Instinct Staff Share Stories Of Their Very First Gay Bar

Walking into a gay bar for the very first time ever can be quite the experience. Some are terrified, some are thrilled they finally got her, and for some, it might just be another bar. We here at Instinct were reminiscing about the first time we walked into a gay bar. Here are some of our stories. 

DAVID

Anyone who was around Southern California in the 90s and early 2000s will remember Ozz Supper Club, known to many as simply ‘Ozz’. Ozz was the first gay club I got to experience in 2003. It was the summer after I had turned 18 and I was more nervous than I was excited because I had heard so much about the iconic queer watering hole. It was the type of place that was glowing with diversity. Located in Buena Park, right off of the 5 Freeway, it was centrally located for O.C., L.A., and Inland Empire folks to visit nightly.

When my friends and I arrived on my first visit, we parked across the street at a Wells Fargo lot because I learned space was always limited. A quick run across the street while dodging traffic got us laughing at the front door. At the door, an I.D. check prompted the bouncer to mark both my hands with big black Xs indicating that I was underage and I could not drink. Since this was my first visit to any nightclub, this was a foreign experience to me…one that became the norm until I finally became 21.

As soon as the Ozz doors opened, I was mesmerized by the sounds and sites of groups of people, all genders, all shapes, all sizes. I didn’t realize it then, but I had found a group of people that I now consider community. Ozz had an expansive dance floor glistening under disco lights and an outdoor patio where I took a long drag from a cigarette that night to pretend to be cool. I met a lot of characters that night, most of who focused on the Xs on my hands as if they were scarlet letters. People with dyed hair and piercings, guys that looked like cholos cuddled up in the corner, guys kissing and holding hands. It was euphoric for an 18-year-old me. I had dated throughout high school, but to see everyone being themselves so openly, truly made me feel alive. Like I belonged.

Ozz entrance from Ozz Supperclub Facebook page

What I didn’t expect is that night would be a night of several firsts. At some point in the night, everyone headed back into the club from the smoking patio and we packed ourselves around the dance floor like queer little sardines. The lights dimmed and a spotlight illuminated a doorway and the DJ announced someone named Raja Gemini. Then Peaches’ I Don’t Give a F*ck started blaring through the speakers and a tall, gorgeous, silky drag queen emerged with Medusa-like snakes for a wig and punk makeup complimented her IDGAF outfit. I didn’t know it then, but Raja Gemini was RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Season 3 winner Raja, who was one of the resident queens at Ozz and who brought the energy night after night with so many other fabulous local queens, including Delta Work. That night, at that moment, I knew that it would be the first of many nights to come of partying and unadulterated discovery at gay bars and clubs throughout my life.

In 2005, Ozz closed its doors forever when CalTrans condemned the building and demolished it in order to make room for a freeway expansion that to this day has not been completed. Ozz lives on as a legendary spot where so many So Cal queer kids embraced their identities…and other people’s identities, too! I have no photos, because cell phones weren’t mini computers back then, but here’s a video of Raja shared on the memorial Facebook page  

BUCK

It was 1993, my year “zero,” when I was by myself for the first time away from family and friends. I had just moved to Paris to start an internship and get a tiny rooftop studio apartment in the heart of the gay neighborhood, the Marais. Looking back, I don’t know if I purposefully got my apartment in that neighborhood knowing it was the epicenter of gay life, but when I went walking around that first summer evening it quickly became apparent. The number of men, of male couples, and giddy excitement that young gays bring everywhere made it obvious that this place was different.

I found a corner bar that had a rainbow flag prominently displayed with a significant number of men drinking their beers outdoors. Everyone seemed to be in conversation and laughing, so for a newbie such as myself, it seemed like a good place to check out. The bar was called “Quetzal,” and it still exists today, with the same vaguely industrial interior and the same friendly vibe. When I stepped inside, I felt the heat of scores of eyes looking at me, the new meat, and I nervously made my way to the bar. Back then people rarely paid with a credit card, much less for something as insignificant as a beer, so I pulled out a twenty franc bill from my wallet ready to pay.

The hunky bartender smiled. “Une blonde?” he asked me, and flustered, I said, “Oui, je suis blond.” Which was a true statement, but completely immaterial to his question if I wanted a blonde beer. He laughed, I blushed, and he got a hefty tip out of my nervousness.

ADAM

My first gay bar was when I was 23 and still somewhat closeted. It was in Bangor, Maine in 1997 and it was called The Spectrum. We of course called it The Rectum but it was a great place for the northern Maine LGBTQ community to gather. You always felt safe there. No, it was not the flashiest basement walk-out bar, but it was what we had and we appreciated it being there. Owners Mike Miles and Dave Wallace opened The Spectrum in 1989. It was a tough time as they were a stand-out in the community. They had some distributors who simply did not deliver their products to them because they were a gay bar. Just five years before The Spectrum opened, the community suffered a huge blow when Charlie Howard was killed in a homophobic attack in 1984. It was such a horrific and life-altering event for community members and the state of Maine that Bangor resident and ally Stephen King included it in one of his horror novels. I wrote about it in ‘It Chapter Two’ To Portray Dark & Real Part Of Maine History – Chuckahomo Bridge.

The Spectrum was a great place to go as blue-collar northern Maine was behind in tasting the rainbow and accepting all of our different kinds of people. I don’t have any pictures as the digital/Facebook era had not started. The Spectrum closed around 2004 (the year Facebook started) and the space is now on its third or fourth straight bar iterations. Currently, there is no gay bar in northern Maine with the closest being in Portland and Ogunquit, Maine.

 

ROBERT

My first gay bar happened technically before I came out. I was living in Hoboken, New Jersey after college with friends from school. I had been thinking for a while about telling people but didn’t have the courage just yet. I had always known I was gay in the late 90s there weren’t that many gay references on tv like there are today guiding us. 

After meeting friends for a Happy Hour in Hoboken, I decided to myself it was now or never. What “it” was I didn’t even know! I went to the Path Station and took the train to the West Village. I wound up at a bar called Pieces {which is still there today}, sat at the bar had a drink, and didn’t really talk to anyone. But I was saying to myself “I am here. This is a huge deal.” I left thinking that this first step had finally happened. No, I didn’t make any friends that first night. But the 2nd and the 3rd nights I went I started to make friends, and talk to people. Before I knew it I had a great group of new friends and this “new world” didn’t seem so scary.

RANDY

The first time I ever stepped into a gay bar was around 1981 (yes, I’m that old). The establishment, predictably called The Corral (I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas), was a comfortable country saloon with an unpretentious and un-posh demeanor.

I’d love to say it was a magical experience of “freedom and free love,” but the most positive thing I remember was it was at least a place for queer people to gather as an accepting tribe.

Being Texas and the early 80s, Fort Worth had little-to-no gay community. I recall there was a heavy stigma to the venue. It was a place you didn’t want to be seen leaving. It was a bit dingy, a bit dark, and a bit depressing – at least to my 18-year-old, deep-in-the-closet self.

I hadn’t yet figured myself out yet, but in my own head I saw myself as ‘accepting’ and a friend had asked me to go with him. He was performing in drag that night and wanted support.

The handful of drag performers that night were nothing like what we see on RuPaul’s Drag Race today. Still, I cheered them on for embracing their authentic selves, and for caring about their performances.

Over the years, there’s always been a hint of melancholy to the memory. Some time later, I heard that the bar had burned down. That first experience at a gay bar may sound morose, but…it was just the beginning of a journey.

Randy (2nd from left (with friends)

Since then, I’ve been to amazing gay bars in every state of the country. There were bars large and small that were bright and lively environments that exuded an air of celebration and fun.

Over these 40 years, I’ve seen the LGBTQ community evolve and grow and embrace itself to an exponential degree. And the concept of pride in our community has become much more than a “concept.”

When I go to a gay bar today, I absolutely love the freedom queer people feel – and express – in being themselves in these safe spaces. And that makes me proud.

Randy (again 2nd from left!) and friends

There you have it, a few “First gay bar” stories from some of our writers here. What about you Instincters, what was your first gay bar? We would love to hear from you! Sound off in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “Instinct Staff Share Stories Of Their Very First Gay Bar”

  1. El Goya in Tampa, FL. It was a large place sectioned off with themed areas. Besides the dancefloor, my favorite was the Cave Bar…which had been designed with stalactites, pools of water, etc. To this day, it remains in my memory as the coolest club I’ve been to.

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  2. It was shortly after I had my first gay sexual experience at 18. It turns out the guy I had sex with had a partner who was a pharmacist, and he found out about it. Growing up in a rural area I really didn’t even know at that time that I was gay or what being gay was. They brought me out to a bar in Boston, I was underage and wasn’t allowed in, I had a fake id but it didn’t work. I’m pretty sure the partner clued the door staff in that I was underage. The couple went in and I went around the corner to another bar and had one drink. I was completely out of my mind, pretty sure the partner drugged me to get revenge. I didn’t remember the rest of this night for about 20 years but I got sexually assaulted on a pool table. Thanks guys.

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