and your ‘night life’ won’t be so easy to ruin.”