David Masello’s article Last Night at the Web in the Gay and Lesbian Review begins with “like most spider webs a bar called The Web, which existed on East 58th Street for decades until it closed the other month, would snare you unprepared.” For years the lives of gay men revolved around bars, the only place other than parks and truck stops to find other gay men, and Masello’s bar was huge with disco dancers and patrons who stuck dollar bills in inappropriate places. What caught my attention was the distance between the author and sex. He talked about it as something other people did. I may have it wrong, but it brought up my San Francisco-centrism. Sex for us was immediate and revered.
In the early 70s bars on Polk Street catered to younger men, often men of color and older queens who had made homes in the 60s in the nearby Swish Alps, and what I remember of their apartments is not sex but black and white tile foyers, cocktails and cats. Bars I knew on Castro Street and South of Market, starting in 1973, were sanctuaries where we met partners who wanted to indulge in physical pleasures and celebrate masculinity. Men I came out with on Castro Street wore flannel shirts and jeans that showed off pricks without embarrassment, and our apartments were filled with bromeliads, cookware and douche hoses. Our bars were magnets where we made plans to go home and try new techniques and new ways to make friends. Men were passed around among friends, and the next day we talked about it and compared notes. We asked men who tip-toed around what they did why do you waste time on deception when you can make music with your prick and asshole? We were men who believed we deserved each other’s masculinity, and when old idioms didn’t work, we made new ones that did. I was not a fan of discos because dancers stayed late and then were too tired to fuck well. Yes, we did measure men by skill as well as looks and prick size. Men who loved discos talk about the communal energy, and I get that. My closet is when thousands of us marched on Washington or City Hall, but for me the story of bars is one that honors them as the institution where gays learned how to be men.