Saturday, March 30, 2013

Last Night at the Rawhide

The Rawhide: soon to be turned into another high-rise, Starbucks, Duane Reade, bank,
Pinkberry, 16 Handles, cupcake store or all of the above.


Why am I sad about the closing of a bar I haven't been to in years?
Why am I sad about the closing of a bar where, the last time I went there, I was robbed?
Why am I sad about the closing of a bar whose customers I regularly warned to hold onto their wallets?
Maybe it's because it will probably be turned into another high-rise, Starbucks, Duane Reade, bank, Pinkberry, 16 Handles, cupcake store or all of the above.
Maybe it's because its closing symbolizes the latest step in the homogenization, gentrification and Cleveland-ization of New York City.
Maybe it's because it's the latest example of the cruel calculus of capitalism.
Are those the only two choices in the zero-sum game of our New Economy: crime-filled wastelands or Disney-fied shopping malls?
I walked into the Rawhide on its last day of business in late afternoon, laden with shopping bags from Dave's Army Navy store and Bed Bath & Beyond, for a last glimpse. Inside it was pitch black and crowded, but I could see that they had already started to dismantle the bar in preparation for its closing. The pool table was gone, as were the pinball machines and, of course, the iconic motorcycle which used to hang above the pool table had already been auctioned off.
I walked back out into the bright sunlight. It was too depressing, the years rushing past.
I walked back onto the newly heterosexualized sidewalks of Eighth Avenue, with its generic high-rises, its double-wide strollers and its kids on scooters and for a second I wondered, “Am I a part of the problem?”
So I walked over to Hudson River Park with my modern-day comforts of choice, a cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin, and wrote this story.

2 comments:

Rhonda said...

Yes the times they are a changing...
http://www.shesofunny.org/2013/03/when-we-left-off-last-week-during-my.html

Matthew Nelko said...

Why did Rawhide close? Because it was past its prime, and has become obsolete.

I also mourn the loss of the New York I sought when I moved here 18 years ago. But just about the only thing about New York that you can count on (aside from the subways being f'd up EVERY weekend) is that it will always change. It's constantly evolving.

Unfortunately -- depending on your perspective -- the evolution isn't always for the better. I miss the Chelsea of 20 years ago, when it was the gay Mecca. But then someone older than I will pine for the Chelsea of 30 years ago, when it was gritty, edgy, and "dangerous". And then someone else will pine for the Chelsea of 60 years ago, when it was 1950's chic.

The change in this city is inevitable; you can't stop it. No one can. It's been in a constant state of change since the 17th Century. The best you can do is hang onto your ideals with one hand, and embrace the change with the other.

The Rawhide is closing because it failed to keep up with change surrounding it. Businesses that serve the local foot traffic MUST cater to the neighborhood's changing clientele (no matter how distasteful it may be).

I learned this lesson just yesterday; while on my Easter visit home, I met the man who bought Hemingway's -- my favorite restaurant on the Pitt campus. It used to be upscale dining. But as an upscale restaurant, it was going bankrupt. Why? Because its primary clientele -- college students -- could not afford to frequent it. So the new owner changed its focus from an upscale restaurant to an upscale BAR, shifting its focus from 70% restaurant/30% bar to 70% bar/30% restaurant. He turned it into a goldmine.

Like it or not, the gay bar in Chelsea is dying. Perhaps we have ourselves to blame; gay men are simply not going to the bars as much, for myriad reasons (internet/smartphone hookups, older gay guys just getting tired of the scene, etc.). But the fact remains that affluent straight couples have replaced gay men as the primary clientele in Chelsea.

It is what it is.