Commentary: Everyone knows the government was closed last month but not too many people realize something a little closer to home closed as well. There was no big announcement, no warning. Just a big “for lease” sign hanging on the side of the building suddenly appeared one day. One of Montrose’s dance clubs had unexpectedly shuttered. Mary’s Alibi put away her heals and no one even noticed.
Gay bars all across Houston and the nation are closing at an unprecedented pace. The modern gay rights movement started in a bar, one of the few refuges for queers in an earlier time. But are the very things the rioters were fighting for when they rebelled at the Stonewall Inn that summer’s night in 1969 the thing that is killing off gar bars — the desire to be free from harassment and to be accepted for who we? Are gay bars the victims of the success of the gay rights movement?
Many people blame hook up apps for killing off gay bars. Why cruise watering holes when one can find a trick on Grindr and not have to leave the comforts of your own couch, and right hand? With an app there are none of the formalities of offering to buy someone a drink and engaging in small talk. It’s as simple as asking, “Are you a top or bottom?”
Maybe gay bars are being swept down the drain because of our own assimilation into mainstream culture. Queers no longer feel compelled to cluster in gayborhoods and gay bar districts. LGBTQ individuals can hang out in suburbs like Katy or Rosenberg and feel accepted. Instead of having happy hour with other gays, we can do it with co-workers and straight friends. There is less need for queer specific spaces.
“LGBTQ people are moving out of the gayborhoods (and thus away from gay bars) and into the larger suburbs; in their place come straight residents and mainstream non-LGBTQ businesses. In his book There Goes the Gayborhood? sociologist Amin Ghaziani says the number of gay men living in gay enclaves across America declined 8.1 percent from 2004 to 2014,” wrote a report in Hornet.com.
Gay bars no longer need cluster in the gayborhoods. The Room Bar in Spring and the new Latin club La Granja on Pinemont are just two examples.
In 2015 same-sex marriage was made legal and that ruling has undoubtedly had an impact on business at gay bars too, as statistics show an increasing number of LGBTQ people getting married and raising kids. With more and more gay couples settling down and raising families the bars have become less important. Having children is certain to cut down on nightlife and being a soccer dad will certainly cut down on your Sunday Fundays.
Bars are expensive to operate. There are permits, liquor taxes, property taxes and entertainment fees. Drag queens don’t perform for free and have you priced a gallon of mascara lately! In order to stay viable and fresh, most gay bars are compelled to offer theme nights or discounted drink specials, cutting into needed revenue and profits.
It doesn’t help pay the bills when some patrons, mostly younger ones, get their buzz on by drinking in the car before entering an establishment. (By the way, stop throwing your empty beer cans and liquor bottles on the streets of our Montrose neighborhoods.)
In short, Mary’s Alibi could use any of these alibis as the reason for its sudden exit from the gay nightlife landscape. Or it could just be a simple case of it was not a fun bar. It was basically Bayou City with a face-lift, and a bad one at that. The bar fundamentally did nothing to distinguish itself from its former unsuccessful incarnation.
Many friends who frequented the bar complained of a boring atmosphere, over-priced watered down drinks and rude staff. With so many other choices, any one of those complaints could be the death knell of a bar. Mary’s Alibi never gained traction as a Montrose destination.
Gone are the days when a business could open its doors, run a rainbow flag up a pole and expect queers to swarm the place like guys to $1 locker night at Club Houston. Gay consumers of 2019 will not patronize a bar just because it’s a gay bar. Today’s gay community is looking for a place to make them feel welcome, treat them like royalty, offer a good value and provide a reason to leave their homes. Mary’s Alibi did none of those.
There will always be room for gay bars in our community. Just take a look at Tony’s, JR’s or George. They are usually packed on weekends with gays and lesbians wanting to be with people like themselves. All three have been in business for many years by offering those things that Mary’s Alibi could or did not provide.