The Queer Issue

Learning the Ropes

How Recon Killed Leather Bars

Learning the Ropes

James Yamasaki

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The Queer Issue

The internet killed leather bars.

Kinky gay guys who wanted to get laid used to have just one option. If you wanted to tie someone up or be tied up, if you wanted to spank someone or be spanked, if you wanted to piss on someone or be pissed on, you had to screw up the courage to walk into an actual leather bar. And it took some courage: Leather bars were dark and scary places, and most gay men steered clear of them.

Many gay men steered clear of guys who admitted to going to leather bars.

Pre–AIDS epidemic, there was a huge stigma attached to kinky sex. Normal and good gay men had normal and good gay sex—oral sex and anal sex—while only kinky freaks indulged in dangerous BDSM "practices and activities." Then along came the AIDS crisis, and everything was flipped upside down: Now anal intercourse was dangerous, and the standard-issue kinks were safe. Spanking didn't transmit HIV. Fucking did.

But one thing didn't change: A gay kinkster who wanted to get laid/bound/spanked still had to work up the nerve to walk into a leather bar. And since walking into a literal leather bar meant coming out as kinky—the stigma lingered—the figurative leather bar was set pretty high. Many kinky gay men described walking into a leather bar for the first time as their second coming out. And the gay kinkster who went to a leather bar for the first time was lucky if he met someone he found attractive. If the kinkster was super-lucky—we're talking win-the-lottery lucky—that attractive person's kinks aligned with his own.

Then along came online personals, and suddenly kinksters didn't need to walk into leather bars anymore—they didn't need to come out as kinky—in order to get laid. And they no longer had to waste time meeting people and establishing mutual attraction before figuring out if their kinks aligned. They could lurk on a site like—the most popular personals site for gay kinksters—create an ad listing their kinks, and respond only to ads from people they found attractive who were also hand-in-black-leather-glove kink matches.

Leather bars still limp along in most cities (Seattle has two), it's true, but they don't play the crucial role they once did. Online personal ads offered a more efficient method of sorting and matching kinksters—straight and gay kinksters alike—but this came at a cost. The efficiency and anonymity of the internet undermined the community and camaraderie of the leather bar. recommended

Dan Savage has a new book out, American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics. Follow him on Twitter @fakedansavage.


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I was lucky... I came out at the final peak of the leather bars in the mid 80's... The original LA Eagle, The LURE in NYC, the Loading Dock in SF... even Missie B's in my hometown of Kansas City. The current generation of leathermen will never know what they've missed. They've traded efficiency for community, frequency of sex for quality.

I'm usually so glum when I go out to the Cuff or the Seattle Eagle. Those bars are skeletal shadows of their former selves.
Posted by Blklthrbiker on June 28, 2013 at 10:36 AM · Report this
Another loss is the community wherein you could literally learn the ropes, and know someone was knowledgeable and accountable. There's lots of online info, but hands-on is just better for some things. Still miss GMSMA, and (@1) the Lure before the meatpacking district got trendy; glad Chicago still has Hellfire and there's the weekly New York Bondage Club.
Posted by Brashion on June 28, 2013 at 11:18 AM · Report this
Meh. Recon is hardly the best place to meet up with guys since they got rid of their videochat feature. Most people I know simply abandoned their accounts on there and moved to places like fetishmen where they could actually talk to someone face to face via webcam and not look at just a static ad. Leather bars have always seemed rather too tame when I have been to them. They need to be more invested in their kink community rather than being just another dance club, neighborhood bar. I think the real decline is because the leather bars are unable to completely construct a kinky atmosphere because too many non-kinksters fleeing the twink and straight girl infested clubs had to go to places where the reputation for kinky sex scared away the twinks and bachelorette parties. Thus, a leathr bar becomes merely a less judgmental neighborhood bar, without any real kink environment. What Seattle needs is a more hardcore leather bar, with a liberal policy to kinky display and performance, that won't become just another bland hangout.
Posted by jonny77780 on July 1, 2013 at 11:44 AM · Report this
One other thing that's changed: police enforcement of public indecency laws has shot way up in most cities. A lot of leather bars have been blackmailed (threatened with the loss of their liquor license) into policing their customers' behavior.

The first time I ever was introduced to flogging, or bondage, or watersports, or hot wax, or even fisting was in a public scene, often a demonstration scene, in a leather bar. Hell, my favorite bar in Nashville, of all places, had a sling set up in the back room.

There was a time that if the police dared to raid a leather bar (or a bathhouse) then the entire community would be up in arms about it, the city politicians would respond and the cops would be reined in. But now we have decided we want to be the nice married faggots next door with the two-and-a-half dogs. So we don't give a damn about the community any more.

There is still a leather scene in most cities, but it's largely gone underground. One nice thing about buying a house is putting in a dungeon in the basement. And people do throw parties there.

But it makes it a hell of a lot harder to newer guys to break into the scene. Back in the day, all you needed was the courage to open that door to that darkly lit bar.
Posted by Corydon on July 2, 2013 at 5:34 PM · Report this
Couldn't agree more. Recon is a very mixed proposition. I have made friends and discovered new kinks I didn't consider before. The biggest problem with Recon NKP, bear411 etc. is that people claim to be all pervy but when the hookup planing starts they flake out. Man up and put out or say this is all just fantasy cyber chat. I'm getting too old to put up with this.
Posted by Chiraunch on August 21, 2013 at 12:44 PM · Report this

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