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 their loss to this day, as callous as it sounds in the end especially in the mid-late 80’s it was their responsibility to take precautions and use protection . If you didn’t you played Russian roulette. And while some men dodged the bullet many more lost. At that time GMHC and ACT-UP! did their best but 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 and “clean up” NYC. 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 a 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.