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Wednesday 08 April 2009

"The first time I went to a gay bar"

Posted in: True Stories
By - 22nd March 2009

Eight LGBT Kiwis remember the first time they ever ventured into a gay drinking hotspot.

The End of the Empire by Michael

I was 17. The drinking age in those days was 20? 21? I'm not sure... Ponsonby and the Inner City still were pretty run-down, not as 'nice' as today, rowdier, fun, rough around the edges.

I'd been going to saunas since I was 16, and even though I'd asked a few guys, no one wanted to take me to Backstage, the club behind the Town Hall where, so it seemed to me, everything wonderful about being gay happened. I was in my first year at Uni, a member of Gay Liberation, and making friends.

So one night, with a couple of older friends from Gay Lib, I went to The Empire. The same Empire Hotel that sits across from TVNZ today. Then it was a gay pub, at least part of the time. I seem to remember Beardsley prints and bright green walls, and the garden bar.

The barman winked at me indulgently when I went in and ordered a drink - I was 17 but looked about 15 I think. I found it all fascinating, and a little scary. Everyone seemed so sophisticated, so grown up. And next to me, they were. I managed to get there a few times, and then it became the first bar I was thrown out of by the Police.

One night they did a raid, not uncommon at all in those days, and one cop asked me my age.

"Twenty-one" I answered in a high quavering treble. I was shitting myself.

The cop was actually quite friendly and sensible "I should warn you Sir that if you cannot prove your age with correct ID I will be required to take you to the Station and book you"

"I'm only 17 - don't tell my parents!" He let me go, of course - why bother processing all the paperwork?

The Empire today is a very different place, but I occasionally go in for a drink just to remember.


I Wanted More by Andy

The first time I went to a gay bar was when I was 15, and it was New Year's Eve. I drove into town from Wainui with my cousin Becky and best friend AJ. I had recently told Becky I was gay and she got the bright idea to sneak into town when Mum went to bed. AJ and I had come out to each other a few months before.

I was obsessed with Newsboy (Jeremy Wells) so that day I got Becky to bleach my hair and then spike it up, just like his. Of course I didn't look as good as he did, but it was close!

AJ's 1983 Honda Civic hatchback said it was out of petrol — it always did though, the gauge didn't work. The three of us rustled together $10 for gas, which was plenty back in 1998. We had never attempted to drive so far before, especially since the car wasn't warranted and AJ was only on a learners — that just made it more exciting.

We got to Edward Street which led to Ruby Ruby's, and already I could see gaggles of gays congregating. My stomach churned and my heart fluttered. Someone yelled out "it's Newsboy!", which excited me hugely, although I was far too shy to reply or even look at the person who validated my hairstyle.

A lesbian was taking money on a table outside, a large area before the bar was roped off and filled with drunk guys and girl, and drag queens. "How old are you?" the girl asked. "Fifteen," I replied without a second thought. "Cool, that's $10."

The three of us went in amongst the numbers and each ordered a Coke after waiting twenty minutes in a line. It was so exciting and liberating to be around so many other gay guys, especially when a hand groped my butt. Again, I was way too scared to see who did it but inside I was beaming.

Then Becky suddenly got over it and demanded that we leave. She was quite controlling and so we naturally left.

It lasted about an hour, not including the drive there and back — I wanted more.


It's Raining Men by Matt

I was 21. My gay flatmate Daniel took me to Legends on K' Road one warm night in summer 1999. He was very sweet to drag me along, I needed lots of encouragement as I was shy.

I didn't want to go in - it was very busy and hot. Standing room only. I followed Dan around as we slowly struggled our way to the bar and he ordered drinks for us. A guy must have been looking at me because suddenly Dan leaned over and said softy "that guy wants to hit on you, do you like him?"

Petrified, I made eye contact with the guy - who was probably very handsome - and then said to Dan: "no, I'll just stick with you please."

Looking back on it now, Legends wasn't much of a place, but it was pumping that night, and my tiny mind was overwhelmed. And I was quite damp, since sweat used to drip from the ceiling when it was crowded and hot. We didn't stay there too long after we saw the drag shows, as I wasn't confidant enough to dance. As we escaped, the DJ put It's Raining Men on…

I really do cringe at the memory now, I was so young and insecure. Thank goodness it all gets easier and less dramatic when you get older!

Underage Nightingale by Todd

I first went to a gay bar back in 2003 while in year 10. I went to a club called Nightingale in Birmingham. I was only 15 at the time (but I looked 18+, as I had done since about 13) So this was a new experience for me.

I can remember the rush of nobody knowing I was actually this underage guy (for both drinking and sexual acts!) dancing around.
I was quite nervous even though I had met and hooked up with guys before, it was still a brand new experience. Plus it was my first time I'd ever seen people in drag!

I can't exactly remember what I was wearing but probably a black shirt with jeans (which is what the youth wore out in my day!)

I went with my best mate Sarah (also "bi", though she's gay now!) who was 16, was such a new experience for both of us! Being from a small town 20 miles from the nearest other it was kind of hard to even see one gay in the street let alone 4-500 in a club!

The club was great and has stayed as one of my fav gay clubs in the world throughout my life. I remember staying at this super-cute boys house (who was 17 and also in there underage) and having my first experience of waking up at a random's house! Sarah equally pulled so I didn't ditch her!

The memory that most sticks in my mind, is that of six people getting refused entry in front of me for not having ID and me getting in smugly!
Oh that and the sex which was legendary!



I am What I am by Tones

I went to Flesh, back almost eight years ago now.
The thing I remember most vividly is everyone on the dance floor. Sweaty, heaving bodies EVERYWHERE.
I played a few games of pool and was daring to sit on the couches that surrounded the pool table... it was getting late and I went on to the dance floor to see my first drag show.
The song was I am what I am, but the performer was unknown to me... I'd love to find out who it was. I found it so STEREOTYPICALLY gay it was fantastic! Particularly as I was at the tender age of 18 with no prior experience of clubbing or going to town. My eyes really were opened...even thought I was probably shit-faced!
I hooked up with an older woman that night too, thought I'd hit the jackpot. Can't remember a thing about her though, just that I felt like a million bucks as I was at a gay bar, getting hit on by women and I finally felt comfortable in my own skin.

Sneaking off to be G.A.Y. by Daniel

I think I was about 24 years old when I went to my first gay bar. It was around about the year 2000 and I was still in the closet.

I had gone with some straight friends to a night club called The Box on High Street in Downtown Auckland, and I was the sober driver. The band Concorde Dawn were playing live, and despite having paid a high cover charge to see them, I was well and truly bored. I knew that G.A.Y was just a few doors down, so I snuck away by myself to that club for a while, and was amazed at how much more alive everything felt to me.

I was quite excited. I suppose it was due to a combination of being concerned about getting caught, and experiencing something completely different for the first time. Everything about the club seemed so much more interesting to me. The crowd, the music, the dancing, the fantastic looking drag artists and of course the shirtless guys!

I was working in a legal firm at the time and I actually ran into one of the Senior Partners that night, whom I knew was openly gay. He bought me a drink and even chatted to me at length. When he asked me if I was gay, I said that I hadn't decided yet. That was a blatant lie.

I eventually returned to The Box and rejoined my friends, and didn't go back into a gay nightclub until several years later, when I finally dragged myself out of the closet.

I remember that a dance remix of Santa Maria was playing in G.A.Y at one point that first night. Now whenever I hear that song I always fondly remember my first exciting trip to a gay club.

"I ordered the butchest drink I could!" by Mark

October 1982 and I was 24 when I visited my first 'gay bar'.

I had recently started work in Highgate, London and one of my colleagues, who was openly gay, invited me to a dinner party at his house in Camden. I had always thought of Camden as slightly bohemian. Time Out, which, in those days before the internet and mobile phone, I thought of as being slightly risqué, was my source! After all it had a Gay and Lesbian section listing venues and events.

The Black Cap was on Camden High Street, not too far from where my friend lived. I decided to pay a visit. I had no idea the pub was famed for its' drag cabaret pioneered by the legendary Mrs Shufflewick!

Dressed for dinner in the typical tweed jacket, shirt and tie, and moleskin trousers of the 'Sloane Ranger' set, it didn't occur to me to wear anything else!

I knew nothing about the 'scene' and had only one gay friend, from university, who shared a similar background.

Walking along Camden High Street, there it was. I walked around the pub to see if I could peer in the through windows, which were dressed with thick velvet drapes that had been drawn. I must have walked around the pub three or four times, sweating profusely, looking over my shoulder each time to see if anyone would recognise me. I pushed open the door, and found myself in what looked like a regular pub.

I remember being taken being aback when asked if I knew I had entered a gay bar!

What did I want to drink? I thought of the butchest drink I could and ordered it, a pint of Guinness, which I absolutely hated.

Memorable? Hardly. Cute guys? No. I couldn't wait to leave.



Angles by Paul

It was early 1991 and I was 21 years old. I went with a guy called Simon who I'd met from a personals ad in MTM newspaper. I lived in Christchurch then. We met at Simon's place - a couple of friends of his were there too. I can't remember their names. We had a couple of drinks and listened to the "hot new album" of the time, the first Enigma album, then we headed down to Angles on Lichfield Street in the CBD.

I can't remember feeling nervous, but it felt slightly "odd" in a way - I walked onto the dancefloor and men were dancing with men. I thought it was cool, but still a little bit scary. I was quite shy back then. I was also very body-conscious and so would have been wearing baggy jeans and a baggy sweatshirt (I thought that wearing baggy clothes would hide my skinniness - oh, I would LOVE to have those abs-without-trying again! I'd actually show them off this time).

We stayed there a couple of hours, I guess. The music would have been what was hot back then - C&C Music Factory, Deee-lite, various Deconstruction tracks, Italian house, Erasure etc. The venue itself was kind of grubby, but it was all Christchurch had. You had to go up a long flight of stairs to the "ticket booth" at the top. Turn right, and you're in. The bar was in the front "socialising area". The dancefloor was through a set of doors.

It's a memory I am fond of - nothing cringeworthy in it at all. It made me feel empowered, yet ghettoised at the same time, a feeling that stays with me today. - 22nd March 2009