One of the lost gay leather bars of West Chelsea, the abandoned Eagle's Nest reopened this weekend to house a temporary art installation by a collaborative called Emma 17.
Says Emma 17: "Our work is an exploration of the history of others; it is a product of their narrative, wisdom and personal experience infused with our own aesthetic. Emma draws upon our background in sculpture, sound and large scale production to create living monuments.... This piece explores the fragility of infamy, the passing of phenomenon and the power that memories can still hold."
In this case, they erected a sculpture made of wrought iron and glass panels, each one etched with a quote from a former Eagle habitue. The men's voices can be heard echoing from speakers around the room as they recall nights long ago in the dark bar at the city's edge.
There was nothing left of the former bar, and I tried to imagine the hollow room crowded with men, the smell of sweat and leather, a 1970s throb. But the main thrill to be had was simply from gaining access to the boarded-up space.
Once painted completely black, the walls and ceiling have stripped and peeled, revealing beautiful and intricate antique sheets of pressed tin. Thick wooden beams hold up the ceiling, a filigreed checkerboard...
On the walls where longshoremen lounged and boys leaned for cruising, ancient roses still bloom...
Originally a longshoreman's bar called the Eagle Open Kitchen from 1931 - 1970, according to this history of the place, the Eagle's Nest opened just after Stonewall and closed March 5, 2000. It later moved from this location at 11th Ave. and 21st St. to 28th St., where it is now surrounded by luxury development.
Towle Road noted in September 2009 that the long-empty bar was being gutted, perhaps in preparation for renovation. With the High Line coursing nearby and glass towers shooting up in every direction, you can bet the old Eagle is slated for something precious.
And like many vacant storefronts stuck between the old New York and whatever is to come, the Eagle has paused only a moment for art.
When whatever is to come finally arrives, when the tin ceiling and walls are painted vibrant white, and the dark corners are populated by potted palms, as new waves of the landed gentry make themselves comfortable in this space because a Zagat reviewer told them the $30 craft burger was "epic" and the Pomme Aligot was "out of this world," a couple of men will wander in, looking lost in their scraggly beards and biker jackets too tight these days to zip over expanded middles.
They will sit down amongst the wasp-waisted blondes and Botoxed masters of the universe, and order the cheapest thing on the menu, telling the waiter, "Tap water is fine," just because they want to be here. They hope to remember.
Over a shared plate of $12 pommes-frites, they close their eyes and try to bring the vanished back to life--the black-painted bar and all its lost boys, many dead, some disappeared, and the boys they themselves used to be. But it's no use. What's gone is gone. And this world will never be the same.
See all my Eagle's Nest photos here