Monday, March 4, 2013

The Rawhide


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 news.

Further Reading:
Folsom East and The Eagle
Folsom East Responds
Eagle's Nest
Pleasure Chest 1972
Men in Leather
Lenny & Leather


Anonymous said...

"And why hasn't it been landmarked? Why isn't it protected?"

I was under the impression that a business can't be landmarked.

A building, yes. A business, no.

John K said...

My last attempt at a comment about the Eagle was blocked, so I hope this one goes through. This represents yet another huge loss for Chelsea and the city. Gentrification doesn't just push poor and working-class people out, but, as another article you link to makes clear, it homogenizes and dulls a city or suburb tremendously. There is nothing written in stone that says that the West Village, East Village, Chelsea, or other historically working-class and gay-friend areas have to stay that way, and yet the ethos and cultures of those parts of New York, going back many decades, was crucial to making New York City the vibrant city it is still thought to be. Turning the city into one giant corporate monocultural wasteland, friendly to elites, wealthy tourists and no one else, is a loser in the end, because why would anyone want to pay to see what they can see in any strip mall anywhere in the USA? And why would they want to pay so much money for the "privilege" of doing so? What's happening to New York and other cities is tragic, because it doesn't have to be this way, but it's part of a global system that is rigged by those with obscene amounts of money and power, and despite the fact that they nearly destroyed the global financial system in 2007-8, they are once again at the reins. There's a reason why even though the US economy is limping along, there are people on Wall Street still making hundreds of millions and billions of dollars by moving numbers around. Creating wealth? For themselves. For the rest of us? Not so much.

Anonymous said...

i dont get what you want to have happen - is the speaker's office supposed to pay the rent?

Jason said...

That neighborhood already has a glut of empty storefronts. The rent hikes on the block just north, between 21 and 22 (onetime home of the Big Cup), have left about half the block without steady tenants.

The Rawhide is a good neighbor. It puts out a bowl of cool water for neighborhood dogs in the summer. It was one of the only businesses to remain open during the blackout after Sandy. It sold cold bottled beer out of coolers and lit the place with candles.

What can we do to tell the landlord we do not support this?

Unknown said...

I have a hard time believing Ms. Quinn, in her capacity as a female version of Bloomberg, is actually upset about this happening.

I am very sorry to see it go, as I am with any New York institution forced out by greedy landlords and/or developers.

S said...

As a straight female Chelsea resident (30 years!), I did not patronize Rawhide, but I will certainly miss its presence among the newcomers that make the Avenue bland. We have enough banks, drug stores and yogurt places on Eighth—what next?

Speaking of drug stores, CVS is taking up all of the retail space in the Stonehenge-owned building on Ninth between 17th and 18th.

Anonymous said...

On an admittedly unrelated note, walking through Times Square this morning on my way to work, I noticed that the building which housed the former DeMille (later Embassy 1-2-3) Theatre at 7th and 47th, along with its neighbor on the NE corner of 47th, is being cleared of retail tenants. I checked the NYC Department of Buildings website and found a work permit ( While it doesn't appear a complete demolition is in the works, at the least a major redevelopment is.

Anonymous said...

Like S above, I am a straight female who has lived on 21st St. since before Rawhide opened, when the men at the card/domino tables were present almost every night--weather permitting. I have friends who patronized Rawhide and loved it. I felt it was like an old acquaintance in the 'hood...comforting. I am sad, too. Again, as others have said, we don't need another drug store, coffee house, nail salon or bank. I wish all those connected to Rawhide godspeed and good luck. I will probably be shaking my head in disbelief when I see what the new tenant will be. I have been shaking my head at other additions to the neighborhood over many years--some survive, some do not. We all move forward, in any case.

Anonymous said...

This is a very left-of-center city, and the newcomers are left-of-center as well. The problem is that rather than fomenting a counter-culture, the left has increasingly gravitated toward a dippy parallel culture so that they don't miss out on the goodies of consumerism, but, rather, re-form it in their own image.

Probably goes without saying, but I just don't want to hear anymore about us versus them when you're all the same.

Anonymous said...

love this place, will miss it. Memories with Aaron, dance tunes and dancers.. laughing and lusting, and sometimes feeling like a diamond.

Leah said...

In 1985 when I got married, we went to Rawhide for drinks.. this makes me very very sad...

Anonymous said...

Chelsea has rapidly become a "formerly great" neighborhood.Eighth Avenue used to be quite the scene--certainly not anymore.

Yuppers said...

Thomas and I get to the city about twice a month for the past couple of years. The changes we see to Chelsea alone has been noticeable. Chelsea is still a nice place to visit but it is losing its character/personality. We have recently started spending more time in Hell's Kitchen, the next up and coming neighborhood. It wouldn't surprise me at all if The Eagle ends up moving there in the near future.
I guess there is no safe place in Manhattan for a community to grow without gentrification eventually taking over.
Both Thom and I are originally from New York State. Thom from the south shore of LI and I from a small town on the Canadian boarder just south of Montreal. We tell folks we are living in exile in Massachusetts right now until we move back the NYC in a few years. Now, that destination doesn't look like the place we would want to settle in. :(
I guess as long as there are people that prefer a 7-Eleven over a local deli shop, a sterile environment over the character of a neighborhood, or money over personality then this will continue in NYC. Pushing those that love the City for all its faults and dirt and people further away.
I'm very sure this happens everywhere...which is just a shame.

Anonymous said...

That place is a dump and always has been. Good riddance.

Unknown said...

I only darkened the Rawhide's doors a handful of times, after I moved back to NYC and found the Spike and the old Eagle gone, but it was a dump and lacked the charms of other ancient dives like the old Penn Bar. While I'll not personally miss it, I'm always sad anytime an old timer falls.

Leah's comment was the best, I only hope she wore her wedding dress! As for Danny's comment about Hells kitchen being up and coming, that was years ago.It's spirit died when the young homos moved in and proclaimed it 'Helsea', their new 'gayborhood', and swept away stand-bys like the old Cleo's, which was another survivor. Sadly, too many of them probably don't know that Hell's Kitchen is actually the oldest gay neighborhood in the city, predating even the Village. Sigh. Thank God for small mercies, however, like the fact that that ridiculous name that Dinkins dreamed up-Clinton--never took hold. The old school Irish may be gone, but must they try and erase our history too?

RF83 said...

Bad move. 8th Avenue isn't that great for businesses. Even Qdoba went out of business and they always seemed to have customers. And 27k, good luck getting that. And if they do get it, good luck having a tenant that can actually keep up with the rent and property taxes and water bills, aside from all of their other expenses. Greedy landlords man.

Anonymous said...

To someone of "a certain age" like myself, the Rawhide was like a time capsule left over from the 1970s, and I often wondered how it survived, since so few people from that era are still around to patronize it. That being said, it's been years, maybe closer to decades since I personally felt the need to set foot in that kind of dive, which might be indicative of why it's a near-miracle such a place has lasted as long as it has. Especially in-of all places-Chelsea, which has been dead from the inside out for years now. People visiting from London often ask me "Where's the NY gay neighborhood, the equivalent to Old Compton Street?" and I have to tell them that basically we don't have one.

Unknown said...

Chris Quinn is no one's friend, She vacations in New Jersey. She would abandon NYC in a heartbeat to be Mayor.
NYC is becoming common and pedestrian like the mall of America.
It is a shame and disheartening when our own representatives don't even help

Anonymous said...

I guess if people would patronize independent neighborhood stores instead of flocking to national chains then the chains stores would go out of business. We get what we deserve as a society

Anonymous said...

They must be insane if they think they are getting $27,000 per month for that space.

The turnover of restaurants, novelty shops and other businesses on the stretch of 8th Avenue from 14th to 23rd Street has been astonishing because restaurants and other businesses discover they cannot generate enough revenue to pay the huge rents being demanded by landlords.

Most of the restaurants on that stretch of Eighth Avenue are losing money or barely breaking even at those crazy rent prices.

Even the new bank locations are never busy. I never see anyone in the Valley National Bank. They must be losing money on the bank branches too.

Worse still it is turned into just another boring stretch of Manhattan.

Anonymous said...

This makes me so sad. I've only been in Chelsea since 2000, but so many of the places that drew me to the neighborhood are now gone. Bright Food, the Bendix, Big Cup, the card store (Rick & Dave) and more. Bloomberg's "vision" and its fallout has been a disaster in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

woof. all of these straight ladies who've never been there are feeling sentimental. howwwwww sweeeeeeeet. enjoy the CB2 that will take RAWHIDE's spot that will soon render your neighborhood dumb and obsolete.

Anonymous said...

Quinn will sel-out her own sexuality to be elected. There'll be other thing she'll be putting in her mouth to be elected.

Anonymous said...

i was born, & grew up in nyc, lived there full time unill 1981. then p/t & many visits untill 2009. never heard of "rawhide", or "mars bar", or many places that are mentioned. goes to show you, NYC has many worlds. i cant light a candle for this one.

Anonymous said...

I cannot say I am familiar with "Rawhides", to be honest, I would not ever go in there (I am a straight guy, who does not want gay men hitting on me). I basically say good riddance to it, and I would prefer a Starbucks, 7-11 or a place with hot chicks over that spot any day of the week (So would most guys).

Anonymous said...

Dear "straight guy who doesn't want gay men hitting on you",

First, it's been my experience that "straight" men who say things like that usually fantasize about sucking dick (and more...)

Secondly, why even comment here, in the rude manner in which you did, if the topic is about a gay bar? (which seems to "terrify" you)

Thirdly, judging from your list of "likes", you must be the reason New York is so boring now. Please leave immediately.

Anonymous said...

I have just learned of this and am deeply saddened. Must ALL gay bars be like Splash? I'm surprised by some of the comments from some gay people here and other places. If the RawHide is NOT your type of bar then don't patronize it! Obviously such people do not know that RawHide is much more like a "Cheers" bar than anything else. Obviously such people have no idea of the generosity of the owner who has given drinks, money, a place to store things without asking for anything in return. Obviously such people are unaware of the water the owner sets out on hot days for any dog to have a drink. Obviously such people have no idea how cheap the drinks were AND how the owner never really raised prices during his time there. The Scrabble games on Sunday. On and on... If paying a cover charge, $13 watered down drinks, along with mingling with people who talk of nothing more than the latest Prada they bought and their fabulous careers (usually all imaginings) works better for you then by all means patronize those establishments. However, the places where people can wear just some old jeans and a T-shirt, play some pool, and talk to others about the roller coaster of life--be comfortable, are quickly fading here in NYC. Just really sad that this bar is closing...

Anonymous said...

Bad news indeed! Rawhide was one of my favorite spots as it added a lot of history and character to the area. What's next - are they going to turn Stonewall into a 99 cent store ? Or what about Julius, turn that place into another 7-eleven ?

Yeah someone mentioned that Rawhide was opened back when Sandy Stormcunt sprayed us her damage. They were open Halloween night with glowsticks and music running on backup power. They opened their doors to welcome anyone who wanted a place to chill out and socialize after such an event. You see, they didn't HAVE to go through all that trouble considering what a pain in the ass it is to run a business on a generator and battery power ... but they did. They are part of the community and part of this neighborhood's history and now they're going away.

For the people on here wondering what can be done to stop this and other neighborhoods from being bastardized by gentrification, you only need to look in your wallets. It really boils down to where you decide to spend your money. An in order to do that, society needs to be awake and conscious with regards to how that shiny brand new restaurant, shop, condo, etc. came to be in that spot. If you weren't around when that new location was built, ask questions. Do your research. Landlords do this type of monkey business because they know there is a chance that their bet will pay off. That new business that's going to pay the landlord the rent .. where do you think they are getting the money ? From the consumer! Not even banks will give out small-business loans if they know there's a high probability that it will fail.

And not only do consumers need to ask questions, but also any new business owners as well. Think for a moment - what are people going to think if you setup a shop where the landlord pushed out the previous business for the sole purpose of greed ? If they were pushed out because they couldn't afford the higher rent, what makes you think that your business will survive ? From an ethical perspective, do you really want to have anything to do with a landlord that did such a thing ?

Hey, I was living in Chelsea with Big Cup Cafe was still around. I know how and why they closed down. And you know what .. that new store that replaced Big Cup ... I don't have a DAMN CLUE as to what they were selling ... could not even give it the time of day to stop and peek through the window let alone set foot inside it. Recently, I heard that whatever was there closed down. My friend couldn't tell me when that happened. I passed by there last month and sure enough, it's closed.

Oh well.

You can apply the same thing when it comes to housing. Those new constructions that are popping up in Astoria-Queens, what/who are they replacing ? Are they replacing old buildings that were abandoned long ago ... or did that spot used to be a nice neighborhood of 2-family houses that were evicted by eminent domain last year ? Or that apartment you're considering renting in Manhattan for $4,000 ... maybe you can afford it ... but do you really want to live there ? Ask the landlord why the former tenant left ... or better yet .. ask the landlord for references from that former tenant.

Ask questions before you do business with a business. Whether your transaction is buying a candy bar from a 7-eleven, or renting out a store/apartment from a landlord. This isn't going to change as long as consumers don't elevate their standards or don't demand a certain code of conduct.

Theresa said...

That was my grandfather's bar back in the early 1900's. He was an Irish immigrant and owned the bar and part of the building around the corner,268 W.21 st. where my mother & her siblings lived. During prohibition it was turned into an ice cream parlor/(speakeasy.) My grandmother made bathtub gin.
My grandfather lost it all during the depression.
I wonder what he would think of the price of rent now?

Jeremiah Moss said...

Theresa, thanks so much for sharing your family history of this space. any chance you've got a photo?

Anonymous said...

Peace and love to the Rawhide and to all those who have patronized it over the years. To the new landlord, the greed you support and perpetuate will eventually rot out whatever humanity you have sad that you will never know what's 'really' important in life. The Rawhide always knew and that is why it is loved and will be missed so.

Anonymous said...

I would equate keeping Rawhide open with keeping my grandfather on life support. It had a great life - let it die gracefully.

Unknown said...

I think there are not enough commercial lending out there.. we need more variety

Anonymous said...

To the individual who equated Rawhide as "keeping his grandfather on life support ... let it die gracefully" Well, that's an interesting analogy, but it neglects to mention that the way he got on life support was by getting mugged and stabbed in the jugular by a thug. Remember, the landlord is nearly DOUBLING their rent from $15,000 a month to $27,000 a month. How can that be interpreted as anything other than hostile ? At $15,000 a month, the landlord has a nice profit even after that building's maintenance costs. But of course, a "nice" profit isn't enough these days. It all has to be "astronomical". My guess is that the landlord knows that the business cannot continue with an 80% increase in rent and the only option Rawhide has is to close down. And that could be the landlord's intention all along: get rid of all the residents in the building as well as Rawhide, demolish the entire building, and re-develop that spot into something that gives them astronomical profits.

Real Estate Investment Opportunities in Spain said...

It's a different neighborhood with very different demographics. Manhattan isn't a city for working class people anymore, and Rawhide served the 70s and 80s working class scene. Times change.

laura r. said...

so.....what has replaced it? do tell. all the speculation, & no information. (anon 11:28 mar. 5th)

Anonymous said...

By "working class" you mean blue-collar? Actually I've met a couple of doctors, a computer programmer, and a junior VP at a bank. They went there because it has character and the people are real. They went there to hang out with other easygoing people for the sole purpose of hanging out with other easygoing people. No bs, no fakes, no drama, nothing plastic, and no tweeker storming out of the place after a few minutes because "there aren't enough cute boys here". I experienced that at another local bar once. wasn't pretty.

As for what replaced Rawhide: Nothing. It's been one year since they closed and still empty.

Anonymous said...

The Blue sex shop two doors down is relocating to the old Rawhide space.