Still here and still queer: The gay restaurant endures

Written by Erik Piepenburg

Scott Frankel’s favourite reminiscences of New York gay eating places aren’t about meals.

Common Grill cranked “Dancing Queen” on birthdays. There was that extremely scorching Italian waiter at Meals Bar. Florent was across the nook from a infamous intercourse membership within the meatpacking district. Manatus was so gay, it had a sobriquet: Mana-tush.

Gay eating places, mentioned Frankel, Tony-nominated composer of the musical “Gray Gardens,” “made you are feeling such as you belonged.”

However all these locations he so fondly remembers are lengthy closed, as are Harvest, Orbit’s and a number of others listed in an article, headlined “Eating places That Roll Out the Welcome Mat for Gay Diners,” that ran on this newspaper 27 years in the past. It now reads like an obituary.

new york gay restaurants, gay pride month, June pride month, gay hangout spots, restaurants and LGBTQI rights, transgender rights, food and gay rights,, New york times Steve Herman, 79, who has been an everyday at Annie’s Paramount Steak Home because the late Seventies, in Washington, D.C (Rosem Morton/The New York Occasions)

Eating places fold on a regular basis, maybe nowhere extra so than in New York, and maybe by no means as a lot as through the COVID-19 period. The pandemic hit the nation’s city gay eating places particularly arduous, mentioned Justin Nelson, president of the Nationwide LGBT Chamber of Commerce. MeMe’s Diner, a preferred queer restaurant in Brooklyn, completely closed in November, citing shutdown measures and an absence of presidency assist.

Gay eating places, like gay bars, are additionally going through crises of identification and function in a time that’s in some ways extra welcoming than the previous, when gay individuals sought out gay eating places as a result of they supplied security and acceptance that couldn’t be discovered elsewhere.

Lesbians went to Bloodroot, a still-busy vegetarian restaurant in Bridgeport, Connecticut, that sprang from the lesbian feminist motion of the Seventies. Gay males frequented locations like Orphan Andy’s, a campy diner from the identical decade that’s still in enterprise within the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco. Atlanta had Waterworks, which a 1992 e-newsletter for the group Black and White Males Collectively known as the town’s “solely Black-owned gay restaurant.”

At present, many LGBTQ People be happy to be their full selves in virtually any setting. And shifting conceptions of sexuality and gender lengthen past what phrases like gay, lesbian, male or feminine can accommodate. A gay restaurant can simply sound fuddy-duddy.

“Lots of the extra privileged younger queer individuals have grown up with inclusion, so that they don’t really feel the must be in a spot the place you’re sheltered from heterosexism,” mentioned Julie Podmore, an city geographer at Concordia College in Montreal.

Which may be the case in New York Metropolis, the place gay eating places are going the way in which of dinosaurs (if not but extinct — Elmo and different spots are still retaining their gay fan base fed).

However elsewhere within the nation, many gay eating places are thriving — as treasured native companies, de facto group facilities, refuges from persevering with anti-queer violence and potential paths ahead for a restaurant business in restoration.

new york gay restaurants, gay pride month, June pride month, gay hangout spots, restaurants and LGBTQI rights, transgender rights, food and gay rights,, New york times Cheese curds at Napalese Lounge and Grille in Inexperienced Bay, (Sara Stathas/The New York Occasions)

On a current Saturday night time within the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, Annie’s Paramount Steak Home was busy, and it was gay. Two dads and their two youngsters ate at a desk in an outdoor space festooned with rainbows. Three 20-something gay males shared fries. An older couple smiled as they watched a clip from the film musical “White Christmas” on a cellphone.

Overseeing the hubbub was Georgia Katinas, the overall supervisor, who’s 33 and straight. Her grandfather, George Katinas, the son of Greek immigrants, opened Annie’s in 1948 at a unique location because the Paramount Steak Home. Katinas says no one in her household is gay, but Annie’s absolutely is. That seed was planted by her great-aunt Annie Kaylor.

Annie was past supportive of the gay group and grew to become, for lots of the restaurant’s racially various diners, a mom determine earlier than her dying in 2013. In 2019, when Annie’s obtained an America’s Classics award from the James Beard Basis, restaurant critic David Hagedorn wrote of how, in its early days, Annie “went as much as two males holding fingers below the desk and advised them they have been welcome to carry fingers above it.”

Now that indoor eating has resumed, Katinas mentioned, “individuals are coming again with tears of their eyes” as a result of they “missed being in an area the place they’re not the one gay individuals.”

Derrin Andrade and Zack Sands weren’t in search of a gay restaurant after they moved to Dupont Circle 4 years in the past. Now the biracial married couple are regulars at what Sands, 30, known as “a house greater than a restaurant.”

“You’ll be able to sense the loyalty at Annie’s, and it makes you need to concede to that,” he mentioned. “You need to be a part of it while you see individuals are coming again for a purpose.”

For Steve Herman, 79, who has eaten at Annie’s since 1976, that purpose is the truth that Dupont Circle isn’t as gay because it as soon as was.

“I believe it’s an important factor that gay individuals are extra mainstream and snug going different locations,” he mentioned. “However I miss having one neighborhood and one restaurant that was mine.”

Historian George Chauncey traces gay consuming locations in New York Metropolis again to a budget city eating halls that catered to single staff within the late nineteenth century. Within the Twenties and ’30s, police usually raided cafeterias like Horn & Hardart, the place gay males gathered to “ridicule the dominant tradition that ridiculed them, and assemble an alternate tradition,” as Chauncey writes in his guide “Gay New York.”

In 1959, 10 years earlier than the Stonewall riots, what historians think about the primary queer rebellion in fashionable America broke out at Cooper Donuts in Los Angeles, the place LGBTQ individuals pushed again in opposition to a police roundup through the use of espresso and doughnuts as projectiles.

Within the Eighties, Florent was a refuge for gay New Yorkers through the worst years of AIDS. The proprietor, Florent Morellet, recalled in a current interview that after studying he was HIV-positive in 1987, he posted his T-cell counts on repurposed menu boards that confronted the eating room — a coded message of solidarity to his clients.

“I’ve met many instances individuals who mentioned, ‘Florent, you don’t know me, however at the moment I used to be constructive and within the closet and didn’t inform anyone,’” mentioned Morellet, 67. “They mentioned, ‘Once I got here to your restaurant the place you set your T-cell numbers on the board, I felt the whole lot was OK.’” He tried to say extra however choked up.

In Inexperienced Bay, Wisconsin, Napalese Lounge and Grille seems as gay as a cheese curd. When straight {couples} deliver kids to the unpretentious brick constructing for rooster tenders on weekends, the place feels extra like an Applebee’s than the Mineshaft.

Now virtually 40, Naps, as regulars name it, is the oldest gay bar and restaurant in Inexperienced Bay, in accordance with Arnold Pendergast, 61, who has owned it along with his husband, Stacy Desotel, 56, since 2012. It’s the place LGBTQ locals collect for charity drag exhibits and to look at Packers video games over baskets of fats and crispy beer-battered cod as a result of it’s one of many few gay choices on the town. (You don’t hear “queer” a lot in Inexperienced Bay.)

Pendergast, who goes by Butch, calls his place “a consolation.”

“The costs are affordable, and you’ll be able to seize a burger or play Donkey Kong or cribbage,” he mentioned.

Martha, who requested that her surname not seem on this article as a result of she’s not completely out as transgender, used to drive to Chicago “to keep away from violence by individuals who lack any understanding of what it means to be transgender.”

She now hosts a month-to-month get-together at Naps for trans individuals from the area who she mentioned “desperately must be protected.” She is a part of a gaggle working to deliver a brand new outside mural to Naps this summer time that may herald it as an LGBTQ house.

Jeremiah Moss, creator of “Vanishing New York,” mentioned eating places like Naps counter the notion that queer individuals “don’t want areas anymore as a result of now we have the web.”

“If the pandemic taught us something, it’s that connecting digitally shouldn’t be sufficient,” notably for working-class gay individuals, he mentioned, like these at Naps. “We must be in areas with one another as a result of in any other case we don’t fairly exist.”

If there’s a restaurant that factors a means ahead for queer eating, it’s Laziz Kitchen, in Salt Lake Metropolis. Moudi Sbeity based the Mediterranean restaurant in 2017 with Derek Kitchen, then his husband, who was elected to the Utah State Senate a yr later.

Sbeity, 33, prefers to name Laziz a queer, not gay, restaurant to sign “that we’re inclusive in love.” The Pleasure flag flying outdoors is the redesigned model with stripes added for the trans group and individuals of colour. The loos are all-gender. A poster on the entrance welcomes refugees.

new york gay restaurants, gay pride month, June pride month, gay hangout spots, restaurants and LGBTQI rights, transgender rights, food and gay rights,, New york times Georgia Katinas, the overall supervisor of Annie’s Paramount Steak Home, which has been welcoming gay diners for many years. (Rosem Morton/The New York Occasions)

Not even red-state politics comes between a buyer and Laziz’s grilled halloumi. “We’ve had loads of individuals who assist Trump and have worn Trump hats, and we don’t skip a beat in welcoming them in and providing them meals and kindness,” mentioned Sbeity, who grew up in Lebanon and moved to america in 2006.

Nan Seymour, an everyday, swears by the hummus, beet and muhammara trio. She dines there usually, generally together with her trans daughter, and feels she ought to assist the restaurant’s mission.

“The default in our present tradition is cisnormative, heteronormative white supremacy, and it’s not protected for individuals who aren’t in these majority privileged teams,” mentioned Seymour, her voice breaking. “It’s important for us to know that we will be at a restaurant and not fear about the way it will go for my daughter when she goes to the lavatory.”

Jen Jack Gieseking, an city cultural geographer on the College of Kentucky, Lexington, mentioned that like Laziz, future queer eating places can be intersectional, particularly about gender. Servers received’t assume pronouns. Males received’t essentially be given the examine.

“We’ll see extra consideration for the best way to create an anti-racism house,” mentioned Gieseking, creator of “A Queer New York.” “Folks will think about who’s delivering your meals and who made your meals.”

“Not all of those eating places can be nice,” he added. “However they are going to be tasks that make change, and that’s thrilling.”

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