New York City's East Village (the eastern reaches of Greenwich Village) has become Manhattan's go-to among artsy queers, hipster gays and lesbians, students from nearby NYU, and other urban adventurers seeking out affordable yet sophisticated dining and shopping, unpredictable and unabashedly sexy gay nightlife, and a contrast to Chelsea and the West Village. Here's a look at some favorite gay haunts in the East Village, which lies east of 1st Avenue between Houston and E. 14th streets.
One of the longest-running gay bars in the East Village, the Boiler Room (86 E. 4th St., 212-254-7536) has seen booms and busts over the years, its popularity waxing and waning for any number of reasons. Lately, this unfussy cruise bar drawing a mixed-age crowd seems to be doing quite well, drawing consistent crowds who appreciate its pool table, a cozy bar with nice selection of beers and cocktails, and comfy sofas, and awesomely eclectic juke box. More guys than girls come here, but it's still definitely a mixed-gender spot overall. It's also pretty close to New York University (NYU), and has always been popular with students and staffs from there, as well as with all the gay kids in Brooklyn who come over on the F train (the subway stop is fairly close).
Lucky Cheng's drag cabaret and dinner theater, on 1st Avenue
Longtime drag cabaret and dinner theater Lucky Cheng's (24 1st Ave., 212-995-5500) isn't a gay bar per se, but rather a flamboyant, campy Pan-Asian restaurant with a comical drag cabaret show and smashingly costumed drag queens serving the food. The restaurant-club is very popular with straight tourists (and bachlorette parties) seeking a quirky and outlandish night on the town, but most nights you'll see some GLBT patrons, too. Of course, Lucky Cheng's is friendly and fun toward everybody, and the food is reasonably good.
Dinner is served nightly, and drag shows are once nightly Sunday through Thursday and then with some a longer show and some additional shows during the weekend evenings. Three-course prix-fixe dinner menus area available (it's a good value), and tables of friends can also order a bunch of larger platters to feast on family-style - goodies like Chinese-spiced duck confit salad, Mandarin orange-glazed pork tenderloin skewers, and seared guava-yuzu scallops.
Lucky Cheng's has an interesting reputation in NYC's gay community - on the one hand, it's fun and kind of silly, and the glamorous and high-camp aspects of the place make it a favorite of people from all over the city, including more than a few celebs. On the other hand, the gay scene in the East Village tends toward young, hipster-ish, and anti-commercial, so if you chat with neighborhood queers, many of them will claim never to have been to Lucky Cheng's, and some may refer to it with a certain sense of reverse-snobbery or derision. I actually lived directly across the street from Lucky Cheng's for two years and never happened to go inside, but if since had drinks there and thought it quite fun, if nothing like other gay hangouts in the neighborhood.
There's a second Lucky Cheng's located adjacent to Planet Hollywood Casino, next to Krave gay nightclub, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Cock gay bar, 2nd Avenue
Along a tiny row of unsavory and thoroughly enjoyable gay bars on 2nd Avenue in the East Village, The Cock (29 2nd Ave.) had actually been located on Avenue A for quite a few years, where it earned a reputation for embracing the fine art of cruising (and dark-room hand jobs among strangers). In its current locale, this late-night, rooster-themed bar with voyeuristic bathrooms and a dark, sweaty, panting vibe continues to celebrate the virtues of good old-fashioned sleaze. Bars along the same strip include Urge and, owned by the same peeps, DTox. And around the corner, there's more fun to be had at the Boiler Room gay bar.
7A, all-night restaurant at corner of East 7th and A
Set along a prominent street corner near opposite the southwest corner of the East Village's iconic Tompkins Square Park, and just a stone's throw from Eastern Bloc gay bar, 7A (links, 212-475-9001) is the local equivalent of an all-night diner. It looks like any other arty, dark cocktail bar and restaurant in the neighborhood, but 7A is open 24/7 and doles out big and reasonably prices portions of above-average all-American fare - omelets, burgers, pastas, seafood and meat grills. There's also an extensive bar. It's named for the very intersection it overlooks, and in warm weather you can dine on a long covered sidewalk patio along East 7th. The crowd is a true melting pot of East Villagers - gays, grungers, students, artists, yuppies, and tourists savvy enough to wend their way to this part of the city.
Eastern Bloc gay bar, on East 6th Street
I'm not sure if Eastern Bloc (505 E. 6th St.) is genuinely smaller than the other gay bars in the East Village, but it sure feels tiny, although not in a bad way (unless you're claustrophobic...). The super-dark, ultra-narrow space just off Avenue A is done up with decorative kitsch and happens to be the neighborhood bar of talented actor Alan Cumming - in fact, I had a brief but very nice chat with him here (he was clad in a leather kilt) not long ago. DJs here spin alt rock, there's reliably interesting beer on tap, and the bathroom walls are festooned with retro-camp magazine covers. Eastern Bloc is nearly always packed with erudite to artsy boys, yet it's every bit as cruisy as the more unabashedly sleazy meet-and-greets in the East Village. What's not to love?
Club 82/Bijou Cinema gay adult theater and sex club-ish, East 4th Street
This basement space set very discreetly behind a simple, unmarked door has quite a history with New York's gay community. From 1958 until 1978, Club 82 (82 E. 4th St.) was a beloved drag cabaret and glam-rock venue made famous by the likes of David Bowie, Lou Reed, Harvey Fierstein, Blondie, and the New York Dolls - in this sense, it's one of the more important sites of gay history in the East Village, and it even has its own fan site, which celebrates its colorful past. It then became an indie-film theater, and in the early 1990s, the dark, underground (figuratively and literally - it's in a basement) space became a quite popular gay adult theater and sex club called the Bijou Cinema (although still known by many as Club 82). More recently, it's been closed at different times, but it was spruced up at one point and now continues to be a gay sex club. (If you're having trouble finding it, it's just off 2nd Avenue, its doorway behind the incongruously dapper and lovely French bistro, Belcourt).
This is a quirky and happily sleazy little spot that's especially popular after the bars closed - it used to be open 24/7, but more recent reports suggest it now closes by 5 or 6 in the morning (I last stopped by around 1 am in May 2011, and it was open and still charging a $10 admission). You enter through the ominous unmarked door, descend the brightly lit stairs. Inside there's a 48-seat cinema that used to show gay porn and more recently has played conventional movies, some with an arty bent. Forming an L-shape behind the cinema area is a corridor lined with private booths that contain monitors showing gay porn. These are basically walk-in-closet-size booths - no beds or facilities to speak of. Guys hang out in these rooms, cruise the corridors, etc., etc. Off the main corridor and theater, there's also a TV lounge, some rental lockers, and a bar no longer serving drinks. There's something strangely and endearingly retro about the entire set-up. That being said, it's sometimes hard to confirm this place is open, so if anyone gets word it's shuttered again, please let me know.
By all accounts, there's often more of a crowd at the East Village's more above-board gay porn cinema, Blue Door Video, which is nearby at 87 1st Avenue. Note that some controversy has arisen concerning prostitution-solicitation arrests, which many in the GLBT community are calling false and baseless - an article in Gay City News explores charges of entrapment related to these arrests.
Dick's Bar, a venerable gay hangout on 2nd Avenue that closed in 2007
Sadly, the venerable neighborhood hangout Dick's Bar closed toward the end of 2007, after many years serving the East Village gay community. Few gay bars in this part of the city enjoyed a longer run than this cozy, offbeat establishment known for its kick-ass juke box. It stood at the corner of E. 12th Street and 2nd Avenue.
Phoenix gay bar, East 13th Street (just off Avenue A)
If the East Village has an all-around, much-loved, go-to gay bar, it's the Phoenix (447 E. 13th St., 212-477-9979), which opened a few years back and takes its name from the long-ago Phoenix gay bar that used to be a few blocks away and was never anywhere near as popular. Part of the bar's lure is that it's relatively large as EV gay bars go, with a main bar area (pictured here, late on a midweek-night, hence the uncrowded appearance), a pool table with small seating area in back, decent-size bathrooms down a flight of stairs, and a small conversation nook around the corner from the main bar. The bartenders are efficient and friendly here, the bar typically packed with pretty good-looking guys of all ages (the median age skews slightly older here than elsewhere in the East Village).
Some say that as Phoenix has gained in popularity over the years, it's become the one gay hangout in the East Village that feels a bit more like the meat-market-y and rather preppier haunts of Chelsea, but this is still very much a down-home, low-attitude hangout where the guys (it's mostly a male crowd, but very female-friendly) dress chiefly in jeans, black shoes, and T-shirts. There's still nothing at all fancy or upscale about Phoenix - it's just an inviting gay bar with excellent music (from the juke) and plenty of fellow queer-scenesters to gab with and gawk at.
It's around the corner from some other gay bars of note, including Nowhere, The Hose, and Section 8.
Artichoke Basille's Pizza, on East 14th Street
Serious pizza aficionados and ardent gay-nightlife goers both join the long lines throughout the day and late night at Artichoke Pizza (328 E. 14th St., 212-228-2004) a simple-looking storefront at the north edge of the East Village that turns out simply outstanding, thin-crust pies. It's a simple concept, and just four types of slices (you can also order whole pies) are available: artichoke (with spinach), regular (margarita), Sicilian, and crab. There's also beer, canned sodas, and bottles of Boylan soda.
Nowhere gay bar, on East 14th Street
Although prominently located along busy East 14th Street, the northern border of the East Village, Nowhere (322 E. 14th St., 212-477-4744) has sort of steadily mozied along beneath the downtown gay-bar radar since it opened in 2006 or so. Some (tall) boys lament the low ceilings and find it cramped, and the crowd - by most reports - varies a lot from night to night, from cute and sexy in that East Village ironic-hipster way to dour and aloof (which kind of works in this part of town anyway). You'll generally find a mix of lesbians and gay guys, but as with most NYC queer bars, it's mostly guys. There's also a pool table.
I liked it very much during my visit and found the staff easygoing and pleasant, the drinks affordable, and the location handy. It's the closest gay bar in the East Village to Union Square and Gramercy Park, and because it's near subway stations and numerous bus lines, it's a good place to begin or end an East Village bar crawl.
Music is supplied via a pretty cool juke box or DJs, and there's a strange and freakishly dwarfy "back room" lounge in, well, the back room, that's enticing if you just want to have a quiet conversation or size up a potential trick in very bad lighting. The venerable Artichoke pizza joint is practically next door, in case you get the munchies. Nearby gay bars include Phoenix, Section 8, and The Hose.
The Cock gay bar, another view
The Cock gay bar, from a different vantage point. This fun-loving, unabashedly sleazy spot has a variety of grown-up-minded theme nights, from Sperm Sundays, an incredibly popular underground-electronica dance party, to Fun-Fun Wednesdays (described by bar promoters as "an energized mix of art fags, scenesters, tourists, and random perverts"), to Saturday's "Cock Fight!", featuring "sexational go-go dancers."
Urge gay bar, 2nd Avenue
A couple of doors down from the ultra-pervy Cock gay bar, and right next door to DTox, Urge (33 2nd Ave.) carries out this raffish block along 2nd Avenue's reputation for no-nonsense gay cruising but has a more slightly more elegant decorative scheme than Cock - you'll find some nooks with low-slung lounge seating, and the lighting is considerably better. This makes it easier to ogle Urge's chief attraction, a stable of generally well-endowed go-go dancers. Just around the corner, you'll find another popular gay hangout, the Boiler Room.
The Hose gay bar (closed 2010)
Note: The Hose bar closed in 2010
A newcomer to the East Village gay-bar scene, The Hose (225 Ave. B, 212-979-8506), opened in the space formerly occupied by Uncle Mings (a hetero bar with something of a queer following). Like many gay spots in the neighborhood, The Hose has the anti-slick appearance of a dive bar, complete with loud (often rock) music. It's an upstairs space with a stage at the front (I shot this photo from the edge of the stage, looking back toward the bar). But for a few irreverent posters and bits of art, it's low on decor.
The Hose is in the northern part of the EV, not far from Nowhere, Phoenix, and Section 8.
Eastern Bloc gay bar exterior
The narrow door to the narrow Eastern Bloc gay bar, on East 6th Street (just east of Avenue A) in the East Village (yup, there's a lot of "east" going on here). Among the bar's many charming quirks, the building's exterior is clad in wood paneling - that's pretty much unheard of in New York City.
Phoenix gay bar, exterior
The exterior of the popular gay bar, Phoenix, on East 13th Street, just west of Avenue A.
Nowhere "back room" lounge
These are my friends Mickey and Paul modeling Nowhere bar's quirky little back-room lounge.
Eastern Bloc gay bar bathroom, decked with camp posters and magazine covers
The bathrooms inside the cozy and endearingly kitschy Eastern Bloc gay bar function as an homage to campy men's magazines from the '50s and '60s.
Boiler Room, the bar area
Patrons chatting at the bar area inside the Boiler Room gay bar, on East 4th Street
Boysroom gay bar, formerly at 9 Ave A and then 211 Ave A (closed 2008)
Another of the many gay bars that enjoyed a nice run in the East Village but shuttered its doors after a while, the old Boysroom was located at 9 Avenue A, just off of Houston Street. Then it moved up to 211 Avenue A, right around corner from Phoenix gay bar, and the former 9 Avenue A space became the rather dreadful and pretentious ultra-whatever lounge Ella (which happens to be a straight bar, but that's not why I'm suggesting it's awful - more the snooty attitude and velvet ropes). Anyway, finally, in late 2008, Boysroom at the 211 Avenue A closed once and for all.
Section 8 gay bar, Avenue A
If the crowds are too much and the lines at the bar are too long across the street at Phoenix and down Avenue A at Eastern Bloc, you can always drop by the low-keyed Section 8 (218 Ave. A), a gay neighborhood bar with the usual ingredients for East Village conviviality: decent beers on tap, a pool table, and a rockin' juke box. This is a good bet if you're hanging out with a group of friends and want a space suitable for conversation and gathering. Hard to say why it's not more popular - there's nothing at all wrong with Section 8, but it somehow hasn't quite developed much more than a local following.
On the plus side, the bar has decent lighting, which is a rarity in this part of town, where lounges tend to be unbelievably dark and/or with the tawdry pink glare you'd expect of a cheap whore house.
Phoenix gay bar, pool table and back bar area
The pool table toward the back of Phoenix gay bar - this table probably sees as much action as any in a New York City gay bar.