Friday, July 16, 2010

Perry Brass: Lost Gay New York: Sunday in Lost Gay New York

Perry Brass hangs out in Southhampton, 1976. Note: Mark Spitz mustache.

Sometime in the mid-60s and into the 1970s, Sunday became “the” gay day. I know, the idea sounds a bit crazy. Why would God’s day, once dedicated to church, family, bad food, and other mortifications of the flesh become queer as 3-legged goose? I think there are lots of solid reasons why. A few would be:

By the mid-60s and especially by the mid-70s, there was enough of an urban gay culture that a lot of men, myself among them, started to really resent the fact that they could not come out at work. In the 50s, your greatest hope was not only that you’d never be out at work, but that no one on American soil got a whiff of what you did in your bedroom. Or any other places. But in the next decade or so, it became apparent that work = closet was miserable. Pure shit. The weekends were for you (and many of my friends actually began their weekends on Thursday nights, knowing that they could coast through Friday if they had to) and Sunday was the last day you had to be your real self.

After that, it was indentured servitude inside the closet for most guys.

There was also the idea that Sunday was for you and your friends. It might turn romantic, especially at the bars that offered free buffets on Sundays (more about that later), but staying overnight Sunday with a new friend (or “trick,” not a word I’m crazy about if you read my book How to Survive Your Own Gay Life, but it works, too) was often not in anyone’s cards—which meant that Sunday’s trick could turn even more romantic because you might make another date with him, if you’d not had enough of him Sunday evening.

So Sunday in New York became this great gay-licious holiday, and there were so many ways to do it, depending on where you lived and at what point in the calendar you did it.

For instance, getting back to free Sunday buffets. This custom started, as far as I know, in the 1950s, and it might have come from old blue laws that kept restaurants from serving drinks on God’s day. By the time I came to New York in 1966, many bars had free Sunday buffets. These ranged from pure barf-food (bad deli macaroni salad, cheap cold cuts, and whatever else the help could scrounge) to amazingly impressive spreads. My favorite was a legendary bar on West 56th Street called the Candy Store.

Some of my older friends remember the Candy Store with pure nostalgia. It was in a whole townhouse, 4 floors of it, between Fifth and Sixth Avenue, on the north side of the street. On the same street were several other gay bars or clubs, and numerous “boites,” old-fashioned intimate night clubs, smoky, filled with adults listening to jazz or to older ladies like Hildegarde Neff in opera-length gloves singing songs with a German accent about pretty young men and “luff.”

So “luff” in all of its forms was in the air on West 56th Street.

The Candy Store had a strict ties-and-jackets dress code. You dressed up to go there. It had a sweeping, Tara-type grand staircase leading up to the second floor, which made the location one purely fantastic way to make an entrance or exit. If you worked at a fairly gay establishment (say a department store in the area; Bergdorf Goodman and Bonwit Teller’s were just around the corner) you might go to the Candy Store with your co-workers or even your boss. It was fag-hag heaven, very swell-egant, and lots of women loved being there with their boys. It was not particularly cruisy, because picking up anybody in a place where you supposed to check all your teeth and gonads at the door was difficult unless you were particularly sexually aggressive (OK, I admit I was: I picked guys up there, but . . . anyway—). Randy boys from downtown in the Village often joked about Candy Store queens and how they could never get their clothes (or their knees) dirty downtown.

But the Candy Store did have a fantastic, invitations-only Sunday evening affair. It was served on the third floor by uniformed waiters, and it included real silverware, real food, and real champagne. Not just Cold Duck, or some other swill.

I got invited to these Sunday sit-downs because one of my swellish young friends, who was a charmingly successful hustler on the side, worked as a waiter there. And at 20, it was a goof to go there, get tanked, and then take a bus ride downtown to the Village bars.

Which usually on Sunday nights were going full blast, since so many Village people did not have 9-to-5 jobs.

The other thing to do on Sundays was go to Central Park. During the last years of the 60s, and up to about 1972, Bethesda Fountain in Central Park became a weekly spectacle of outlandish street fashion and style, one that would make Fashion Week, lately lamented of Bryant Park, look anemic (OK, most things would make that over-hyped corporate jungle look anemic, but point taken).

It was like everyone would come out in their finest Rich Hippie-cum-Russian-Imperial-court-cum-Oz drag—men, women, kids, even pets—and simply parade around the fountain, while bongo drums sounded in the background, street photographers went crazy . . . and so much grass was smoked that it was a wonder that the angel at the center of the fountain did not levitate.

This parade or promenade went on from about late March until late June; then it was over. Too many of the rich hippies were indeed rich, and went off to the Hamptons or Fire Island, and the rest of us simply had other things to do, like go to the beach or get naked some place. It was also outrageously scrumptiously gay, but not in a banner-waving way. You were there, you were queer, and most people were over it.

They were even more over it a few blocks up north in the park, in the Rambles. Sometimes they were under it. The Rambles, a natural-appearing maze of paths, rocky grottoes, and sylvan nooks, had been laid out by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux in 1858, with a wonderful open meadow in the middle of it. By 1971 or so, it had become known as Fairy Meadow, and on Sundays hundreds of fairies of every description (male and female) were there, picnicking, sunning, or going off into the paths to do other things. There were some wonderful rock formations, some jutting 9 or 10 feet up, surrounded by privacy-producing herbage, that made for total nudity, with one spectacular rock providing a deep, lower secret shaded level, dubbed “The Passion Pit.” 

So you could sun above, and screw (or other such stuff ) beneath.

Sundays in the Rambles or at Bethesda Fountain (or both) were part of the ritual known as “hanging out.” Hanging out was on one hand completely unplanned (as in, you didn’t mark it in your Blackberry, because you had no such thing), but on the other was done with some premeditation: you knew where you were going to hang out and somewhat what was going to happen.

So there was the Village, especially Christopher Street and the “sex” piers on the Hudson to hang out in; or the Upper West Side, especially Columbus Avenue from 79th to 72nd Street; or Chelsea on 8th Avenue. Guys would meet on the street, hanging out on corners, finding friends, making new friends, melding cruising with socializing. Therefore, Sunday, after a brunch ritual that itself merged on the religious, became the day to hang out.

During the summers, hanging out became an alternative to the beaches, Fire Island, etc. It was cheap, in fact, free, and there was a tacit agreement that any kind of hanging out could be interrupted either for romantic interludes, or spontaneous partying when a pod of, say, 6 gay guys might decide, on the sheer spur of the moment to go to a bar, Chinese restaurant, or even a porn movie, without making any big deal of it.

Or, sometimes you might end up at someone’s apartment, order in Chinese, smoke a few joints, and then see what else happened.

You can learn more about 3-time IPPY Award winner and gay activist Perry Brass at his website, . You can order his new book The Manly Art of Seduction from Amazon in regular paper format or on Kindle. You can also learn more about his books at SmashWords , the complete Internet marketplace for all things EBooks and otherwise, and on his Author Page  at Amazon. The Manly Art of Seduction was recently named a gold-medal winner of an IPPY Award for 2010, from Independent Publisher. You can reach him at  if you have questions or comments you want to personally direct to him. 


  1. Good Grief, Perry! I haven't thought about "The Candy Store" for eons!

    Very Foofy, but much fun.

    My boyfriend Bill says a great name for a gay bar would be "Spur of The Moment."

  2. I so enjoy your posts! I used to drive in from Briarcliff Manor (my husband was at IBM) to see whatever we could see for free -- Central Park, the Village (we went to a few clubs and ate out at some cutesy outdoor eateries), museums, just driving around and looking. I have only put a few real faces in Manhattan during those years, but yours is surely one of them. Thanks so much for writing.

    Sally Miller

  3. All I can say is, man did I miss out, livin on the west coast during those years and thinkin that was all there was. I never even knew...
    Perry, this was a great read, like being in another world, unfortunately one I only read about now. Where's my sack cloth?

  4. Perry, I really enjoy these posts and am grateful to be on your distribution list. Sean Strub

  5. Fun read. Glad to see you use "Rambles" (plural), when the media always used the singular name. I took my mother from Minnesota there once for a taste of New York. Picnics and cruising were memorable. Oddly, no mention of The Trucks, though. That was a must stop on the Village Grand Tour for all out-of-towners. These days, most capitalist-branded "LGBTers" would probably recoil in horror at the rampant male homosex going on in quasi-public venues back then. In the 1980s, New York City officials decided to lock up Stuyvesant Park at night, to stop gay men from cruising there, as they had for decades. And NGTF supported the City, not the gay men, saying they should head for bars instead. Things have only gone downhill from there.

  6. David, why are you so glad to see Perry use the incorrect name "Rambles" for "The Ramble," the official name of that area of the park (not an invention of "the media") ever since Olmsted designed it? Is this just another way to give the finger to "them" (the media, the academics, the librarians)? "The Ramble" is a beautiful and appropriate name. Where is the virtue in corrupting it?