Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Gaiety Theater

VANISHED: 2005

When we tragically lost the Howard Johnson's in Times Square, we also lost the gay burlesque that lived on its second floor. The building was just demolished and last week's visit to the site revealed the zig-zag vestigial trace of the stairs you used to climb to reach the Gaiety.


my flickr

At the top of those stairs was a ticket booth where a woman sat behind the glass and took your $17 admission through a slot. That price was good for an all-day show. The theater was small and had a stage with a runway that reached out into the audience. The dancers, most of them muscled and tanned, would come out on stage and strip, then disappear behind the blue tinsel curtain. The audience would wait. And wait. Sometimes a movie screen came down to entertain with a film.

Finally, minutes later, the dancer would emerge fully erect, the audience would applaud his hydraulic achievement, and the dance would go on. If you were next to the runway, for the price of a dollar tip, you could sit like Tantalus beneath the fruit tree as the dancer dangled his family jewels over your upturned face, just out of reach. After the performance, you could take a break in the snack room, where boys leaned against the vending machines and chatted while munching bags of Doritos.


painting of the Gaiety by Patrick Angus

Gay New York -- and all lovers of burlesque and Times Square's sordid history -- lost a touchstone when the Gaiety closed. The building it shared with Howard Johnson's, now a pile of bricks, once housed the Orpheum "dime-a-dance" Dance Palace. It originally opened in 1917. Henry Miller danced with the girls there. In the 1970s it became the New Paris, where live sex acts were performed on soiled mattresses.

A visit to those bricks today won't make them talk, but we can still imagine the many stories they'd have to tell.



From The New York Times
April 24, 2005 Sunday
Quietly, a Bawdy Gay Beacon Goes Dark
By KATHRYN BELGIORNO

Most of the pedestrians who stream past the building at 201 West 46th Street, on Broadway, do not notice that its tenant has moved out. Then again, most of them probably had no idea who was there in the first place.

Only a flight of stairs is visible through a glass door. A black awning says, simply, ''Gaiety Theater.'' The small hand-lettered sign on the door is little help: ''The Gaiety Theater is closed. Thank you for your patronage. The Management.'' Scrawled like an afterthought are the words: ''Please see the G. publications for possible relocation address.''

The sign, so modest that the letter G must stand in for the word gay, is a fitting symbol of a 30-year-old salute to immodesty, the city's last surviving all-male burlesque house and the only remaining strip theater where performers danced completely nude.

What the sign doesn't illuminate is the lore that set the Gaiety apart from other clubs: the mainstream attention it attracted after photos of Madonna and some of the club's dancers were included in her 1992 book, ''Sex''; the cachet of visitors like John Waters, Andy Warhol and Shirley MacLaine; and the club's unrivaled ability to survive, despite the strict zoning laws instituted during the Giuliani administration, thanks to a location just outside a restricted area.

…What Gaiety patrons will do next is uncertain. ''I've seen a lot of customers standing there in shock,'' said John Galanopoulos, who operates a hot dog stand at 46th Street and Broadway. ''They're almost talking to themselves, like, 'What am I going to do now?'''

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

30 comments:

Todd HellsKitchen said...

Madonna used to find her back-up dancers here... Or at least that's according to legend!

toppertx said...

I used to visit the Gaiety back in the 80s every time I came to New York on business. The whole concept seemed very outdated. I think it attracted mostly closeted men like myself. As your post noted, there was a small reception room next to the theater itself. They served snacks for the customers and the dancers. Most of the time the customers were shy middle aged men who stood in awe of the well built dancers. They rarely had the nerve to mingle. I wondered at first if the dancers were engaging in prostitution with some of these men, but I never saw an indication of it if they were.

Anonymous said...

Oh it was really fun, it was raining men. Huge muscles.
We are writing about NYC only 5 years ago, when I was 25!
It all souns like history, like an ancient myth, tragicly unbelievable to US anymore.
How come we got so boring in such a short time! Who is to blame? We shouldn't have let them brainwash us. Now those bossy, boring republicans are gone any chance of having Gaiety or such back? It is only fare to have male strip clubs while having somany female strip clubs everywhere. Guys love to perform, showoff. Double standard. Double Standard it is that we got pushed in to by gender-chauvinist powers. We want Gaiety, we want Male Burlesque.

dirtygirl said...

I loved the Gaiety. I used to go with my gay boys and watch them work the room....

check out http://thedirtygirldiaries.com/1974-sweet-clams/

Anonymous said...

madonna used it for a shoot- painted the blue adonis lounge gray and put the first nail in the coffin. she definitely did not find her backup dancers there.

Request Show Information said...

I danced there in 1977, for five months. Subsequently, I ran the projection booth and/or the cashier. What ever happened to the lovely Denise and her sister, Evi? I miss them. And I have sadly lost track with all the dancers who were friends for many years. Anyone having any info about Gaiety alumni and/or Denise and Evi, please email me at exxmax3@gmail.com.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I worked at the Gaiety beginning of 1979.It was wonderful, especially for me who was coming from France. At this time the boys were all natural and not bodybuilders. Great bodies; the customers were very nice and the owner too. I had a wonderful time there and it's one of my favorites moments in my life. Too bad it disappeared.
Chris

Anonymous said...

My first visit was in 1979. I'll never forget the incredible dark-haired dancer with the chain that went sailing over the audience; it's a wonder nobody was hurt. Every subsequent visit to NYC found me at the Gaiety. And yes - the dancers were available behind the stage - for a price.

Anonymous said...

I was a devoted patron of the Gaiety from April, 1977, to June, 2004. I loved the backroom scene, which was sexually modest for the most part, until Giluliani's clamp down. I made many friends and lovers with the boys. I saw it's decline for many years under Giuliani's harrassment. I left New York just a year before it ended. And, it was not replaced. I now live in Montreal, where the culture of the Gaiety is well and alive. So much for living in the puritanical Etats-Unis.

Tony oconnor said...

I actually danced there briefly in 79 and came in second in a burlesque review behind a John Holmes impressionist... Lol. I miss my friends from back then. The guy who spun records was a trip... Have hard time recalling names but wish I could return for a minute

Jeremiah Moss said...

Tony--thanks! feel free to share more memories of the place.

Melanie said...

Great stories everyone. Really brings this post to life!!Happy Holiday Jeremiah and Best for the New Year.
Melanie

Tony oconnor said...

Late 70s early 80s the image there was of youth gone awry. There wasn't the poster child for roids in the joint. Gene managed the place. He also ran oneals. At 16-he appeared to be the owner- now I know better. Anyway - The dancers weren't dancers till they hit the stage. I was a hustler looking for extra bread and I tell you tips were cheap if at all. There was a contest one set
Of weekends which I came in second and got 50. The joint had a hard time competing with hay market - oneals - la fiesta and the kitchen in general. For a few more bucks the audience would go from audience to participant as a John. There was absolutely no sense in it he ce the crowds were small-at least when I worked. I made more as a waiter till Joel Walrud 86d me. Long time ago... Just went back to the city for first time in years and 46th looks weird with no black stairway snaking up the side of the building. I recall the vending machine area...and vaguely recall the stage. I really would like to see if any of my friends are still alive... Randy, Rocco, Larry and Billy...who I last saw on a cover of top man-no longer in print. I suppose Joel-jay and duke and gene re dead by now. I know duke is as he had cancer my last word- there were so many others who I can't find the name to. It was a he'll of a time period- pre HIV and anything went. Drugs were like water. Most shot up or snorted and the brownstones a couple blocks away were mostly shooting galleries. How things changed... Mama Lina's... The president ... The backyard. Wow-in some ways the bohemian nature is lost but in others-it needed to be. Tere was one or two bodies a week turning up there. And the diseases then were cured with a shot. These we meat markets where 50 could get you where ever you wanted to go. Top bottom fettish... It was wide open. Everywhere but gaeity... Gene forbid tricks...and honestly-I wouldn't do any of the patrons of the place for no money. I distinctly recall a bath house on 50th I think ... Had a chain chair hanging and the shows were 100 times better actually.
I'm glad I had the opportunity to experience it all...I just wish there could have been a reunion for those who made it out. I been in the navy for nearly 30 years and find myself wondering where they all went. And did they live too.

c-in-2 said...

The Gaiety Theatre is dead, long live the Gaiety Theatre!

I came across the Gaiety by that Pied Piper of porn, Madonna - my first visit to the theatre was back in 1998 - and yup they had pictures from Madonna's SEX book on the wall (made me feel at home).

This was my first visit to New York (I stay in London, England) and to a male revue bar of any sort, I remember walking the streets late evening trying to find the theatre and when I did, being nervous to go in - once I got in there(and up the zig-zag stairwell) my world changed.

A show was in progress and I couldn't believe what I was seeing (it's worth noting I was a closet adolescent visiting NY with my straight friend - this was a coming of age for me). I remember the dancing was sh!t but the men were hot, I wasn't prepared for the NC17 portion of the show and shifted about in my seat from that moment on.

I think I saw 3 dancers that night and then I ran off feeling warm inside (lol). I came back many times thereafter - having to make excuses to my friend as to where I was going for long periods of our stay.

It was fun times, albeit no interaction with the other visitors - I was one of the youngest persons in the theatre (no questions were asked as I paid my dollars on entry and I didn't have to show id), and a lot of guys sat next to me, but nothing occurred maybe because of the floor walker with his torch prowling along the left hand side (lol).

I'll add further comments next time, but would like to close by saying I have fond memories of the Gaiety - and I miss him.

Anonymous said...

Went many times over the Years...scary @ first but thrilling just the same. As "dangerous" as it probably was, I miss exactly this type of thing in Times Square...they've succeeded in extinguishing Most of the Heart of what was there...the excitement, the danger, the "not knowing what will happen next" aspect, which, was the Heart and Soul of 'Ol Times Square...sad really, then again, lol, what goes around comes around, and I'd hazard to guess, may Moons ago, it was all Sanitized and Reverential, and then the type of place it became,as previously stated, happened, AND will happen again...I certainly hope so for those in the Future to experience the Frivolity and Freeness that was there...and the Pure Unexpectedness of it....

Anonymous said...

Worked the Gaiety in 1981 - I believe Bill Oates Sr. was running the place (Died of HIV I believe)... was friends with his son, Billy Jr.(moved to LA shortly after) I think they were originally from ATL, or DC... as there was another club in DC. Still have a portrait drawn of my by a patron. I Was also a friend of Fernando, he was from Brazil.

THOMASW said...

DANCER.
TOMMY WAINWRIGHT.
It was a place for people to live,outside of the norm. Denise was like a mother to most.I am much older now...I smile at the memories and mostly I thank Denise for being the lady I will never forget.

* thank you.

Antinous said...

Is anyone familiar with a photo essay on the Gaity that ran in ZOOM magazine.... or another photo magazine... sometime in the 70's or 80's? Have been searching and cannot find it.

Anonymous said...

I was a dancer at The Gayety on and off from 1980 to 1982. I was the DJ/MC from 1981 to 1982 (compleatly by accident). The DJ at the time (his name was Jammie) was very into drugs and didnt show up for work often. One Friday night I was walking by the DJ booth (in my shorts)when Denice grabed me, handed me a peice of paper and said franticaly (in her Greek accent) "Please read this, anounce the dancers and play their music". "Jamie dint show up for work and the place is full" I took the microphone, read everything on the paper and opened the show. She was so happy, she asked if I'd take the position.
I did it for a year. I left NYC in 1982 for a quiet life(away from drugs, husteling and clubs). It was a nice place to go if you were a customer. If you were a dancer it was: quick money (from tips and husteling), drugs and a chance to shine for a few minutes on stage. I went to Cape Cod where I married and had a son. I devorced 4 yrs later and moved to Miami. I wish that (somehow) I could hear from some of the dancers I used to know and hang out with. I hope that none have passed away.
Robert.

PSNY said...

Robert, did you go by Bobby? I danced at the Gaiety in the late 70's, but by the early 80's I mostly worked as a cashier, as "Maximo". Denise liked me because I was born and raised in Italy, and she always said that Italians and Greeks are "the same"!
If it is you, this is what I remember: You were gay in high school (or at least bisexual) but by the time I met you, you were pretty much straight. I think you are Italo-American. If you'd like to continue the conversation, you can email me at exxmax3@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

it was my first visit to new york in the summer of 1999 and my first time to visit gaiety with my boyfriend ( were still together after more than 30 years of closet life )and boy, what a wonderful experience it was! the cashier was denise. .she was very nice and the dancers were very good. . when i returned in 2005 i was so sad and disappointed to find the place closed for good. . that was my first realization that new york city was no longer an exciting city to visit. . ahh, words of a frustrated old queen. .im sorry mr. jeremiah! and thaaanks for your great blog & best regards. . tony

c-in-2 said...

Recap: I visited The Gaiety Theatre in May 1998 – (1st time to New York and to a male revue).

My second visit to the Gaiety was to be my last in August 2001. The place had been given a makeover since ’98, we’re not talking Studio 54 or anything like that but I do recall the Madonna pictures were looking more resplendent on their newly upholstered walls. I learned that show time had afternoon and evening performances, and for much of my stay in New York I spent a great many hours at the theatre. Between live shows gay porn was screened (no sound just visual from a projector), most of the title came from the Kristen Bjorn stable, with those beefy dark men not unlike the dancers. The dancers were varied and great looking, white, black, Latino – I saw Mark Wolf perform a couple of times (I recognised him from a cover story of Inches).

Back in London, England where I stay I have never visited a male revue, I think it may be that clichés that you tend to do things abroad that you wouldn’t ordinarily get up to at home, and I think it was because the Gaiety just felt right for me. I wouldn’t say the venue was bright and vibrant – for the many hours I spent there it I had no conversation with the other clientele we were all exclusively in our own worlds.

I do recall this one time a hot guy came and sat down next to me, I was wearing cut downs and a tee and he business suit and tie and had been seat hopping about the stalls. He noticeably rubbed what was a hard-on but there was no physical contact between us – he was quickly ejected by security. This happened a few time I guess the security guy who I remember to be Latino looking was looking out for me, although in my 20s I guess I looked like jailbait and he never bothered me or threw me out.

I read from here that Madonna picked up dancers (for her show) for the Gaiety, it’s a great folklore but has there is no truth in that story.

I also read somewhere (maybe here), that some of the dancers would turn tricks, I never got into that so can’t say one way or the other, I guess because I still looked like a fresher these guys wouldn’t have taken me serious anyway.

My enduring memory of the Gaiety are (a) attempting to chat up one of the black models back stage – cringe, (b) being annoyed when gays came in with their fag hags and giggled the whole way through a show normally within my line of view, (c) having guys who I would have happily gone all the way with thrown out by security (but nothing happened – lol), and (d) the helpful DJ who gave me a regular song list he played for the dancer including: Depeche Mode USELESS [CJ Bolland Ultrasonar Extended Mix], Dolls Head IT’S OVER IT’S UNDER and Creed WITH ARMS WIDE OPEN – but most of all I’ll remember the place for being that adventurous place up the stairwell off the heart of Time Square with just that little bit of pseudo class with its the lady in the box office. College types (like I was the), and adults alike hung out there, it was submissive, possibly dated but it was what made NYC our city – New York aint the same without him. Love live the Gaiety Theatre!

I submitted an earlier post in April 2012

Anonymous said...

Way back in 2004, it was my first trip to NYC and the very first thing I did was go up those stairs for the show. I was blown away by the show - very good looking male burlesque kings showing their erect merchandise for the world to enjoy! For the whole week that I was in NYC, I was at the theatre everyday. I managed to watch only 1 broadway show in all of my 1 week stay because of my addiction to Gaiety. I chatted with some of the dancers during breaks and I can confirm that at least some of them offered extra services like private dancing (and more) outside of the theatre. I never got the courage to try their extra services because of the things I heard about muggings and knife-point robbery - and although the dancers seemed to be quite decent, I opted to be on the safe side. On my next trip to NYC (I think that was in 2005? or 2006?), I was shocked when I learned that the theatre had closed! I stood there trying to convince myself that I might have got the wrong address! I thought I was going crazy! I was so looking forward to that trip and there I was, alone and desolate in Times Square wandering what to do. I ended up lining up at the ticket booth at Times Square for The Lion King instead . . .

tommy D said...

Happy memories of the Gaiety theatre. The first time I knew anything about the gaiety was in my senior year at highschooll i was walking the 46 street with my mom and dad and we were close to the Lunt fontane theatre and across the street they were just building the marriott . My dad and I were looking at the construction site and mom stated that she wanted to check out the howard johnson for lunch, I was on the left side and I noticed a sign stating Gaiety. It was like god had sent me a message. So we all went to the howard johnsons and had a burger and I decided that I will play sick next day to check the Gairty the next day. So I came the next day and the doors were closed and a note stated that the doors open at 1:00p.m. so I sat outside the lunt fontane theatre stairs until Denise came unlocked the door and I ran upstairs. She looked at me and she said it was 5 dollars to get in back in 1980. so I walked in sat on the seats in the back and the porno movies were playing and of course a hard on through the movie,the place had a distinct order nothing foul,it was warm and comfortable felt secure in away since i was still in the closet anxious. I met a dancer there he was latino maybe luis his name he asked if I wanted a private show i said yes 10 dollars behind the stage felt a little weird exciting we had fun . so i left and came back few days latter on weekdays,I would cut classes, skip basketball and football practices and the music played by the d.j consisted of boy george and elton john and michael jackson etc back then. I came on a friday and realized about the marathon of 12 dancers, started getting to know people at the theatre and other theatres the eros and adonis showpalace. I had so many freebies it was not funny, anywhere i went i met people. I told my friend ralph who went to the same highschool as I did York Highschool, so he started to come with me, i kept on going to the gaiety through highschool , college and medical school and throughout my residency program. I made so many friends there and met so many beautiful people there from dancers to customers who gave me moral support when i came out to my parents and vice versa gave support to customers who came there who were still in the closet. many friends of mine that I met there would ask me "tom you are here every weekend and i would say yes because i have to check on my sisters and friends,it was a great place to socialize and shoot the breeze i guess.Friends of mine like stuart from long island, bill from new jersey, ron nyc girls etc and the guys from n.j who sat in the front row were my older sisters who got alot of free medical advice for free for years, as former mayor guiliani cracked down on gay establishements the gaiety customers started to twindle and security made harder for everyone to be themselves , people stopped going to the gaiety only on occasioinally saturdays. the old timers started to vanish and it was getting lonely on saturdays there. I must of gone at the gaiety for at least twenty years. miss my friends that I met there wondering where they are. not any clubs around to see them and no telephone numbers to call them. anyone out there email me I remember telling my jersey friend bill the worst thing about coming to the gaiety is having to leave,felt empty scared about whats out there it was a great place to be among your own kind of people and could not wait to comeback the next weekend.Missed them all and loved them all. a great place in queens The Fair theatre on90th street and astoria blvd ok place to hang out set up like the gaiety but no dances porno lounges movies private booths come over and check it out girls. let the good times roll. email guys if you went to the gaiety.

Thomas Schofield said...

From performer Tommy Lewis Nob Hill Adult Theatre 08/07/13. San Francisco CA. Dancers from the gaiety would dance at the Nob and dancers from the nob would dance @ the gaiety Big porn names!! If you guys are ever in SF CUM on by!!! Their website is....thenobhilltheatre.com.

Anonymous said...

They still do this on Sunday Nights out in Babylon, Long Island at a place called SHOWWORLD 96 Field Street (631) 249-8216. It's BUFFBOYZZ ENTERTAINMENT. Show starts at 7pm. Sunday. HOT BOYS. NUDE. Lapdances and all. It's HOT. Very low profile. 96 FIELD ST WEST BABYLON, NY. Day/Time: SUNDAYS 7PM-1230. ALL NUDE MALE CABARET.

Anonymous said...

I worked there as a dancer in 1983, I was 19. The manager told you upfront they rotate the boys and it was not a permanent gig. He told you not to hustle, but every dancer did. The dancers would help each other get hard in the dressing room. There was an attractive man slightly younger than the guests that would hang out in the dressing room and help guys get hard too. I never let him help me as I was scared of herpes and only took risks for money. A couple of the dancers were Puerto Rican. It was the first time I had ever seen someone Puerto Rican naked and that's all I needed to get hard. You went on stage one at a time and then you had a finale with everyone, then there was downtime and the going rate was $50 to let a guest give you oral sex. If you charged any less the other dancers would hear about it and they could alienate you in several ways for it. The guests walked through the dressing room and gave you a BJ to the side of the stage in a semi private area. Everyone was reasonably nice including the other dancers, but there were minor dramas. One day a guest that had taking a liking to me had a heart to heart talk with me about GRID I believe AIDS was still called. My solution at the time was to go to a club called Rounds where I could make more money with less partners. I was reasonably successful there, but got out of the business because of fear of the epidemic which was becoming more and more newsworthy.

Anonymous said...

Forgot to mention...Early 80's at the Gaiety...The guys were not overly muscular, no porn star types really, just natural unique looks, so much sexier than what you would find nowadays in a modern day equivalent!

Christopher Duquette said...


I danced at the Gaiety 1976 -1978.

I wrote a book about my daze of hoofing in NYC 1976 - 2004,
from Gaiety Burlesk, the Gallery Paradise Garage, Flamingo,
12 West, Studio 54,the World, the Saint, Sound Factory..... until I crashed and burned on D&A.

available on DonnaInk.org
under satire/humor,
Homo GoGo Man
by Christopher Duquette
will be available in fall 2014.

if you want to relive the Gaiety experience from behind the silver mylar curtain, read my book.

Anonymous said...

GAIETY? FIrst went there about l980--WOW was I blown away by totally naked men exp at finale time whi=en all were on stage and hard. BIF or BEN as he sometimes called himself was the hottest little hunk imaginable. threw his g string at me and then came along later to retrieve it...Was invited back stage by a hot uncut latino guy was HUNG-- My first time to HOLD a foreskin....What a memory--Every time I was in NYC I made it a point to visit..