Saturday, May 10, 2008

Nirvana and Daddy's

Ended up in a gay bar last night. That doesn't happen very often any more. But there I was on Castro at 10 o'clock, and there was a bar with the pounding music and that big scrum of men, and I just thought I would walk to the back and back again. But a little context.

My good friend Louis and I had dinner at Nirvana, a self-styled Burmese-Californian place on Castro that I quite enjoy. Louis writes a fascinating blog on food and Amsterdam and sundry other topics; I think you will findhis 2007 trip blog (triplogue?), Amsterdam for Free, good reading. So we drank martinis and ate noodles and seafood and engaged in the rollicking discussions which are our friendship. Louis loves food and gives fascinating blow by blow descriptions of selcting, preparing, and serving it, most especially in Amsterdam which he visits annually. I always come away from a conversation with him feeling pangs at not being in Amsterdam right now ... it certainly is one of my favorite cities in the world.

We parted company as Louis mounted up on his Segway ... he is one of the original Segway guys, and to see him peel up the very steep Noe Hill to his home on the summit is thrilling and certainly a little unnerving. And I walked slowly up Castro heding home in the opposite direction from Louis.

Castro at night on a Friday is still pretty much entirely gay, but it is not young gay in the way it used to be. It is not that older guys and middle-aged guys did not hang around in the 70s and 80s, but rather that there were lots of young guys. There was everybody. That was the era of the clone ... boots, tight blue jeans, T-shirt, and lumberjack shirt ... a look I found sexy then and still do. On any evening, but especially the weekends, gay guys of all ages hung out in droves on Castro. But now it appears that young gay guys take little part in what we like to call the gay community. Partially this is real estate ... the gay community consists largely of refugees who collect in cities, and so the young guys are naturally less able on average to afford the real estate. But partially it is choice. I think they grew up taking gay liberation for granted, and they live much more comofrtably interspersed and unaggregated among their straight peers. That's what it seems. I don't actually know.

What I do know is that Castro Street is a decidedly middle aged and older gay street now. And the bar which enticed me, Daddy's Bar at 440 Castro is certainly a case in point. As I noted, I decided just to walk to the back, and back again. "Walk" is an odd word. "Slither" might be more accurate. I am good at bar-slithering, having practiced it more or less nightly for a couple of decades, and so I slowly and with easy strategy, made my way to the back through the press of bodies, up the 4 or 5 stairs, and past the back bar. That was my undoing. The back bar, with a big bald guy working his crowd like a trapeze artist, pouring and pulling and tilling and talking all in a swoop. I had a double Maker's Mark straight up, and I might better have decided that a single was sufficient because they evidently pour their doubles very liberally at Daddy's.

So there I was at the bottom of a mine pit of men with a tumbler of whiskey in my hand ... and this is quite literally the first time I have been in a gay bar in a year at least. So I propped up the wall and took to sipping and studying the passing manhood. It was as if everyone I had been cruising with 15 years ago was still there only 15 years older ... and no one new had come in. I counted four guys possibly under 30. Nevertheless, or possibly consequently, it was a friendly loud boisterous crowd of round and tall and bald and scruffy men, some just fat, some built, not very bloody many of them lean by any definition. I saw precious little of the shark-like cruising in which I partook so valiantly those decades past. This was about grooving to the incessant beat, and shouting the moral equivalents of huzzahs above the loud roil of the crowd. I enjoyed myself, and the drill of the noise was soothing, as I have always found it so in gay bars.

I slowly re-slithered the path I had pioneered earlier, stopping to prop up the odd post or wall. I let my Maker's Mark warm in my hand and in my throat, sip by sip. And when my glass was finally dry, I emerged, quite drunk, equally nostalgic, and feeling warm towards my gay brothers who have survived and still practice the art, warts and all.

Gotta walk the dog, so I'll try to add a few illustrative pix later.

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