Life in Gay Bars

Category: Blog

by Ian Cassidy
For a whole lot of reasons, my first time probably doesn’t
count. To begin with, I didn’t even make it inside, only
getting as far as a table on the beach-side balcony. Next, it
was more a restaurant than a bar and what disqualifies it
most of all from being a real virginity-taking experience is the
fact that I was with my dad and my little sister.
On that early Friday afternoon, the beach at La Jolla was
pre-weekend packed, and it seemed everyone had finished
work early that day. My sister, Daisy, and I were playing in
the surf, struggling with a boogie board Dad bought us soon
after we landed at San Diego International.
Dad was close by on the hot sand, looking out for the
notorious rip tide, but probably more worried by the
unexpected responsibility of looking after us without the help
of a more reliable adult. He made the occasional foray into
the water, checked on us, and returned to his beach towel. He
was a very poor instructor, but he had an excuse. He is
English and the chances to learn to surf are few and far
between on that side of the pond. Uncle Fred was the surfer,
but he was at work. The university apparently couldn’t spare
him even though we could only manage to spend a week in
Mom’s old country.
Mom was out shopping with Aunt Mary, but they weren’t
shopping for anything frivolous and wildly expensive in the
high-end boutiques of San Diego or LA. Aunt Mary had taken
her sister bargain hunting at the Vons on the edge of town.
Always a “blue light special” obsessive, she planned a
weekend of trawling for cut-price tat. She had lived in
California for twenty years, but she spent less time browsing
the bling on Rodeo Drive than my Mom, who had lived in
England for almost the same amount of time
Back on the beach, Dad waded waist deep into the surf.
“I’m going to that restaurant to get us some Cokes,” he
bellowed as the waves splashed over him. “Don’t stay out here
too long or your drinks will get warm.”
He strode out of the water and headed up the beach,
damp Speedos clinging. He wore Speedos even when his beer
belly should have told him to send them to the thrift shop. He
always contrived to have just a little too much cock on
He strode across the bar’s porch with the seawater still
glistening through the hair on his chest and his still wet
Speedos hintingly transparent.
On into the bar itself he advanced only to discover a
packed room completely untroubled by females. His grand
swashbuckling entrance caused quite a stir; who was this
milky-coloured, hairy-chested exhibitionist?
He quickly realised he had picked the wrong venue for a
Coke with the kids, but his progress was too far advanced to
allow him to do an abrupt about-face. He was too polite and
too English to walk out so obviously. His confident stride
vanished away and slowly he made it to the bar where he
uncomfortably ordered a beer and two Cokes, whilst trying
hard not to catch anybody’s eye. Drinks in hand, he sidled out
to a table on the balcony where he sat on the edge of his seat,
looking out to sea.
His relief when Daisy and I arrived five minutes later,
covered in sand, complaining of sunburn, and braying for
Cokes, was palpable. He drew us to him in a quite
uncharacteristic public show of affection. The guys at the
next table smiled and one of them asked, “On holiday?”
“Yes, staying with the wife’s family, in Del Mar, up in the
“I know it, lovely spot.”
“You’re from across the pond.”
“That’s right, but my wife’s American, from way upstate,
“How’d she meet an Englishman?”
That was it, Dad was away. He had another beer, bought
a round for the guys, and soon he was holding court, flirting
outrageously with the lithe young men, who once they had
noted our presence and accepted on what side his bread was
buttered, were happy to laugh and joke with a brash,
generous Englishman.
My second time was a mistake also, but a happy mistake.
132 Our Happy Hours: LGBT Voices From the Gay Bars
Serendipity, you might even call it.
We were trawling Soho, celebrating the end of our exams,
three ingenues at sea in the capital, blinded by the bright
lights, suckered by the prospect of sin. Well, the other two
were. I oscillated between apprehension and downright
terror. I was dreading winding up at a strip show, but most of
all, I didn’t want my companions to know I was dreading it.
We had a drink or two in some of London’s less
salubrious establishments, and then with the drink making
its way south to their loins, my friends could resist the call of
the “Live Sex” signs no longer. We were too naïve to realise
that the “sex” on offer was nothing of the sort. These dingy
clip joints offered nothing. My friends picked one and
plunged through the door. I held back, but I couldn’t think of
an excuse, so slowly I followed, praying that something would
save me: maybe the doormen would turn us away, or the
police would pick now to raid the place.
I was in luck; my friends bumped into me as they made a
hasty exit. I didn’t have to thank a belligerent bouncer or the
Metropolitan Police for my salvation, just the good old
avarice of Soho’s club owners; the prices were simply too rich
for our blood.
“Let’s have a drink next door.”
We didn’t know we were entering one of Soho’s most
famous gay bars.
And what a night to do it!
The underground bar was staging the after-screening
party following the English premiere of Last Exit to
Brooklyn, quite a coup for a Soho pub. We stumbled upon the
aftermath; the complimentary booze was gone and only a few
curling sandwiches remained. A scattering of the cast still
mingled. Production assistants handed out sepia stills of
Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Alexis Arquette stood by the bar.
We hovered on the edge of the party, looking at stills and
the publicity packs. A production assistant in the shortest
skirt and the sheerest black tights started chatting to my
friends. I looked on. I only had eyes for her legs. I wasn’t
going straight; I wanted to look like she did.
I noticed what sort of bar it was; I relaxed and got tense
at the same time. I was excited, a bit drunk, a bit sweaty, and
a bit naïve.
I was shyly chatting to a nice publicity co-ordinator from
Fresno when one of my friends poked me in the back; “Drink
up, we’re leaving.”
“Why? What’s up?”
“It’s a fucking gay bar.”
“So what?”
“I want a piss and I’m not going here.”
“Oh grow up. Go and have a pee and we’ll move on.”
Grumbling, he left in the direction of the lavatories.
A minute later, the other one rushed up; “Hold hands
with me.”
“I’ve just told the big bloke at the bar that we’re an item
so he’d leave me alone.”
“Oh, please.” I apologised to the guy from Fresno and
held my friend’s sweaty hand as we walked up the stairs to
the street.
Two nights later I went back, alone. And so it began.