Sondheim Tuesday questions, Steinway edition

I have been to all kinds of different gay bars over the years.

I’ve been to country and western bars. I’ve been to dance clubs. I’ve been to little holes in the wall in the East Village and dives on the Upper West Side. I’ve been to ones where people seemed to be having a good time, and others where the guys all seemed to want to do nothing but stand around and look attractive, waiting for someone they perceived to be equally attractive to approach them.

I find that last kind of bar tedious. I’ve heard them referred to as “S&M” bars, meaning “stand and model.” (I know that there are S&M bars in the more commonly-understood sense of the term, but… um… yeah, that’s really not my scene.) (But no judgments, y’all. No judgments.) I remember one such place back in New York where it seemed like there was this periphery of guys standing around with another set of guys walking around and around and around one orbit in, everyone checking each other out over and over and over.


The place I went most often back in the day had a tiny little dance floor that was always too crowded, and played a mix of new tunes and old hits. (They eventually renovated, and some time after I moved away closed down. It was a bummer to return to my old stomping grounds and find it gone.) I loved it there. When I moved to New York, there were a handful of places where I’d go, but nowhere that felt so truly mine.

These days, it’s a piano bar. On those occasions when the Better Half and I choose to mingle with the ‘mos, our most frequent destination is a piano bar at the seaside location favored by dudes of our ilk.

The last time we went, I reached a conclusion. When one is in a piano bar, one has two mutually exclusive possible options. One can:

1) Stand on one’s dignity, or

2) Have a good time.

If what you want to do is stand around looking unapproachably hot, what’s the point in going to a piano bar? No, the fun of going to a piano bar is abandoning all pretense of trying to act straight, and instead turning up the flame to an exuberant purple blaze. It’s demonstrating to other people that you do, in fact, know all the lyrics to “It’s My Party” and “Copa Cabana” and are willing to belt them both out in the company of a bunch of other people doing the same thing. Every time we go, I look forward to singing the “I’m no one’s wife, but oooooooh, I love my life” part of “All That Jazz.” (They always play “All That Jazz.”)

At our wedding, we got one of the piano players from the bar for the reception. And I sang “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.”

So that’s this week’s Question — where do you go to be unabashedly unencumbered in some way you usually keep under wraps? If one can be flamingly [your adjective], where can others toast imaginary marshmallows in the warmth of your glow?

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43 thoughts on “Sondheim Tuesday questions, Steinway edition

  1. Have you been to the Cubby Hole?

    I suppose the answer is my apartment alone because I am apparently super old-school/uptight and think that being around other people means a show of social decorum and such. The new way seems to be that you put on your PJs as soon as you get home and you invite other people to hang out in their PJs. I have an inner Parisian that screams at such casualiness*. I’ve even largely stopped wearing sneakers when out in public.

    I’ve been considering a post on this because of Bay to Breakers. Bay to Breakers is a 100 plus year race in SF. For an unknown but long time, the serious racers were followed by people in wacky costumes and then it just becomes a big druken party. I don’t mind the wacky costumes or public drinking. I do mind that a large group seems to get drunk enough that they think throwing glass bottles or shaken beer cans is a good idea. I see it every year. This year someone threw a glass bottle from a bus.

    So I am apparently a cranky person who needs to chill.


  2. Well, I don’t get out much now, so it’s wherever I can.

    But the other night I was reminiscing with some friends about a little local bar we used to go to that had a DJ that would dress up as a low-rent superhero (homemade spandex costume & eyemask + Chuck Taylors with leg warmers) and in between playing incredibly-eclectic tracks he would do games & trivia questions (for which you could win various themed, autographed kitschy knick-knacks he’d picked up at local thrift shops – we prized these items for many years) or mock-battle his equally low-rent supervillain nemeses (friends) on the dance floor.

    There was simply no need, or way, to be “cool” in such an environment. It was like a combination variety/game show/pro wrestling match/dance night. You had no choice but to participate and have fun.

    When I would tell people about this place they wouldn’t believe me; then I would take them and they would admit it was so much more than they had ever imagined (one friend just told me, “I want to live here.”)

    Dude moved away long ago, and the bar closed down. But that place ruled.


  3. One time, on a cruise ship during spring break, my crew of guys almost threw down with another crew of guys. All over how much we were going to embellish “Piano Man” at the ship’s piano bar. The pianist didn’t help matters, essentially egging the two groups on (which was grossly unprofessional given that we were on a cheap cruise ship laden with alcohol during spring break). Luckily, we avoided fisticuffs.

    I generally find I can be myself on a sporting surface of one kind or another. Colleagues who don’t know me are initially put off when I throw my body around wildly on the basketball court and curse the high heavens after poor plays. A good swath of Brooklyn was treated to me singing loudly as I ran the last 1/4 of the Brooklyn Half marathon, randomly taking breaks from my perfect form to wave my arms at the crowd, imploring them to cheer louder (“Shouldn’t he be focused on running?” “Whatever, he looks crazy. Don’t make eye contact.”) Zazzy was more than a little worried the first time she came to play touch football with my rec league team, especially after I managed to knock myself out of the game after laying out an opponent. You can’t hold back on the field/court/whatever. If you do, you lose. And while I’m not hyper-competitive, if I am participating in a legitimate competitive endeavor, I’m going to put my all into it.

    The other place would be the dance floor of a wedding with my Maryland friends. Shit gets hairy. We were actually approached by the owners of a venue once, asking if they could hire us out for other parties. “You guys organized your own congo line on the spot!” “Oh, that? We’ve been doing that for years. It’s second nature.”


      • Mind you, I’m not a good dancer. But with a little bit of liquid courage, the right music, and the right crew of people… well, it gets ugly. Fast.

        And I would be delighted should we end up at a wedding together one day.


    • Shorter Kazzy: I’m not hyper competitive but if i’m playing a game, i’m hyper competitive and if you get in my way, me and my crew will dance all over you. (insert smiley face here)


  4. “If what you want to do is stand around looking unapproachably hot”

    I do want this, and I try it every now and then. But no matter how many times I tell women walking by that despite what their eyes tell them I am actually unapproachably hot, they all just keep their distance.


  5. Out of genuine curiosity, where do LGBT people go to drink when their goal is merely to imbue alcohol rather than socialize? straight person, there are bars I can go where the purpose is meeting people and others are just strictly for drinking? It seems to me that the LGBT community seems lacking in pure drinking bars. Correct me if I’m a wrong.

    I’m least inhibited at various dance parties. There I’m not on guard as much and freer in talking to people. Like Saul, I think that being in public does require a bit of decorum. I am not exactly a fan of public wildness in most situations.


    • No bars are strictly for drinking. They’re all for carousing.
      (or at the very least giving you a bartender to talk to).
      However, sports bars are for a particular type of socializing.


    • I’m not sure quite what you mean by bars where people go strictly for the sake of drinking. You can go to any gay bar and order a drink and not socialize, pretty much the same as a straight bar. But it seems to me that the point of going to a bar, for straight people or gay people both, is to socialize a little bit. I can mix cocktails at my house if all I want is to drink.

      There are plenty of places in New York where I went and sat having cocktails in more or less chatty moods. Most of the ones I remember were in the East Village, Starlight and Wunderbar both springing to mind. But I usually went with the expectation that I might socialize while I was at it.


      • There are drinking places where the alcohol is more or less a side. The main reason you go to them is to hang out, socialize, and pick up somebody if you have those sorts of capabilities. Than you have drinking places where alcohol is the main point. Either you go there to enjoy drink or to drown your sorrows in drink and socializing is the side. I’m wondering if there are any of the latter for the LGBT community.


      • Even in the seedy bars I used to represent, the regulars who show up at 10:00 a.m. would converse with one another, even if it was along the lines of:

        Early morning drunk #1: Heh. Hey guys, number six!
        Early morning drunk #2: [Laughs.]
        Bartender: [Laughs.]
        Early morning drunk #2: Yeah. Number eight. No, wait, number nine!
        [Uncomfortable pause.]
        Bartender: You’ve really gotta work on your timing with that one, Larry.


  6. [W]here do you go to be unabashedly unencumbered in some way you usually keep under wraps? If one can be flamingly [your adjective], where can others toast imaginary marshmallows in the warmth of your glow?

    For me, the fill-in for [your adjective] is two things simultaneously “as snarky as I wanna be when I wanna be,” and “open and honest about my opinions and identity instead of diplomatic and universally pleasant.” Perhaps the summation word would be “uncloistered.”

    So makes the answer to the question becomes easy: the place where I can be flamingly uncloistered is Ordinary Times.


  7. Disciplining myself to segregate my points into different comments…

    I’ve been to ones where people seemed to be having a good time, and others where the guys all seemed to want to do nothing but stand around and look attractive, waiting for someone they perceived to be equally attractive to approach them.

    How unimaginably dull. Perhaps very pleasant to look at, but one tires of that, and more quickly as one grows older. I confess I don’t quite know whether to feel reliant on stereotypes to imagine that the only song played in such a bar is this one, at maximum volume (video may be NSFW for particularly tame offices):

    Point is, looking but not touching does not sound like a recipe for an interesting evening out on the town.


  8. Third and final point:

    I’ve always thought a piano bar sounded like a really fun night out. I’ve never found one in Los Angeles. Karaoke bars aplenty, but never a rowdy bar that regularly features a piano, a player, a tip jar, and a bunch of happy drunks making requests and singing along. Nor a quiet place with the player running through jazz standards and showtunes, surrounded by patrons flirting with one another over sophisticated cocktails, even in the lobby of a nice hotel. Either seem like they would be huge fun.


    • A friend of mine recently landed a gig playing piano at a piano bar, though I haven’t had a chance to talk to him about it since he started, so I’m not sure which of the two descriptions more closely match this place.


      • Yeah, as close as it gets that I’ve found in Los Angeles is Invisible Irma’s parlor in the Magic Castle, and whether it’s raucous or romantic sort of depends on what night of the week you’re able to get tickets.


  9. For me it really isn’t a place, but a mood. Some days I’m just lit up — and I don’t mean on drugs or anything. Just sometimes veronica dire is full on.

    It helps if I’m dressed kinda sexy, but that’s not required.

    It helps if I’m around cool people, but sometimes I do it alone on the train.

    Yeah, but the “stand around posing” crowd. I get it. I feel that way sometimes. But it ain’t ’cause I think I’m all that or anything. At those moments I’m terrified.

    But one cool person can break the ice, and then everything is wonderful.


  10. I guess I’d have to say Harry Brown’s Farm. Being the good Maine girl that I am, and a child of the ’70’s, and being a non-drinker. Here’s Harry, a Maine icon if ever there was one:


  11. Dancing, I can sometimes really forget about what others see when they look at me – let others worry about that, fully inhabit my own experience for a while. The ecstatic dance sessions I’m going to now are a wonderful opportunity to do that, in an environment where we’re all there for the same thing – no one is there to pick someone up, or sit in the back room chatting, or get wasted, or start a fight.

    Also here
    I’m not in that video, but that’s where I volunteer. Robert (who’s a wonderful, caring, charming person, and a joy to work with) describes some of what I love about the place.


  12. where do you go to be unabashedly unencumbered in some way you usually keep under wraps?

    This sorta presupposes that you usually keep thing under wraps,.


  13. I have a better answer: Whenever I’m with Zazzy. And not just in the privacy of our home. Anywhere. I won’t say that the following situation is a daily one, but I will say it is a common one:
    Her: Why are you dancing?
    Me: Why shouldn’t I be dancing?
    Her: Because we’re in Target!
    Me: So?
    Her: You’re blocking the aisle!
    Me: But I love this song!
    Her: What song?!?! There’s no music playing!
    Me: Sure there is. Faintly. Over the loud speakers.
    Her: How can you hear that but you can’t hear me shouting from the other room?
    Me: If you sounded more like “Tainted Love”, I’d hear you every time.

    I can be a bit of a paradox. I’m very social and can be an open book, but I still keep people at arm’s distance. For instance, if you asked the people I work with about me, they’d say I am friendly, outgoing, quick with a joke, supportive, kind, etc. They’d know lots of trivia about me because I’m always telling stories. But I don’t really open up in a substantive way. I don’t let people in. So I also have the quasi-joking reputation as a heartless bastard incapable of feeling. But there is one colleague who I am very close with. Just yesterday I made a joke to her about not knowing what the word “heart” meant. She replied that she knows I have one because she’s seen me with Zazzy and Mayo and I wear it on my sleeve at those times.

    So, yea, when I’m with her. Ugh, now I hate her more than ever.


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