Ryan Shea's picture

Opinion: The Gay Scene in NYC’s Chelsea is Dead and Gone

News broke out on Thursday that The Rocking Horse Café, a gay institution in the heart of Chelsea, has closed its doors after 30 years of business. This was an “out of the blue” kind of ordeal, in that many of my friends just ate there a couple of days ago and now all that’s left is a sad sign on the door thanking its customers for the many years of service and great memories.

It’s one of many several hotspots in Chelsea that have closed down over the past decade, leaving this writer to wonder if the area that we helped make fabulous and incredible is now going the way of the dodo bird… meaning extinct.

The landscape of gay NYC has radically changed for plenty of years now, dating back to a time when I wasn’t even legal to buy a cigarette. Gone are the days where we have tons of bars to head to, venues to party at and coffee shops and restaurants to eat in and enjoy each other’s company. Chelsea is a prime example of that, where 8th avenue has now become riddled with stroller moms, annoying college students and an influx of heterosexuality which overall has made this area super unappealing.

What or who is to blame for this? The digital atmosphere that we live in is definitely something to be held accountable for, especially when it comes to the cruising atmosphere that was so prevalent from the 70’s to the mid to late 2000’s. Thousands of us now have apps that we can use to peruse our next great f**k session as opposed to getting dressed up and finding a guy (or two or three) for the night. This also goes with meeting other men for dates or friendships, which used to be the go-to thing at the several gay bars that was all over this enchanting area of NYC.

Now… we have two left. TWO. Gym Sportsbar and Rebar, the latter of which isn’t even on 8th avenue (it’s between 8th and 7th). A lot of the popular gay bars that used to inhabit this area (Rawhide and Splash for example) are gone, and trendy restaurants and real estate have taken its place. It’s so absurdly frustrating that we as a community have come so far in terms of visibility and acceptance yet are finding our meccas and places we call a second home close in lieu of a monster that we have a hard time fighting.

What I fear so much is that what will happen if the only gay bars that are left in Chelsea will close. Does this mean gay life in this area will be gone for good? We have World Pride coming up in June, and it’s sort of embarrassing that we don’t have much to show in an area that used to be incredible. A lot of the popular gay bars in New York City are now in Hell’s Kitchen, with a couple others happening in the Upper East Side, Astoria and even Harlem.

Essentially, what gay men do is that we take a place that was once deemed terrible, come in, make it nice, and then have other people take over and turn it into something that is far from what it used to be. Look at Times Square for instance, a place that was once gritty but so real and what made NYC special has become a tourist trap where people shop at Sephora and eat at The Olive Garden. REALLY GIRL? You can do that at home.

This may come off as a rant, but New York City helped me and many other gay men find ourselves as our upbringings weren’t exactly rosy. Chelsea is a very special part of this city for many of us, and to see it change to what it is now is beyond frustrating. No, I don’t want your well-priced sushi rolls or your $4,000 a month 1-bedroom places to crash at. I want a fantastic gay experience with my amazing friends at places that will give me memories for years to come. And that… is priceless.

This post was created by one of our Contributing Writers and does not reflect the opinion of Instinct Magazine or the other Contributing Writers when it comes to this subject.

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In addition to Barracuda and Boxers, The Eagle is also in Chelsea.  The village has also stayed moderately vibrant:   Pieces, Julius, Stonewall, Marie's Crisis, The Monster, Ty's, The Hanger, Rockbar are all along a few block stretch of (mostly) Christopher Street.  15 years ago there were 6 gay bars in Hell's Kitchen, now there are nearly 20.  The Upper West and Upper East sides continue to open new bars.  Williamsburg has exploded with several bars, Astoria boasts a few, Park Slope has the venerable Excelsior and Ginger's.  With more acceptance, the LGBTQ population is spreading out throughout the boroughs and new neighborhoods.  Do I miss XES's outdoor happy hour?  Sure, and I also miss Boots and Saddle and even Hannah's Lava Lounge.  But we grow and we adapt and we make sure that we patronize the bars we love, don't bitch about the price of drinks (because rent is skyrocketing), and tip well...and that goes for the mostly free entertainment many bars offer too.

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Barracuda and Boxers too. 

Also, this is not a new concept. Chelsea is still as gay as it was 8 years when I moved here in terms of gay bars. 

Rocking horse was dope regardless. A REAL story is the vacancy issue... 8th avenue is so vacant!

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also Barracuda is still open on west 22nd

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It's unfortunate that Rocking Horse closed. Going to miss it. Splash closing was a real loss, though I hadn't visited it in a couple years before it closed. The View, Barracuda, XL, XES and all those great places have disappeared. I don't miss Rawhide at all. But the reality is, the only thing that stays the same in NYC is the constant change. As the gay community moved from the West Village, and up through Chelsea, a lot has been lost along the way. I'm looking forward to where will emerge as the next cool gay 'hood. I've had a lot of fun in Hell's Kitchen. But IMHO, Hells Kitchen doesn't have the kind of energy that other neighborhoods offered. 

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i live in chelsea too, and it's really not that big a deal that rocking horse closed... also, it closed "out of the blue" because it was ordered to close after they failed a health inspection due to, among other things, live mice being in the restaurant! (https://patch.com/new-york/new-york-city/nyc-restaurants-ordered-closed-last-week-9)

if you want to live near gay bars, just move 20 blocks uptown to hell's kitchen - it's literally the next neighborhood over, just 2 subway stops away.  You're right that there are more gay bars there than there ever were in chelsea - what's so wrong with that?

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It's not just gay places specifically, though. All of NYC has been turned into a bore by greedy out-of-towners who moved here. The guys I know who grew up in Brooklyn and Queens like me are pretty shocked at what a big nothing Manhattan has become.

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