A notorious dive closes its doors; Chelsea gets a little more boring

Pioneering gay bar Rawhide bites the dust after more than three decades in business.


Rawhide Photograph: Jonathan Aprea

Since 1979, Chelsea "leather and Levi bar" Rawhide has sat at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 21st Street, as well as the corner of sexy and nasty—and I mean that in the best way possible. The venerable gay dive, which is set to close for good at the end of this month following a massive rent increase, has its problems: no locks on the bathroom doors, oppressive darkness at all hours of the day and that smell. But there are also charms: a non-MP3 jukebox full of disco hits, cheap drinks served by friendly bartenders and the hottest go-go dancers in town.

Having established itself in the post-Stonewall era, Rawhide never changed its ways as the neighborhood around it rapidly evolved starting in the mid '90s. At the height of the Chelsea gay scene—in which NYC's queer boys either packed on massive muscles or honed inferiority complexes—Rawhide became an oasis of unpretentious, cruisey fun located in the midst of the intimidating main drag. Today, the action has shifted north to Hell's Kitchen. Neighborhood favorites like Barracuda and Gym still pack in crowds, but there's no denying that the see-and-be-seen Chelsea moment is long gone.

Through it all, Rawhide remained stubbornly, wonderfully the same, and now induces pangs of nostalgia among guys who came of age in NYC from the rough-and-tumble '70s into the fashionable '90s. Rumors are swirling that Rawhide will be moving uptown—to the East Side, defiantly across town from the Ninth Avenue catwalk—perhaps once again pioneering a future gayborhood. In the meantime, we're going to miss this downtown institution—maybe even the smell.

Follow Ethan LaCroix on Twitter: @TimeOutNYGay