It was crowded downstairs at the Eagle, packed with a masculine set dressed in regular street wear — the sort of attire you’d find at most gay bars. There were a few leather folk in the sea of men. . In the throngs of jeans and tees, the jockstraps and harnesses stood out from the norm. It was a pretty decent crowd, and a scene in transition.. I couldn’t help but wonder what the leather scene would be like in 10, or even 20 years — where would the kinksters go?
Despite the mixed crowds it now attracted, the Eagle maintained its classic leather decor with exposed bricks, red lights, chain-link fences and camo fabric hanging from the ceiling. Hard house and techno played throughout. Whether it’s the Lab.oratory in Berlin, the Black Party in New York or the Black Eagle in Toronto, techno has become the new sound of the kink scene.
I grabbed another drink and stood along the back wall, cruising — or at least attempting to cruise. Stare, smile and hold the stare; that’s all it takes, I thought to myself. Most of the guys were on their own too, sipping their drinks and staring back.
People always say that hookup apps are killing the bar scene, and no doubt it’s taken a hit, but there’s nothing like cruising in person. Cruising online begins to feel like shopping on Amazon. Sure, it’s quick and easy, but you miss out on the thrill of the hunt. There are also the nuances of human nature that can’t be conveyed digitally, qualities that make men more attractive in real life than they appear on an app. Nothing can replace the spark of meeting someone face-to-face.
That said, I did meet DH through Grindr. We’d been living in very different worlds before we met and, under normal circumstances, never would have run into each other. He was more of a homebody, whereas I was going to mixed techno bars in the West End . My life would be significantly different today if I never met DH — he’s the one who got me into BDSM. I probably wouldn’t even be at the Eagle in New York if it weren’t for him.
Like the New York scene, my relationship with DH has evolved in a way I never expected. There’s a level of trust and intimacy between the two of us now, and a friendship that’ll last a lifetime. We understand that now, even though there were moments when we’d stop talking and it would seem like we’d never speak again. Ultimately, we could never fully get away from each other.
The New York scene today often feels like it’s over. It’s far more sterile than it used to be, catering to the sensibilities of the affluent folk who are taking over the city. The New York of Henry Miller — or even the city that created Kerouac, Ginsberg, Warhol and Mapplethorpe — is long gone. The bohemian life those people lived isn’t possible in New York City today. It was a dangerous and dirty city, filled with all sorts of intriguing characters.
A lot has happened since that version New York. AIDS irrevocably changed Manhattan, killing gay men by the thousands. When the city finally acknowledged the crisis, sex venues were shut down in the name of public health.
I went back upstairs at the Eagle to find my friend from before getting a hand job by the bar. Other than the two and the bootblack in the corner, nobody else was up there. It was disappointing to see the leather scene disappear, but I’ve never been one to fight change — nothing lasts forever. The only solution is to embrace change and see the opportunities in it. It’s hard, but I know New York will find the next big thing to define a whole new generation. And I bet it won’t have anything to do with a hookup app.