Hole & Corner appears on Daily Xtra every Wednesday. Follow Mike Miksche on Facebook or on Twitter @MikeMiksche.
. . . There was an awkward feeling lingering in the apartment following the Scruff incident with my Airbnb host, Nathaniel. He claimed that he hadn’t recognized me, although my pic was recent and clear. To be fair, I hadn’t recognized him right away either, so I tried not to overthink it. Still, I found myself avoiding him. I’d wait until he was gone before I went into the kitchen, and when he was home in the evenings, I’d go for long walks through the East Village. Going through that neighbourhood reminded me more of the New York City I knew in the ’90s, when I first started coming to the city — it was dynamic and unexpected. Despite the awkward situation I suddenly found myself in, I was glad to be in this part of the city.
One evening, my friend Cameron from Queens came downtown for a night out. We decided to tour the gay bars in the East Village, starting at Eastern Bloc on Sixth, between Avenues A and B. It was a Soviet-themed bar with a dirty, down-to-earth edge. We went to The Boiler Room on Fourth Avenue next, which was livelier. It was a neighborhood bar that seemed to attract all sorts of people. It had a decent happy hour and a jukebox, with a playlist as eclectic as its clientele.
After a few more pints, I convinced Cameron that we should check out the Bijou, which was a sort of sex club/cinema just down from the Boiler Room. It didn’t take much convincing — he was all for it.
As we left the bar, I thought how great of an alternative East Village was to the gay scenes of Chelsea or Hell’s Kitchen. It was more low-key and casual, yet gritty and real. I’ve heard some guys say they won’t go north of 14th Street, but I didn’t understand why.
We entered the unmarked door of the Bijou and went downstairs. There was an elderly man at the bottom behind a booth, reading a paper. “Are there a lot of people in there?” I asked.
“There are people in there,” he said.
“Hold on — people, or there are a lot of people?”
“There are people in there,” he repeated.
I turned to Cameron. “Okay, we can’t go in here. It’ll be a waste. Why don’t we go to the new Cock? They moved recently.”
Cameron laughed. “I haven’t been to the Cock in a while. Sure.”
The Cock had recently moved to a new location on Second Avenue, between Fifth and Sixth, but with some resistance from the neighborhood — there were fliers circulating around the area that read, “Block the Cock.” Still, it was a successful move, prevailing against the ongoing gentrification in the city.
I was expecting it to be similar to the last iteration: dark, dive-y, and overtly touchy-feely. When we got inside I was quite surprised how it had managed to maintain the East Village edge, although it felt more like a lounge upstairs with a DJ playing deep house. There was a single go-go dancer in a jockstrap, dancing on a table like a wind-up toy.
We went downstairs and found a wide-open space with guys standing around sipping their drinks. I wasn’t certain if it was a dancefloor or not, but there were more go-go dancers in sailor caps and jockstraps dancing to the side. They weren’t beefy dancers like you’d expect, but had rough, deviant personas reminiscent of Genet’s novel Querelle de Brest. The vibe was exhilarating, because it was so authentic — it’s why I love the East Village. One of the dancers began straddling the pole with his ass cheeks sandwiching it.
Opposite the dance area was a large darkroom, which had a similar feel to the old Cock. It was very touchy-feely and had an orgy vibe. It was so dense with people that I found myself getting entangled in limbs as we went in deeper. At some point I couldn’t go any further because there were so many men. “This is crazy,” Cameron said.
As sex-positive venues have continued to close in New York since the ’80s, forcing the scene underground, I was glad that the Cock had expanded and was thriving. In many ways, it was fighting the ongoing gentrification of the city. I’m sure that in another 20 years even the East Village will be entirely sanitized like the rest of the city, but there’s still some edge left in Manhattan, and I was very grateful for that.