Is The Internet Killing Gay Bars?

Some say online dating and apps like Grindr are making the bar scene unnecessary for a generation of gay daters. Is the gay bar dying?

June Thomas poses this question in Slate:

Now, at least in urban centers, gay men and lesbians feel safe in scads of straight restaurants and bars. But when new options open up, what happens to the old segregated institutions? In 2007, Entrepreneur magazine put gay bars on its list of businesses facing extinction, along with record stores and pay phones. And it's not just that gays are hanging out in straight bars; some are eschewing bars altogether and finding partners online or via location-based smartphone apps like Grindr, Qrushr, and Scruff. Between 2005 and 2011, the number of gay and lesbian bars and clubs in gay-travel-guide publisher Damron's database decreased by 12.5 percent, from 1,605 to 1,405. Could the double whammy of mainstreaming and technology mean that gay bars are doomed?

Nick Paumgarten gives online dating a more general treatment in this week's New Yorker, writing, "For many people in their twenties, accustomed to conducting much of their social life online, it is no less natural a way to hook up than the church social or the night-club-bathroom line." Church socials haven't traditionally been gay dating venues, but bars have, and several men I talked to say this is indeed changing. A friend I'll call C told me, "I think that the mystique of the gay bar as the only place where you'd find other like-minded homosexuals is deteriorating. So now when you do go to a bar, you go with your friends." He added, "I think that gay bars now are either for the young/newly out, or [those] resistant to technology," and that his favorite is not a hookup spot, but a piano joint that's "pretty much the antithesis of the divey, cruisey bar." "That's where I think bars are going," C concluded — "either the Cheers model of a neighborhood hang-out, or the clearinghouse for the young and twinky and freshly out."

Gawker writer Brian Moylan (who was recently featured in Time Out New York's "Date these singles" section) agrees that bars may be on the way out where hooking up is concerned, but could still be the place to meet the man of one's dreams:

I think gay bars are kind of like magazines. While the internet has changed their effectiveness and their viability, I don't think they're going to ever go away completely. I think the thing that Manhunt and Grindr and other sites has done is change the way gays hook up, not the way they date. We now go to bars to hang out with our friends and meet guys to date and possibly hook up with. Meeting a guy in person is somehow seen as more viable for a future relationship than meeting a guy through the computer or phone — though plenty of relationships have started there too. But it's so much classier to say "I met him at the Boiler Room" than "I found him on Grindr."

He adds that Grindr is "like the virtual bath house rather than the virtual gay bar" — a way "to get laid, preferably quickly and easily." Online and phone services may well facilitate sex of the quick and casual variety. C told me about an acquaintance of his who "doesn't even really talk to" men he hooks up with via Grindr — "he just chats with them a bit online, they agree to meet, they fool around and then work out a schedule for further fooling around, if that's agreeable." But as Moylan points out, there have always been non-bar venues for totally anonymous sex — bath houses, for instance, or Central Park's Ramble. And anybody looking for a long-term relationship will likely want to conduct conversations with would-be partners, something a bar is still a pretty decent venue for.

Though heterosexual online dating still raises plenty of concerns (one creep told Paumgarten he thinks of it like "target practice"), few worry that it will make bars obsolete — after all, daters still need a place to meet up, and in many cases, a few beers to calm their nerves. But as much as they may be beloved, few straight bars have been centers of social, cultural, political, and sexual life the way some gay bars once were. It seems clear that they're now moving away from the center, at least where sex is concerned — but that doesn't mean they're going to disappear.

The Gay Bar [Slate]
Looking For Someone [New Yorker]