On Christmas Eve The Economist published “Gay bars are under threat but not from the obvious attackers“. Although Boston is not mentioned, the transformation of our city’s traditional gay neighborhood, The South End, from a gritty cityscape into a trendy, upscale place young married couples and retirees are now choosing to live highlights one of the many challenges facing gay bars.
What constitutes a gay bar and what is the fate of these spaces remains to be seen. There have been times when I’ve been in “gay bars” that are so overrun by heterosexual couples and or packs of single women that I’m hard pressed to think of it as a ‘gay bar’. Club Cafe in Boston, The Boatslip Tea Dances in Provincetown and Mainestreet in Ogunquit are all good examples.
The Economist asserts that where there is growing acceptance of the LGBTQ community, bars are more likely to be mixed or the LGBTQ community may feel less of a need to be a patron at a designated “gay” bar. It also suggests that the advent of “dating” apps has added another challenge, but I think it is mostly what I think of as a gay diaspora that poses the most significant problem for gay bars. As cities lose traditional gay enclaves, all sorts of businesses that cater to the LGBTQ community suffer. An early casualty to this was the gay bookstore followed by sex shops and gay gyms.
In my opinion bars have held out longer because even after many gay men move away from a traditional ‘gay neighborhood’ they return at night for dinner or drinks. However, I think the impact of losing a gay neighborhood means the long term prospects for many gay bars is grim. I don’t necessarily think Boston will lose all its gay bars but the density and numbers of gay bars has been severely cut over the past two decades since the South End migration started.