The Last Days of Rawhide

Seems a week hardly goes by without some piece of New York history closing down.  Chelsea has been especially hard hit with the younger gay crowd moving uptown to Hell’s Kitchen or west to the Meatpacking District. This weekend Rawhide, the last hold-out of the dark and sleazy cruising bars from the ’70s closed down.  With nostalgia running high, the lines have been out the door as the old crowd stopped by for a last drink.  A few stories:

Thank you Rawhide, for all the beers and the shots, the bartenders and the buy backs. Thank you for all the hangovers & the hung dancers, each & every one of them. Thank you for making every holiday an excuse to celebrate and over decorate. Thank you for the monthly calendar guy eye candy, and the games of pool played below the cities dirtiest yet most iconic motorcycle. Thank you, John for asking me to show my id at the door 6,212 fucking times (yes, I counted) and for having just as many bowls of water set out to greet the neighborhood dogs (btw, who else drank that stuff?) Thank you Jay, for all the debates I never won and for banning me from the bar that one day. It was nice to taste sobriety. I doubt I’ll ever do it again.

Thank you for the best jukebox in Chelsea and the playlists pumping the rhythms of our history on by far the worlds worst sound system, which we grew to love. Thank you for the best staff anyone could ask for, most especially Michael, for 14 years of serving us with a smile and always making us laugh (though somehow never remembering what I drank (it’s BUD Michael, not Bud Light).

 Thank you for the boozy black outs and storms and for always being there for us no matter what, 365 days a year. Thanks for all the tricks we’ve met, the friends we’ve made, the relationships we’ve built and for all the good times & the bad, a place to drown our sorrows and celebrate our triumphs, but most especially for creating a place where we were always welcome to be ourselves, no matter who we were. And on a personal note, thank you for being the place where I had my first date with my husband where we listened to old disco, drank cheap drinks, and fell in love.

Thank you Rawhide for more than 3o years of serving our community with your spirits and your spirit and most importantly, a place we all called home. We wish you all the very best for whatever lies ahead. You’ll be missed, but never forgotten.


“Madonna and a Little Brown Bottle”. That was the subject of an email I received one morning. An email with a moment from the night before
captured on video. A moment at Rawhide. A moment I hope no one ever sees.

The night before I had been an extra in a scene for the movie “Shame”. Me and just about every fag with a beard I know. We had to stand around the Eagle holding fake drinks. I had a glass of amber liquid with a foaming agent in it. And let me tell you, nothing makes you thirstier than standing in a bar holding an undrinkable drink. Apparently a bunch of my co-stars felt equally as parched at the end of the filming, and I think it was Rich King who rallied the troops to Rawhide for some real alcoholic refreshment.

So there we were at Rawhide, a bunch of us from the movie, heady with stardom. Pretty much had the place to ourselves, like our own party on a
random weeknight. The bar tender was very glad to have us hang out so he set up some shots and pumped some dollars into the juke box. That’s how Madonna came into the story. And suddenly someone was holding a little brown bottle under my nose. And the next morning there was a video in my inbox of me dancing around that pool table with my hands in the air like a crazy idiot to “Holiday” at the Rawhide.


Gallery by Peter Lau.

I feel lucky I got to see some of what made Chelsea great before it all vanished: Chelsea Gym, The Big Cup, 18th & 8th, Man Ray, FoodBar, Chinita Linda. All gone. Chelsea was everything back then. All muscle and drag and twinks and tank-tops and bears in one long stretch of dirty street—the perfect oasis when we all still needed one.

I remember in particular a couple of older leather guys, both in their 60s, whom I used to see walking around in their leather gear, asses hanging out of red jockstraps regardless of the time of day or the weather. I saw them early one Sunday morning in the late ’90s, stumbling out of Rawhide in a cloud of cigarette smoke. ‘How can you say that to me,’ one of them asked. ‘I’m very vulnerable right now.’

Gentlemen, I know just how you feel.


Around 1990, when I was freelancing at Elle Decor, I was talking with a girl who was on staff at Elle about where she lived. When it came out that we both lived in Chelsea she immediately said, “what’s up with that gay bar on 8th Avenue that spews cigarette smoke out of it’s vent in the morning? Who’s in there at 8:30am???”

Of course, I realized that it was not the smartest political move on my part, but I said “me! It’s The Rawhide and it’s the only place you can buy cocaine at 8:00am on a weekday so I’m in there a lot!”

She instantly became my friend at the magazine and she’d always greet me by saying, “I almost stopped in to say hello to you this morning but I was running late”. It became our inside joke.


Gallery by Gustavo Monroy

First time I ever walked into Rawhide was during the blackout of 2003.  The streets were dark  and everyone was out and excited.  Rawhide was one of the only places open that night and I don’t know if they were giving away the beer or what, but the place was heaving. The heat coming out the door was like a pizza oven and men were just spilling out onto the street.  Cars would go by and light up all the naked hairy chests and big smiles.  It was mostly guys from the neighborhood, guys I recognized, and that night everybody was your friend. 


Feel free to share your memories of Rawhide by posting below.

Leave a Reply