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Forgotten Gay New York City: The Cock Ring and The Hotel Christopher – 180 Christopher Street

 

The once infamous Cock Ring and Hotel Christopher was located at 180 Christopher Street at West Street on the SE Corner in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

The building itself was built in 1858 and then known as “The Great Eastern Hotel,” and was located directly across the street from the ferry wharf.  But the Great Depression, years of neglect, and introduction of the overhead West Side Highway turned the hotel into into nothing more than a flophouse in what was then a very seedy neighborhood.

In the 1970’s  with gay liberation and the great influx of gay men into the neighborhood “The Great Eastern Hotel, was renamed “The Christopher Street Hotel”

On the ground floor in 1972 was a business called Gay Dogs, which was described as a “24-hour food & beer cruise cafe” but in just 4 years Gay Dogs would be gone and the space would become and one of the most notorious of New York City’s gay bar/disco/backroom sex spots called The Cock Ring.

The Cock Ring was dark, cruisey, and always hot.  It was the at the center of the gay universe in the mid 70’s and anyone that was anyone in the village went there; though not everyone readily admitted it.

On Sunday when the uptown gays who generally turned their noses up to the milling, cruise sexual energy of the West Village descended and flocked to the corners of West Street on weekends when it really came alive: it was an open block party as the young and old alike came by the hundreds most of them shirtless, hanging out and hooking up,  traveling breezily between the river front bars Badlands, The Ramrod, Keller’s, and The Cock Ring.  It was an ongoing Pride celebration every weekend of the year.

The drug of choice was pot but the hardcore often preferred  cocaine and the lethal Angel Dust and amyl nitrite  was passed freely around the dance-floor.

Keys were worn on either the left or the right, as were back pocket bandanna’s, a code of sexual preference . Legendary DJ Howard Merritt would spin at the the Cock Ring by Sunday evenings while men sweated, gyrated, danced and fucked each other silly

Upstairs The Hotel Christopher, had to be one of the sleaziest hotels in the 1970’s in New York City. and that was a hard order to fill in the 70‘s.  You could rent out a tiny, roach infested,  room by the hour or the night.  On Sundays during the height of the mid-afternoon while the streets were packed with men shopping for their next trick it wasn’t uncommon to see naked men beckoning to the crowds below to come up and have sex with them or to witness sex acts going in front of windows to cheers from the crowd below.

But times change.

In 1982 the building was converted into a posh hotel called, The River Hotel.  Atop it was a chic restaurant, The Grand Corniche, featuring panoramic Hudson views and a dramatic circular stairway. For a short time The Cock Ring was replaced with Uncle Charlie’s Village which a more up-scale bar and disco that never really caught on and closed shortly after it’s owner, Lou Katz fled to Brazil after stabbing to death his lovers boy friend. (More about that in another post)

While the eyesore of the elevated highway was torn down the new proposed West Side Highway didn’t get the government funding, and the backing that was expected to change the waterfront.  That wouldn’t happen for another 20 years so in the 80’s the block still remained pretty dismal.  Despite the views of the river, tourists, even gay tourist didn’t want to venture there and them the beginning of the AIDS epidemic started to take it’s toll.

In 1986 The Bailey-Holt House arrived to take over the building, just as the neighborhood started to improve and the AIDS epidemic was at its peak.

Fittingly Bailey-Holt House, was the nation’s first hospice residence for people living with AIDS.

In the years since the neighborhood has gentrified and all the gay bars and businesses from Christopher and West Street. But the memories and ghosts of the past remain for now until one day when they will be completely forgotten and will just fade away.

That is why I write this. To keep the memory alive.

 

 

 

 

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Thank you.
Will Kohler

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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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12 thoughts on “Forgotten Gay New York City: The Cock Ring and The Hotel Christopher – 180 Christopher Street”

  1. to Mr Will Kohler…I wish I locate a guest at Cock Ring, but also Anvil, 12 west, Flamingo. He was a latin dance hustler who became a real true legend in Italy as dj 1975 to 77. He was Tom Sison…I only know he was born about 1946-50 and he lived boystown. I ‘ve a picture and I could send

  2. I was there every night, and T – dance , in fact had several fist fights there to, rough but fun place… which was not what it was supposed to be, boy I’m old… some day I’ll tell you what the DJ told me…

  3. I danced my ass off there many Friday and Saturday nights during 1976-77. It WAS an amazing disco. I never used the back room there. My local back room establishment was THE STRAP. Anybody else still
    around who frequented that place?

  4. I worked at the Cockring for about 7 years.Almost the entire lenght of time the Cockring was opened. I only stopped working there because I fell in love and move to Houston Texas (ha, only lasted two weeks, but stayed in TX for about a year and came bacxk to the Cockring until the end). I remember everyone that woked there and all the DJ’s that spun records there. They actually used the Cockring to test out the latest remix of a record before it would be played at the Flamingo and later the Saint. McGarther’s Park and Souvenirs as an example. Howard Merrit worked at Casablanca Records during the week. We had all the best and well known DJ’s play there. The Cockring had a few managers, the first and the one that designed the original look was Nathan (sorry don’t rember his last name at this moment. Nathan worked on two Gay bars at the Upper West and he worked on the Mineshaft and Jay’s. i do remember the own primary owners, Dick and John (former detectives – ever heard of Serpico movie). Frank was the second manager, almost until the end. We were all family, my co-workers. I started working there bring a bar back, I cleaned up the empty beer cans and took back to the bar the empty glasses. I washed the glasses and restocked the ice. I later moved to being a bartender. Only because I actually built a beer bar in the corner by the front door (corner door). At first I was only allowed to sell beer, but later started to sell liquor as well. Then because of staff changes, I moved or graduated to the big boys bar (the main bar). Every where I read about the Cockring mentions a backroom for sex. The Cockring, did not have a backroom it was only added after a few years and a renovation. I do remember the special private morning parties that we had for those that wanted more after Flamingo or the Saint closed at 8am. These parties were geared for a patrions that like to do a particular drug. The age of the Dust Parties. I happened to live around the corner from the Cockring. I lived at 382 West Street and Barrow Strreet, 2nd floor. My kitchen window faced Keller’s Bar. During the summer there would be this very overweight woman that would sit on the fire hydrant to get cooled off. Above Keller’s on Barrow was a SRO hotel. Sunday’s would be wild during the warm weather. There were thousands of boys and men having a Sunday Tea, or beer party that originated at Badlands, basically a beer bar for bears,the opposite side of Christopher Street from the Cockring. I would get up and hang my head out of living room window. I would usually invite guys up to my apartment to get it on. It was like fishing. At those years, the elevated West Side Highway was still there. I would clean my apartment naked as joggers would run by on the Hwy, of course they would get an invitation. There are so many stories from those days. Stories about my roommates and stories about the Cockring.

    Rob

  5. The Cockring, those were truly the days of glory, drugs, sex and disco. Thank you for reviving those memories and by the way, I never saw a backroom there.

  6. Yeah, the Cock Ring was damn near my home during those wild and crazy and stoned disco nights of the latter half of the 1970s.

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