The BEST of Back2Stonewall: Remembering NYC’s Mineshaft – 835 Washington St. NYC, NY (1976 – 1985)

At one time New York City’s Mineshaft was the most notorious “members only” gay S&M/B&D sex club in history and today it’s memory is treated as a dirty little  secret by the assimilated A-Gay crowd and is almost all but a forgotten.

The building that housed the Mineshaft was constructed in 1927 as an ordinary business office, and become the most incredible sex-palace in the ’70’s.

Opened in October 1976 years before the onset of AIDS the Mineshaft was a sexual playground that would make Caligula blush.

Membership was granted on the spot if one fit in – no designer clothes, no sneakers, no cologne.  Located on Washington Street at Little West 12th Street in the heart of the meatpacking district, it was open around the clock from Wednesday night through Monday morning, featuring a clothes check, dungeons, and other amenities. Strolling about naked or in a jockstrap  was encouraged.

Upon arrival the Miineshaft’s nondescript street-level door opened to a stairway which led up to the doorkeeper, sitting on a barstool.  If you could pass muster you were let in.

Thee Mineshaft had rules of entrance, denim and leather only, no shirts with little alligators, no sneakers, and absolutely no cologne. But once inside everything was fair game.  The Mineshaft existed for one reason and one reasons alone..  SEX.  Pure hedonistic no-limits sex.

Just inside the door was the big bar area with its low lights and pool tables. Behind a partition was the “action” part of the club on two floors. There was an entire wall of glory holes with people kneeling in front of crotch-high holes and servicing disembodied erections.

A whole rabbit warren of small rooms was downstairs, a re-creation of a jailcell, the back of a truck, dungeons and the most infamous room talked about in NYC at the time.  A room where there was a bathtub in which men so inclined would would take turns being pissed on.  But there were glimpses of romance at the Mineshaft: in the basement two stoned men are kissing passionately under black light.unaware of everyone around them, while feet away another man was blindfolded sitting in a sling while a group of men took turns fucking him.

In this day and age to many it’s shocking.  In the gay life in NYC in the late 70’s and early 80’s it was non-news.

In the early 80s with the outbreak of AIDS the Mineshaft scene turned sour.  NYC swept through the gay sex haunts of the community shuttering establishments left and right under ‘health violations” which in reality they were.  But it was also the chance that NYC needed to rid the city of sex establishments.

The Mineshaft was closed by the New York City Department of Health on November 7, 1985

Were establishments like The Mineshaft, The St. Marks Baths, The Adonis, The David and other X-rated theatres and venues responsible for AIDS?  No, not really.  They certainly didn’t help. But they were not the cause.  The city closed these establishments and still men gay men persisted having unprotected sex. Once one club was closed they moved to one that was still open, after the clubs were gone they went to the porn theatres, and after the porn theatres they went to Central Park, back to the bars and by then the internet came into play  If half the time, money and effort that NYC spent on closing these spots went to Health Education and planning with the gay community  the stigma of gay sex would have been much different.  Now please don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that places like the Mineshaft and others were innocent when it came to the spread of AIDS. But in reality they played a very small part of the overall problem which was the lack of information, education, and research.

I have many friends who did not make it through the 80’s because of that cursed disease.  But as much as I still love them and weep over thier loss to this day, but in the end, especially in the mid-late 80’s it was their responsibility to take precautions and protections. If you didn’t you played Russian roulette.  And while GMHC and ACT-UP! did their best.  New York City and our Government ignored the real problem.  AIDS, HIV education and finding a cure.  New York City’s answer was to close the clubs.  The Governments answer under Reagan was to ignore the problem and let gay men die.

So here we are over 25 years after the height of the AIDS epidemic and there is still no cure.  The memories of places like the Mineshaft have been hidden away and swept under the rug like the dirty family secret, and are slowly being forgotten.  Should we be ashamed of it?  No.  It is part of our history and existed in another time far away from the morally uptight society of today.

I am a survivor of that time. 

I remember, I mourn, and I go on. 

I have my memories of that time both good and bad and I must embrace them all and can never forget. 

And before they, and myself disappear I post them here so they can live on.

 

Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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21 Responses

  1. I won’t bore anyone with my memories except to say that I remember large Crisco cans everywhere for fucking and fisting. It was very exciting and very scary to me. I was very young and inexperienced but apparently I passed muster!

  2. Will Kohler says:

    LOL I am sure that you did!

  3. Greg says:

    I do not think people should be ashamed of gay clubs like The Mineshaft. To me, as a younger gay, they are simply a part of our history – our gay history.

  4. When i came to the Mineshaft first tim, I knew at once: This place is My Place.
    It was great and I had so much pleasure there… several times.
    Mineshaft – i cannot forget!

  5. Presty says:

    I was there the night it opened, and countless times thereafter. Had access to all the A-list discos at the time: 54, Flamingo, etc, did Fire Island Pines most summers…but suffice it to say, there was and has been no other place as sleazy (in a good way, just sayin) that I have ever come across, worldwide. Yeah, that time had to end, unfortunately, as many of us, now living or not, all knew back then. Thanks for the memories though, I’ll use them as jack-off fodder later tonight!

  6. If my memory serves me correctly, my first visit to the MINESHAFT was over NYC gay pride weekend of 1980. And shortly my September 1980 move to NYC from Washington DC I and sometimes with my best friend made regular visits there. And until its closure in October 1985 met many who I shared many good times with.

    Like you, I make no apologies for having been a frequent visitor and feel proud that I was self-assured enough to experience sexuality and life on my terms while at same time respect the same of others who I met along the way.

    Great article and excellent reflection on gay culture and history.

  7. andrew says:

    I also look back with nostalgia for the loss of that place and era. I visited from London only twice. I thank the author for his kind and true contribution.
    Andrew

  8. judymarla says:

    Bathhouses greatly contributed to the early epidemic. It was correct to shut them down. Here’s what is so heartbreaking to me: remember the Legionnaires Disease outbreak in 78? The response was immediate. The US government did not release it’s first CDC pamphlet on how to avoid the disease until 1988. Gays having sex in the 1981-1985 time frame had their fates sealed,

  9. james says:

    Thank you keeping the history of our people alive.

  10. etseq97 says:

    Nostalgia is one thing but you elide all the downsides on that era – the clone culture/cult of masculinity that was severely restricted who had access to this sexual nirvana and even way before AIDS became the issue, other STD’s were becoming an issue – not to mention the psychological toll that had on many guys who burnt out from such an extreme sexual rat race. Also, you paint a rosy picture of out and proud gay men enjoying the fruits of liberation but many of the participants were closet cases motivated by shame and treated their sex partners will a level of disgust as soon as the sex was over (if not during). For many out gay men of the time, they were either excluded because of looks, race, and age or had a different vision of gay life that wasn’t so hyper-sexualized. You seem to imply that any criticism of the sex club bath house culture of the era is some form of historical self-loathing and shame and I think that in itself is a bit of revisionist history.

  11. Charles Spriggs says:

    It is obvious that you would have been one who suffered so much from those bad times, nostalgia or no, I loved my few times there more than todays feeble web sex culture.

  12. And The Anvil around the corner with its downstairs and tunnels? Or Alex in the 80s- 90s whose backroom above Hell was notoriously active?

  13. Dave says:

    I will never forget the places like the Mineshaft, the Adonis Theater, the Anvil, the trucks, the piers and 1st and 1st baths. Those were fun days for me. Now looking back at the age of 69 I say to myself “how dangerous” how did I make it out alive, but I wouldn’t change a thing! Thanks for all the good memories!

  14. JTO says:

    I have many great memories of the Mineshaft in the early 80s. Especially of the owner, Wally.

  15. John Twiss says:

    I see no shame in the Mineshaft or the Anvil both of which I thoroughly enjoyed and where I garnered many happy memories. I was living in the Middle East at the time and coming back to the states my first action was to drop my bags at my cousins place on east 79th before booking a room for the week either at the East side Baths or at the St. Marks then dividing my time between the baths, the Mineshaft and the Anvil!

  16. Anthony pardi says:

    New York City and the A gays this city is an absolute joke compared to the rest of the world pity the poor young homos who think this city is fun.

  17. mark styles says:

    I went there several times toward the end.. I would go have sex.. come out feeling, dirty, ashamed, freaked out, but by the next weekend I would go again.. Certainly learned some lessons there.. Pretty shocking for the uninitiated..

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