For reasons best known to the gods and other higher powers I’ve been hanging out a lot in straight bars lately. It’s an interesting experience. I’ve learned two things: They have better beer in straight bars and the social experience is rather different.
For one thing they play sports on every available TV. Can you believe that? I became gay to get away from sports, for heaven’s sake. It’s true that some gay people actually play sports and an amazing number of them even organize their social lives around it. In fact I’d bet the big sports leagues — baseball and volleyball in particular — are bigger social magnets than the bars. But the less said about those people the better. They’re clearly deranged.
Sports or the threat of sports — the organized team variety in particular — are what made my childhood hell. My father once took me out in the backyard and tried to play catch with me. I think it was supposed to be a bonding experience. I stared at him in blank amazement. It was the first and last time he tried that experiment.
Straight bars build their appeal around sports. I was walking down Bayview one night when I spotted a pleasant looking bar. It looked friendly and it had a good range of beers on tap, but it was showing hockey on six screens, one of them the size of a small parking lot. Terrified of the conversation that might ensue — “So what do you think of them [insert team name here]?” — I left.
I used to think women were lying when they said men didn’t listen but straight bars have made me a believer. One night in a Davisville bar I listened as two guys talked right past each other. One guy talked about cars, real estate and work, while his friend fiddled obsessively with his Blackberry. The lack of connection didn’t seem to bother either guy. The first guy just kept on talking. Fuckin’ this and fuckin’ that. The second just kept fiddling. They both kept ordering beer.
One guy commented on the yeast in beer and this of course lead to thoughts of yeast in women.
“You don’t want that,” said one guy.
“You can still do it, though,” said the other guy.
The bar had a number of craft beers on tap and I’d go back for the booze alone but I don’t quite know where I fit in the social realm. Which leads me to my second great insight: Straight bars don’t attract a lot of gay people.
This is a surprise because, as many of you know, there’s a myth going round hip urban circles that says the world is now so super tolerant that young gays are flocking to straight bars in droves.
Well, that may be true of some of the big dance clubs. Since I’m not interested in paying a huge cover to hear music I don’t like, I couldn’t say. But the regulation, drop-in-for-a-drink places sure aren’t pulling the homos.
Queen West West is supposed to be the heart of new gay tolerance and if you hit it on the right night, like Big Primpin’ or Foxhole or Hump Day Bump, you’ll certainly meet lots of homos. It’s just another version of that decade-old trend, the one-night-a week/month event, also known as the floating gay club, also known as now you see it, now you don’t.
Most of the time the gay vibe isn’t quite so obvious. Lots of homos walk, talk and live in the area, but are there enough in the same place at the same time to constitute what we might call a viable scene?
Skeptical of the whole idea I decided to put it to the test. One night last summer I headed out to the Gladstone Hotel’s Wednesday night gay night, Hump Day Bump. Sure enough there were lots of homos. Too many, in fact. They were filming Cover Guy and there was a lineup that just refused to move.
Bored, I walked east to Ossington Ave to one of the other bastions of the new Queen cool, Sweaty Betty’s. It’s a lovely place with a tiny tree-shaded patio lit by looping strings of LEDs and decorated with animated twentysomethings radiating magazine-quality cool. But out of the 20 or 30 hipsters assembled there I counted only one middle-aged gay guy and two rail-thin twinks.
I had one drink and continued my tour of Queen West hotspots. No discernable gays at the Drake, Lot 16 or the Social (although there was a $5 cover at the Social so I didn’t actually go in, just peered in the window) and a crowd so young at the Beaver it was impossible to tell.
My conclusion? Sure, gays go to straight bars, but only when those straight places have gay nights. Most straight bars are gay-friendly in the sense that you can go there and not feel rejected, but that’s nothing new. In all my years as a gay man I’ve never chosen not to go to a straight bar for fear of being rejected. I just don’t like sports.