In 2007, Entrepreneur Magazine ran an article entitled 10 Businesses Facing Extinction in 10 Years. Along with the obvious picks which included Camera Film Manufacturing, Newspapers, and Pay Phones, a not so obvious selection stood out for me. Gay Bars.
Citing an Orlando Sentinel article which brought to light the fact that an alarming number of gay venues had been shutting their doors, one owner stated that “A gay nightclub is obsolete…It’s something that has served its purpose”. I can only assume that he is referring to the fact that gays bars once (and still are) a safe haven from bigotry, violence and a safe social gathering place for gays. There has been a shifting social acceptance in North America towards gays and lesbians, and some may argue that because of this, the social scene has opened it’s barriers. Gays go to straight clubs, straights can party at gay clubs, essentially blurring the lines and re-writing the label of who exactly the club caters to.
Another culprit cited is the emergence of online dating and social media. Some may argue that gays can meet online, which eliminates the need for a social gathering place.
I don’t buy either argument. I do agree that it is easier, as a gay person, to go to a straight club and it is more accepting for a straight person to come to a gay club than it used to be. That said, on a Friday or Saturday night when the vodka a-flowing during the pre-drinking hours, the default consensus is to hit up gayest of gay clubs. There’s no potential awkwardness when you accidentally hit on the hotter straight brother of the gay boy. There’s no odd sequels from the 19 year old straight girls proclaiming “I loooooove gay guys…Oh my gawd..”. I am not a zoo animal.
I really don’t buy the online dating argument either. Although the online dating thing can be fun to explore, it’s more a background distraction and side entertainment than an actual social outlet. Bars have always been an unofficial speed dating experience. Make eyes. Converse. Accesses Chemistry. Repeat. Nothing can beat that level of efficiency, not even you E-Harmony.
I see this as a pure business issue. In business, if you don’t evolve, adapt, change you will be crushed by someone who does. Slapping a label on a club as “gay” no longer ensures the long terms success of any venue. Resting on that label works only as long as it keeps the interest of the clientèle, no matter the sexual orientation of the customer. If one club closes, there should be a ready market for a hungry entrepreneur. It’s no different than any other business.
Yes, a lot of gay clubs with history have been shutting their doors, but without the freshness and creativity to cater to a market with an attention span of a bumble bee, that is exactly what the club will be. History.