Opened in 1979, the Rawhide is one of the last of a handful of old-school, unpretentious gay bars left in New York City. It is a survivor. But it won't be for long. The building that houses it on 8th and 21st in Chelsea was sold a couple of years ago and, according to our tipster with inside connections, the new landlord has jacked up the rent, nearly doubling it from $15,000 to $27,000 a month. The Rawhide's last day will be March 30.
Time Out NY
Mayoral front-runner Christine Quinn just had this to say about the Rawhide to New York magazine in January:
“One of the things I loved about Chelsea is that on Eighth Avenue, there is the Rawhide bar--not a luxury product. And for many years there were Latino guys from the neighborhood who had a folding card table every Friday and Saturday night and played dominoes. And they knew every guy who walked into the Rawhide, and every guy that walked in the Rawhide knew them. A leather bar may or may not be the best example, but it is the type of neighborhood experience we want to be able to have, what Jane Jacobs called ‘the eyes on the streets’ all watching out for each other.”
Known as the oldest levis-and-leather bar in the city, the "neighborhood friendly" Rawhide smells of beer and motor oil, or maybe it just seems to smell like beer and motor oil, because it should. An old motorcycle hangs from chains over a red-felt pool table, a grimy baby doll strapped to its muffler. The ceiling is painted black, pockmarked by industrial staples still gripping gray fluff that once belonged to Halloween cobwebs.
The walls (also painted black) are decorated with Herb Ritts posters of muscle models, Mr. International Leather 1990, and Tom of Finland poses--everywhere Tom of Finland--pressed into the black walls so they look somehow melded there.
In one corner, a combination Ms. Pacman/Galaga arcade game glows next to a Sopranos pinball machine that periodically announces "JIM" as its big winner. The bathroom doors are corrugated, like something from a junkyard, marked by signs that read: "One person at a time."
On the wall, a lighted Michelob clock, the kind of artifact you find in a basement rec room, glows in grassy light, half of its innocent putting-green image replaced by a nude man in the midst of giddy priapic achievement.
In the afternoon, when it's quiet and the sunlight outside tries in vain to enter through shaded windows, you can sit at the bar and talk to strangers. The men here are mostly older, survivors too, and if you listen, they will tell you something worth listening to.
At night, more men crowd the bar, young and old, their eyes on the go-go boy dancing on a wooden box. He's dressed in only combat boots and a thong. Now and then, one of the men steps up and slips a dollar into the thong. The music throbs--Michael Jackson's "Rock with You."
A certificate behind the bar proclaims the Rawhide winner of the "NYC Landmark Award" for 2012 from Odyssey magazine.
Mr. Rawhide 2011
And why hasn't it been landmarked? Why isn't it protected?
Thanks to Chelsea's so-called "success," thanks to the High Line and MePa, to Bloomberg's "luxury product" vision of the city, we are losing the Rawhide, its presence, its history, its meaning in the queer psyche of New York City, and for what? What kind of business can afford $27,000 a month? A sterile bank branch, a bubbly fro-yo joint, a dead-eyed 7-Eleven?
Every day, our city dies by one more of these thousand cuts. Some of the cuts are bigger than others, and this is one of them.
Tell Christine Quinn to put her money where her mouth is--if you value the Rawhide, then stand up for it.
from Colors of Leather
Thanks to reader Richie Cohen for tipping me off to this loss a couple
of weeks ago. I've been waiting until the deal was done and Richie
passed along the official go-ahead from the Rawhide to share the bad
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