Monday, March 8, 2010

Eagle's Nest

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

18 comments:

Pepe said...

I was part of a show that took place back in 2001 at the "new" Eagle. One of the best parts of the rehearsals and show was that we got to hear from the people who remembered the old bar.It was a real treat re-living that history and your piece just brought back a flood of memories. Thanks for this touching entry.

Anonymous said...

Is this still open or was it a one-night only event?

Susan May Tell said...

Beautifully written! Very evocative.

timmmyk said...

I shot footage of the place a few weeks before it closed in 2000. here is the link to the video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/timmmyk?feature=mhw4#p/u/83/x2AbvBpeS20

Jeremiah Moss said...

as far as i know, this show only ran for the weekend, and it ended yesterday.

thanks for the link timmy--your footage is some of the only stuff i could find online of the interior.

timmmyk said...

My pleasure!

Anonymous said...

J, you outdid yourself with this one. I thought of some long ago acquaintances who liked going here in the '70's. They're not here, gone prematurely. I thought of a city, once fascinating, now being steamrolled or redecorated into its grave. Sad, sad, sad.

Goodbye ... to all that.

BrooksNYC said...

Handicapped by my wardrobe (then as now, my leather wardrobe was limited to belt, watchband and shoes), I didn't often go to the Eagle's Nest unless accompanied by suitably-attired friends. It was a friendly bar, contrary to what you might expect of such a tough-looking place.

Four of us stopped in the night of the '77 blackout. When the lights went out, so did the air-conditioning, so most of the men were out on the sidewalk, beers in hand. The city was very dark, and I remember all those leathermen staring up at the night sky, commenting on how you could see the stars.

Terrific post, Jeremiah.

Lee said...

Well, yes it's sad but as an old gay fart who's outlived a lotta bars, who I was then in that place has not become nostalgic necessarily for that vibe. Yes, it was completely black: for a reason. We never noticed the beautiful interior; it wasn't touching ("lounging longshoreman" --nice alliteration). However, it was a haven which, now that we bears are old and don't roam so much into traffic (unless one of us gets hit) anymore, hasn't been reproduced. Bad thing? I don't know; I like not being ghetto-ized. But I'd be lyin' if I didn't say I missed the folks. Very nice piece.

Druidhead said...

I've recently posted a short story about those days called "Plums" on The American friend. They were bittersweet memories…

Mark said...

In point of fact, the bar was not all black. There were several murals in DAYGLO colors in the front room and in the back. Some of these live on in truncated form in the current Eagle in stairwells, etc. As the years progressed, the lighting got dimmer and the murals were coated with a layer of cigarette tar, yellowing and finally dimming them.

I remember the in all their DAYGLO glory.

The Eagle was a great bar with a very strict door policy. However, if you were young and what they liked, there was never a problem. I was a long-time habitue, all through the 70's and back again in the 90's. The new bar is nothing like the old.

I have fond memories of a summer night in 1973, tripping and sitting on the jukebox, all of 18 years old and rather wide-eyed.

This current space is completely unrecognizable.

Anonymous said...

In the 80's the Eagle's Nest had an open comedy mic that was challenging but accessible, meaning not pay to play. Venues like that don't exist in the "new" city.

Mark said...

anonymous, you are thinking of the Eagle Tavern, which was on 14th Street. The Eagle's Nest, one of NY's premiere gay leather bars, did not have a comedy night, as far as I know...unless you count last call.

Here's a listing from the Times from 1987:

THE EAGLE TAVERN (355 West 14th Street, 924-0275): Irish folk music. Music on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, beginning at 9 P.M. Comedy on Tuesdays at 7 P.M. and Thursdays at 9 P.M.

This later became The Village Idiot, then Gin Lane and now I'm not sure what it is and I really don't care.

Still, venues don't exist like either of those Eagle places in this town anymore.

Bitgbears said...

Thanks for posting this, brings back TONS of good memories and thank you for posting the video timmyk. We posted on backinthegays for our readers to see what this gem looked like from the inside. We deifnitely miss the old dirty New York, thanks again BITG.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks Bitgbears. i enjoyed checking out your site.

BITGBears said...

Thanks Jeremiah Moss, likewise.

Anonymous said...

I worked at the Eagle the last six years it was open (then 7 months at the Spike until they also closed) What was the rush? We were told to vacate in 2000, the space stayed empty for TEN YEARS! The Eagle staff was great, it was a pleasure to go to work! The new bar and new owners tried in vain to re-capture the original bar. I am glad over the years I made a great photo and video record of the Eagle, right up to the days we dismantled the place.

HighStrungLoner said...

Was the Eagle's Nest really an "Eagle" bar? I never thought so and don't understand why people say the Eagle "moved."