There’s been so much talk since Orlando about the role that gay bars play and have played as a safe and welcoming space for LGBT folks over the years. In that vein, I thought a light hearted remembrance might be in order.
Anybody who grew up in Texas knows that emancipation does not occur at 18 or even 21—emancipation is when you get your driver’s license. And it didn’t take very long for me, along with a couple of my more precocious friends, to find there were honest-to-God homosexuals in Tyler, Texas, socializing sub rosa (literally, “under the rose”) and heading up to Dallas regularly to hit the gay clubs. So, it didn’t take long for Ricky, George, and me to pile into Ricky’s car with a box full or eight-track tapes and head to the most promising venue we had heard about—the Bayou Landing.
Thinking we were all the cutest things in shoe leather, we headed to Dallas with no more than the name of the bar and the street (Pearl) on which it was located. Of course we found it, since real Gaydar includes the ability to locate the hottest club in town without benefit of directions or maps. It was a Saturday night, and we got to Dallas with plenty of time to find the bar and have something to eat before we made our big debut. Wanting to be sure to arrive in time to get a good table (yeah, we thought we needed a table), we decided to return to the Landing at 9:30. (Yeah, 9:30.) Well, we not only got a good table…we got any table we wanted because nobody else was there.
So we waited (and waited) for the gay men of Dallas to arrive. And, eventually, they did start trickling in to the club. After an eternity, the place started to hop, and the music was good. And we waited again for the gay men of Dallas. Waiting this time for them to come over and ask us to dance. Because we were the cutest things in shoe leather, right? And we had a table. At some point during this humiliation, I realized that our candle (in one of those ugly old red glass things with the plastic net on it) was not lit. The candles on all the other tables were lit…on the tables were people were actually having fun. We knew enough about handkerchief colors and left pocket versus right pocket to know that gay folks sent coded, non-verbal messages to each other. Feeling like Alan Turing, I told George to light the damned candle…”It must mean something.” After another eternity, I realized that it didn’t and declared that I had seen enough and was ready to go home. Piling back into the turnip truck that we had just fallen off of, we went back to Tyler, each of us vowing that gay bars were a bust and we’d never go back.
When we came back to Dallas the very next Saturday (because the power of humiliation pales in comparison to the power of teenage boy hormones), we were armed with the name of another club (the Old Plantation) and street name. (I can’t remember the street, but it was off Oak Lawn…this was a few years before the OP moved to the Harwood location that some of you will remember.) Determined to face no further humiliation, we launched a challenge to see who could dance with the most men in the course of the evening. Let me tell you—that kind of contest will put a gay boy on his mettle.
We never determined who won the challenge, primarily because we couldn’t decide how to count guys that you only danced with in a line dance. (That could really inflate your numbers.) But, no matter. We had learned what we really needed to know—how to dance in a gay bar as much as you wanted for as long as you wanted.
And, more importantly, how to spend the whole night in a gay bar and never pay for the second drink…not when you’re the cutest thing in shoe leather, right?