NY – Instead of the usual dinner and movie, a recent date offered to give me a tour of historical gay establishments in Manhattan and I’m thrilled to share the details of my day with The Downtown Project!
1. Our tour started one chilly Saturday afternoon in Soho at the Leslie + Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. Co-founders Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman began collecting art in 1969 and now the first and only gay art museum in the world counts Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe among its permanent artist collection.
2. From Soho we checked out Julius Bar in the West Village, frequented back in the day by Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote and now known for delicious burgers. The building dates back to 1826 and although it’s thought to be the oldest gay bar in New York, that distinction actually goes to the Upper West Side’s Candle Bar Amsterdam. Back in the 60’s, it staffed gay bartenders and openly served gay men long before the Mattachine Society, a gay rights group, induced a “Sip-In” protest. Until the Sip-In, it was illegal for gays to cruise in bars. Patrons were encouraged to face the bar and those who turned away from the bar to scope the room were ejected by bouncers. Thankfully, my date and I were free to cozy up to a table made from a vintage Jacob Ruppert Brewery barrel and flirt with one another over burgers and beer.
3. A West Village bar-hopping excursion would not be complete without visiting the iconic Stonewall Inn,the location of the legendary Stonewall Riots of 1969 and the beginning the gay liberation movement. We ended our evening with a stroll across the street through Christopher Park, home to pop sculptor George Segal’s Gay Liberation. After suffering years of vandalism while on display in Connecticut and Wisconsin, the sculpture was moved here and serves as a reminder of the bravery and struggles endured in the fight for gay equality. As my date and I stood, proudly looking at the celebrated sculpture in the moonlight, I couldn’t help but notice that despite the numerous bars within ear shot, the quiet park was filled with a solemn reverence. It was a stark contrast to the nights of turmoil outside of the Stonewall Inn in 1969 — and a welcome reminder of how far we’ve progressed as a society.
For more on Tyler, click here.