Back in May 2011, my BF and I - both native New Yorkers - decided to spend some time visiting and rating gay bars in NYC for the benefit of others planning a trip to The City. We have since decided to keep this rating list 'fresh' and updated, so we continue to re-visit our rating sites and add new ones along the way. Keep mind that we prefer a “Bear” crowd of masculine men, and will take 'small and dark' over 'glitzy and pretentious' any day. If you agree, or disagree, or believe that there are other bars or nightspots we should review…let us know in the comments! We’ve rated all of these from “zero woofs” (don’t bother) to “5 Woofs” (our favorites), all from a Bear's perspective, and have arranged them by neighborhood. Here is the full list with the Jan-Feb 2012 update:
The Eagle, 554 W. 28th Street at 11th Ave. New York’s premier Three-Floor Leather/Levi bar, though on crowded weekends most men are more likely to be seen in shirtless and in jeans than in leather. It is a very cruisy, woofy crowd in an overall “bad-ass” atmosphere (we've seen at least one military man in uniform.) The Eagle atmosphere is “Uber-masculine” but friendly at the same time. If you scare easily or are a leather-bar virgin, take a friend. Beefy bartenders who know how to pour a drink. Casual first floor; 2nd floor is always crowded, sometimes with a hot dancer; Third floor Roof Deck often packed, with some annoying cigarette smells. A constant favorite, this is a very *late* crowd (it normally doesn’t open until 10 pm); Good drink prices and strong mixed drinks. A MUST for Bears, Leatherman, and visitors. We've returned several times in the last six months, all different days and events, and every time it was top-notch for sheer Eye-Candy, decent drinks, and capable bartenders. 5 WOOFS
The Gym Sportsbar, 167 8th Ave., at W. 18th Street. This purported sports bar has definite potential…but it doesn’t seem sure of what it exactly wants to be. There were many male couples, and many hot men, but the lights were WAAAAAY too bright. Nice overall, but dim the lights, guys! 3 WOOFS
Boxers NYC, 37 West 20th Street at 6th Avenue. Billed as New York City’s newest “Gay Sports Bar,” it aims to break stereotypes, and should be a natural for Bears. One wall is covered with HUGE flat screen TVs, all with different games on. Unfortunately, in spite of the large crowd, no one was watching them. Any men who could be described as bears were standing, each one very much alone, exiled to a rear corner. The front of the bar was occupied by young, straight women (at least 30% of the crowd) with their harems of male suitors surrounding them, blocking aisles and taking up thrones at the bar like any other after-hours, after-work pick-up bar. Nothing identified Boxers as ‘gay,’ or even gay-friendly. The bartenders were annoyingly young, in red boxer shorts with no shirts – and no visible sign of having reached puberty. They were entirely uninterested in conversation or being friendly. Boxers was our most disappointing visit. A True Gay Bar, it is not. We felt like we were pulled in by the Boxers PR machine and the Hype of being a “Trendy” gay bar. We advise gay men – even masculine gay men into sports - to avoid this trap, unless you really want to watch the game. If that is the case, we have a very nice recliner in our living room and the drinks are better and much cheaper. ZERO WOOFS.
The Boiler Room, 86 E. 4th Street at 2nd Ave. The Boiler Room is a ‘big enough,’ nice neighborhood bar, with a good mix of guys from young twinks to daddies, all relaxing together. Take your pick of men: Bears, fashionistas in wool scarves, working-class stiffs arriving after work, a dreadlocked rasta-looking guy, professionals, college-aged, black, white - you name it. Each time there the bartender has been friendly and attentive, and the crowed friendly and warm as well. A nice place to simply spend the evening…or the place to start and/or end the evening. This place is solid as a rock and an east village fixture. 4 WOOFS
The Eastern Bloc, 505 East 6th Street, just east of Avenue A. Remember (or write down) the address, or you may not find it - and you definitely want to find it! This is a small neighborhood bar, with no flashy sign on the front. In fact, the exterior is dark wood and the name is stenciled in letters only three inches high in an alcove above the door. Once inside, you are in a unique place with its own quirky decor. The low red lights and the black walls and furnishings keep it appropriately dark; Retro pictures evoke eastern european communism, small TV screens showed vintage and sepia images, and a stuffed zebra head hangs on the back of the bar. The bartender, Rob, was on during "Happy Hour," which lasted until 10 pm and feautured $4 drafts. Everyone, from the bartender to the patrons, was friendly and conversational, and we were made to feel like 'regulars' from the moment we arrived. The early crowd was Daddy-like without being trollish - perfect for us. We revisited later in the same evening, and the next shift's bartenders were just as friendly and efficient, the crowd a tad more diverse, and the pole dancer hot. A definite 'regular stop' for us. 4 WOOFS
The Cock, 29 2nd Avenue at E. 2nd St. A Total Dive. The Cock is one large square room, very, very dark, with a crowd of people walking (or being pushed upstream like salmon) in circles hoping for a grope. The $15 weekend cover charge was not worth it…though drinks were cheap. Dancers on the bar willing to be a bit naughty. It is something that should be experienced as part of the NY Club scene…but only once. 2 WOOFS
Phoenix, 447 E. 13th Street, between 1st Avenue and Avenue A. This was probably the hardest bar to "get a handle on;" much was simply not 'adding up.' Upon arrival, we noted a beautiful long (and well-stocked) bar, wooden floors, and vintage wooden cabinets behind the bar. The music was great, and the lights at a nice medium-low level; the crowd was decidedly young. It seemed odd to us that there were 5 bar staff (four dressed in unmistakably twinky attire), and not one of them appeared to be able to give the time of day to customers; they huddled together and engaged in intense discussions with each other about who-knows-what. I had barely finished my drink when one of the barstaff came zooming at me from across the floor to grab my glass and run off with it. I held on to it, and watched him smile for the first time. We noted that there were no bar stools, and no place to sit except for a small clumsy room off to the side. At the end of the bar, a middle-aged lesbian stood watching the bar staff like a hawk and speaking with friends as they came over to her. The atmosphere was intense and cold, so I finally asked someone for some details. It turns out that the lesbian was the new owner as of the start of the year. She removed the bar stools to pack more people in on weekends, and apparently believed that her only 'role' was to intimidate the bartenders. Meanwhile, her friend made sure that give-away magazines were in perfect stacks, and we suddenly realized what was happening here: A new owner (or owners) more interested in packing people in and micromanaging staff than in making customers feel welcome. Sorry, but I'd rather sit on a stool in a crowded bar and joke with my bartender than be shoe-horned into someone else's vision of The Perfect Bar. This bar has much potential, but very poor senior management. They need to back off and relax, let the bartenders be bartenders, and let the bar be a bar. ZERO WOOFS.
After our initial rating ("We give it ZERO WOOFS for Bears like us, but highly recommend it as an East Village stop for the younger crowd. And the bartenders *were* adorable :-)"), we received an email from "Damien C.," who wrote,
"I've been throwing a weekly Bear Party at Nowhere every Tuesday called "Buddies" for four years. It's really popular. Most nights there are plenty of Bear-types there, too, even Fridays. Were you there on the 17th by chance? [As a matter of fact, we were!] I was spinning at The Eagle and just about everyone who might have gone to Nowhere was with me."
Many Thanks to Damien for his response. Since we haven't witnessed his "Buddies" night, we feel we should hold off assigning any rating until we see what Tuesdays are like...but either way, we liked the place!
Boots & Saddles, 76 Christopher Street, nr. 7th Avenue. Once a small, boring ‘old man’s’ bar, Boots & Saddles is now ...something else…though we’re not sure exactly what. The small crowd combined older regulars with younger “twinks” and a surprising herd of young girls ogling over the stripper/dancers on the tiny dance space. One twink behind me thought of me as a prize and kept squeezing my tricep muscle. There was a cadre of very bored strippers. Would have been better if the lights were dimmer, the twinks would have quit their whiny bitching, and if the annoying inebriated fag hags would have found other quarters. ZERO WOOFS.
Rockbar, 185 Christopher Street at Washington Street. On our first visit, this became our new favorite bar, and we stopped in three nights in a row to make sure. This bar has had a rough time in the past, going through various permutations as 'The Dugout,' but it has appeared to overcome this spotty past with a vengeance. Home bar for a group of NYC Bears, each night it was full of masculine, beary men, and featured contests and special events each night. The shirtless bartender was 100% Grade A Beef, who took the time to talk to his clientele and get to know them. This was just a great group of guys and a lot of fun beyond belief. Then came our 6-month revisit: What a total disappointment! Sparse and self-absorbed crowd, and new pretty-boi bartenders who couldn't be bothered pouring drinks or giving patrons a second thought. There were three signs posted about a new coat check, and when we asked about it, the bartender literally blew us off because he couldn't be bothered. If this had been our first time, we would have given it a ZERO or ONE WOOF rating. We'll try again. On our initial visit, we gave it 5 WOOFS, but based on our last visit it would have been 1 WOOF. The Jury is still out...
Ty’s, 114 Christopher Street nr. Hudson Street. Ty’s is THE Classic neighborhood Men’s Greenwich Village bar. Open every day at 2 pm, it features a Thursday evening Bear Night, but in reality, Ty’s always has a Bear-crowd. We walked in the door fairly early in the evening and got woofed at by the patrons; the bartenders were equally friendly. Ty’s only real drawback is its relatively small size, but as men’s bars go, it’s a must. Home Base of New York City's "FireFLAG," a gay-supportive firemen's organization. The 6 month revisit was no disappointment: As always, a friendly bar full of woofy men. A consistent anchor in the West Village. 4 WOOFS
Stonewall Inn, 43 Christopher Street at Stonewall Park. Unfortunately, this historic site where the gay rights movement began over 40 years ago, is a mere shadow of its former self. Friendly men & women, but not a single person on the dance floor upstairs two nights in a row on the weekend, and fairly quiet downstairs. Groups of people came together, and tended to stay together. I wanted it to be better because of its history, but it wasn’t doing anything to excite me. It’s historic but needs to have something to make history new every day. A must for history…but that’s it. On the 6-month update we returned with a crowd of nine. It was still "under-populated," but drinks were decent and the bartender was fun and attentive. Definitely a better experience than the first time. 2 WOOFS
The Hangar, 115 Christopher Street nr. Hudson Street, convenient walking distance from Rockbar and the Stonewall, and right across the street from Ty’s. The Hangar has a significant African-American presence (probably a 50/50 black/white mix) where everyone is welcome. Very crowded, nice bartenders, and probably the most attentive and best male dancer we saw all weekend. Like many bars we visited, the lights were too bright. Lower the lights and this place would be great. 3 WOOFS