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Forgotten Gay History – The Anvil: 500 W. 14th Street NYC – NY (1974 to 1986)

Between drag shows the disco music pumped away at an earsplitting volume as shirtless and sweaty men danced to the beat packed together side by side

 

One of the most notorious and quickly becoming forgotten gay nightspots in New York City of the 1970’s and 1980’s wasTHE ANVIL located at 500 W. 14th Street.

Built in 1908 by the Conner Brothers, this building was originally known as “The Strand Hotel.” The three-story hotel catered to sailors  a patch of land known as Dalamater Square.  

“It is a three-story structure, on the ground floor of which is a saloon and the upper part of which contains 28 rooms,” stated a court document from 1914.

“[The Strand] accepts only men as roomers,” the document added, and caters “to the class of trade that has business at the river front.

In 1974 The Anvil, a split-level “after hours nightclub” opened on the north facing side of the building which was now the pay-by-the-hour Liberty Inn.

The statements “accepts only men” and “the class of trade that has business at the river front.” really hadn’t changed all that much.

The bouncers were brutal and as wonderfully sleazy as The Anvil itself was and they always took care to notice of the number of people that were in the club at one time as to not break fire regulations and give the city an excuse to raid them. With lines that sometimes formed around the block on a busy Friday or Saturday unless you were known or a fellow bar employee you could wait hours to get in.  While (some) drag queens were welcome, women were not. Although a few did make it in mostly due to trickery or their celebrity status The Anvil was one of the hottest, sleaziest, and most glorious places to be for gay men of that period.

Opened in the Fall of 1974 the main floor contained a dance floor/ rectangular bar/performance area all painted black where everything would go on at once.

The after-hours atmosphere of the Anvil was wound up and kenetic from the amount of alcohol and drugs its patrons had already consumed, and would consume by the end of the night.

Male dancers would perform on the bar as bartenders poured drinks around them.  On the smallish stage on the dance-floor drag performers such as Candy Stevens that would perform bizarre acts with a five foot snake while fire-eating. Other drag performers were “The Famous Yuba” who was one of the first performers there and who stayed until the end. Loretta Fox, Dana Terrell, “The Long Legged Lady of The Night…”Arien West, Diana del Rio, The Amazing Electrifying Grace, Brandon Forte, and Ruby Rims the infamous singing waiter from Marie’s Crisis wound perform.

Between drag shows the disco music pumped away at an earsplitting volume as shirtless and sweaty men danced to the beat packed together side by side.  Poppers were passed freely from man to man and from time to time you could feel the floor bounce and shake beneath your feet.

Downstairs was the coat-check run by the ever jovial Patrick. There was another small bar downstairs and a large screen on which gay male porn of the period was played. Behind the screen was a cavernous backroom where it was dark and never boring and shouts of “Gentlemen watch your wallets.” would echo through it as Patrick called out the warning every 15 – 20 minutes.  (Rumor has it that there were tunnels beneath The Anvil that ran directly to the piers. But it was never proven)

Patrons would emerge sopped with sweat and wearing sunglasses after a long Saturday night in the dawns early light only to pass people from bordering neighborhoods going to early Sunday morning Mass. (It happened to me.)

Because of the era involved there are no interior photographs of the Anvil available to publish. But it was really nothing spectacular. You see it was not the inside of The Anvil that made it what it was.  It was the patrons, gay men who many of whom are gone now which is why it is important to remember these scared gay spaces of yesterday.

The Anvil was closed in 1986 another victim of the AIDS epidemic and the clean-up ou “sex establishments” in NYC.  And while The Anvil is long gone, the Liberty Inn lives on as a hot-sheet rent-by-the hour hotel.

Its nice to know some things never change.

Have a story you’d like to share about The Anvil?  Post it in the comments section for history’s sake.

 

**POSTSCRIPT  There is one misconception that I  must clear up.  While not many historical notes exist on The Anvil, a few of those that do picked up a common misconception and wrong reporting of the fact that The Anvil had live sex acts and even “fisting shows” on its stage.  That is not true.  Sex acts never occurred on its main floor stage.

I know. Because I was there.

 

 

 

 

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, journalist 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 Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story,

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14 thoughts on “Forgotten Gay History – The Anvil: 500 W. 14th Street NYC – NY (1974 to 1986)”

  1. My lover Jamie Perry worked at the Anvil as a dancer & general help. The morning after his first night on the job, a body was found on te basement floor with a knife in his back. The bouncers carried the corpse into thes street & dumped it. The tunnels were old bootleggers tunnels & were sealed off, did not lead to the piers or really to anywhere. The place was a firetrap but Jamie knew how to use the trapezes to get sout quickly. Mob-owned of course.

    1. Yes. I agree with you. There were definitely fisting shows in the early days of the Anvil. I also remember the guy who would do acrobatics with a double folded dildo up his you know what. Very talented. We use to call him puckers. Ahh the gold ole days.

  2. OMG – loved the Anvil. Used to leave the Greenwich Ave area around 2 or so and walk thru the old Meatpacking district on 14th st to the anvil and dance and drink until after the sunup and beyond. I remember the little peep hole in the door to get let in – those were the days. And i agree – sun up and the neighbors in the area going to church on Sunday was not an uncommon occurrence, Also there definitely were no sex acts on the bar – big myth.

  3. Hey Billy. Hope you are well. In 1985 I saw Candy Stevens at the Ice Palace in Fire Island and hung out with her by the pool. She was fantastic! Donna Law shared a cab with Ruby Rims coming back from a club in Jersey.

  4. Well now! Obviously, Will, you and I weren’t there the night there was a “live sex show?” But as a regular habituè of THE ANVIL for those years, I certainly never saw sex on the upstairs stage! Perhaps someone was a bit confused between upstairs and downstairs?
    As for the tunnels, in 1979 I was daring enough to explore one of the supposed tunnels, but both the smell and rotting structure turned us back even though we could hear the traffic overhead on West Street and hear the Hudson. But it makes for another wonderful “would have been!”

    1. Hi. There were sex (fisting) shows on the main floor when the club first went from straight to gay and became the Anvil. They stopped doing them when the club started to become popular. wayne

  5. I used to go to The Anvil on “new wave” nights (Tuesdays) around 1982. Bill Bahlman was the DJ and Bernard Zette (who later appeared in the movie “Last Exit to Brooklyn”) was one of the performers. I only remember the basement level being open (the entrance was on the southeast side of the building). I was so young and naive, I didn’t know people were having sex in the back room.

  6. The Anvil, the most notoriously decadent after-hours West Village club of its time, a virtual institution of gay sin, good music, and a three ring circus of gay entertainment was located in a small three story, free standing triangular building bordered on all three sides by the West Side Highway and 11th Avenue with its entrance on 14th Street. The Anvil had everything I needed under my circumstances as a weekend dancer at the Gaiety Burlesque Theater that relied on the generosity of couch-surfing. I had no couch available some nights. So I would count on the Anvil as my hostel. The Anvil was open from midnight until noon the next day, seven days a week. It was a drug friendly environment. The music was a West Village and Fire Island hi-energy sound, like the Flamingo, unlike the R&B influenced disco played at the downtown underground clubs I preferred. But it was danceable because the DJ was on drugs, and knew how to mix. There were drag queen shows at regular intervals all night on a center stage that I found terribly entertaining after a long binge of hard dancing. The Anvil catered to some of the hottest looking local and international men I had ever seen comingling around the go-go boy festooned bar and tight dance floor, like every rare species of gay men for me to admire and possibly sleep with. The Anvil provided facilities to have quick and sometimes dangerous sex in the cave-like basement, but even with my seemingly cavalier attitude about sex from hustling, I still would prefer to make love in a comfortable bed than in a dark cold ominous subterranean vault. The Village Voice ran a cover story investigating unresolved murder cases of gay and transsexual men in the West Village, and one of the murder victims that the police did not care about bringing justice to a tortured corpse found in the Anvil basement. I liked to stay upstairs on the dance floor high on drugs and twirl to the music than risk being mummified in the subterranean level of the Anvil.

    Like most underground clubs, the Anvil had a difficult doorman who could turn someone away from the club based on the bogus “members only” excuse. The correct non-designer jeans, t-shirt, boots, and black leather accessories as well as a handsome face, toned body and $10.00 would guarantee entry from the busy vehicular traffic racing around the building to the sexual purgatory of men inside. Like most clubs that catered to this demographic, women were not allowed, with the exception of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ sister, Lee Radziwill, gay royalty, who would be allowed in with her gay male escort Truman Capote while they slummed downtown after a night at Studio 54. Both would not budge from the entrance door area, to observe the crowd at a safe distance, until their fatigue and boredom swept them out the handy getaway exit, and back to the comfort of the Upper East Side.

    One Friday night I danced, drank cans of Budweiser beer, peed in the large urinal as men with bathroom fetishes lurked around me, flirted and socialized with go-go boys as they swung from rooftop ropes, and developed my first gay crush on a man with beautiful eyes who I had been cruising with heavy stares across the dance floor. I was skilled at communicating my intentions to another man in a disco while I danced, never uttering a word for hours until I found myself standing next to Mr. Eyes while at the bar waiting to order another beer. At the narcissist age of nineteen years old, I would enter a club, size up the crowd to see if there was anyone I felt was attractive enough for me, and I would fixate on them, obsessing when they were out of sight for a moment as if they left, until they would reappear and I would continue the cruising charade. Nine times out of ten the object of my obsession would finally leave the disco without a word ever spoken between us. It was a futile game of cat and mouse, and my young ego was not ready for rejection.

    When it was apparent that Mr. Eyes was not going to make the first move, and the morning sun was beginning to stream through the exit door as members left the club, I decided it was time to let him know I was interested in him. His beautiful orbs cemented my crush as I stood close to him and shook his hand and introduced myself. Some small talk ensued. I asked him to dance, the reward of a successful cruise, but Mr. Eyes said he was about to leave. He suggested that I return the following Saturday night to the Anvil to meet up with him. I left the club shortly after he left. I walked along the slippery cattle fat and blood drippings coating the active meat market sidewalk of 14th Street feeling that my new infatuation, the first step to being in love, with someone of the same sex, was possible.

    After a day of rest at a now available loft of a caring friend, and excited prattle with him about my new crush, I returned to the Gaiety for the Saturday night Marathon, changed into a butch protocol outfit to ensure entry to the Anvil, and started my Saturday night dancing at my club of choice, the Gallery.

    Being impatient and afraid of missing Mr. Eyes, I got to the Anvil a few hours earlier than the agreed upon time. I was too distracted looking at the entrance door to enjoy myself, even the strange stage performances that were unique to this bizarre institution of gay extremism. The resident drag queen, MC, and DJ was Miss Candy Stevens, a black man who had so much estrogen and silicon injected into his body and his face that wearing the skin tight sequin cat suit he favored, he looked like a creature from another planet with exaggerated hips, tits, cheekbones and lips. One Christmas he stopped his show to share the tender story of his mother calling him earlier that day to say she wanted her boy home for Christmas. This was not meant as a joke, and most of the less cynical members of the audience gave him their sympathetic applause. But I was too condescending not to picture the lumpy creature sitting across the kitchenette from his mother in her trailer home somewhere down south, slurring in a deep southern drawl “My SON is home!”

    Candy Stevens lip-synched a lot of ABBA, performing to “Dancing Queen” that night before talking, joking, and ridiculing the audience. Yuba, a mean looking black man who could do a respectable imitation of Grace Jones, did his trademark fire act that night by running the flames of two torches over his hard, hairless and nude body, finishing with a dangerous spit of fire into the audience like a violent dragon. 3D finished the show with her vintage day glow mod look that brought the club to its only moment of hilarity as she lip-synched with exaggerated gestures to a pre-edited medley of iconic movie actresses delivering hysterical lines mixed to pre-alternative music.

    I forgave Mr. Eyes when he finally came through the front door hours later, socialized at length with bartenders, and ordered himself a beer without seeming to notice me or appear to be looking for me. I had put so much energy obsessing about Mr. Eyes that I was hardly going to let my fervor evaporate so quickly. I was young, so I had a lot more patience to wait for my first crush, the man of my new homosexual dreams, to come to me of his own volition. When he eventually did make his way to me, I could see he was tipsy from more than drinking the can of beer he clutched in his hand. Mr. Eyes bored me with the highlights of how and where he had just spent the earlier part of the night, dancing and drugging at the Flamingo, which did not interest me that much as I had my own memories of where and how my night had already been spent, stripping at the Gaiety and dancing at the Gallery. Mr. Eyes complained of his fatigued state and that the sedatives he had swallowed were tiring him. I still thought I had a crush on Mr. Eyes even though his eyes were not looking that beautiful, and still had hope that this was going to be my first long-term gay romance. I was an 19 year old stripper and hustler while focused on graduating from college on schedule. I replied that I could help the situation because I had more speed, and foolishly offered up a few black beauties for Mr. Eyes to take. He greedily popped one in his mouth, and one in his pocket. My final desperate move to salvage this unraveling date was to ask Mr. Eyes to dance with me, at which point he informed me that the DJ in the booth above us was his boyfriend, and that he would not be able to dance with me there at the Anvil, or anywhere else for that matter. I had been played by a player.

    My first male crush ended in twenty-four hours with my first male rejection. This rejection stung my street savvy and naive nineteen year old heart so hard that to this day, I will not exhibit any feelings for a man I might be sexually interested in until I am absolutely sure that that man is absolutely sexually interested in me and that the possibility of the two of us having sex is more than feasible. I never wanted to feel the rejection I felt early that morning at the Anvil ever again. It is quite a defense mechanism that could keep me from interacting with another human considering that I had presented myself so physically naked on and off the stage of the Gaiety for two years. As I quietly recovered my dignity and left Mr. Eyes and the Anvil, his boyfriend the DJ played the Hues Corporation “I Caught Your Act”, telling the story of a two-timing drama played out for an entire theater to witness:

    Walking along the street last night, I happened to see you within
    You went into a picture show – the drama was about to begin
    Followed you inside, didn’t try to hide

    The lights were down, you took his hand and when the movie started
    You moved right in so close to him
    It left me broken hearted

    I caught your act, oh I saw what you did girl
    I caught your act, caught your act baby
    I saw the whole thing, you got carried away
    It was easy to see, there was no part for me

    I caught your act,
    I saw what you did girl
    I caught your act, caught your act baby
    Caught your act, caught your act baby
    And I got caught in the dark.

    I always found solace in the lyrics to the songs that I drugged and danced to.

    Christopher chastised me at brunch the next day after I had gushed my emotional heartache. The lesson to learn from this episode was not to watch my heart, but to “never share your drugs, never, with anyone”. It was another lesson in narcissistic selfishness to practice for the rest of my gay life.

    I wrote about my overextended obsession with dancing both recreationally and professionally from 1976 – 2004 in the best clubs in NYC, until I crashed and burned from the excesses of the lifestyle. Homo GoGo Man: a fairytale about a boy who grew up in discoland.

  7. the anvil was a extremely dirty night club that the owner harry did not care about, or he would of cleaned that place the right way..It was a sardine can of men.it was amazing, funny and adult…there was no room upstairs on the floor or in the back room, except for rubbing against each other, pickpockets and watching the strip show on stage..the strip show on stage were a lot of customers drunk and high, who would never remember the next day.then there was the professional dancers..on the front bar were the hot male go go dancers, shirtless in shorts and sneakers dancing round and round..most of them got the hell out afterwards, this kept the dream going. late at night there was a black dancer who could do amazing things naked with different size objects,,what happened to him..the bartenders made big money and had great apartments…the door man made squat…the place was packed, there was a long line of men outside.. these men came from every walk of life.., rich kids, college guys, male models, police officers, street guys, broadway dancers, hustlers, street kids and weirdos…weirdos came with the territory and you knew to stay away… this incredible popular place with many lives was a dirty hole and i would not surprised if it aided in making people ill….no body has pictures of the inside because they were to busy being seen and having fun, like the 21 c and studio 54…the it place…

    1. sorry,,there was a dirty downstairs were men would go to get intimate..people met men there and went home or hooked up another night…

  8. Will, sorry to disagree with you, but as I so eloquently describe my first gay crush/rejection at the Anvil, as ironic as life is, I returned to the Anvil one homeless night to find wholesome Mr.Montreal, who I dumped to get rejected by Anvil’s DJ BF, who was so glad to see me as he swung from gogo ropes, that I was sure I was being given a second chance with the Canadian. Bringing me into the miniscule dressing room was intimate but awkward as Uba was applying his war face. I could never have been more shocked than anyone in the Anvil that night as Mr.Montreal took center stage, and slowly performed a seduction act that could not prepare ANYONE for him to fist himself, spotlight, Crisco, and audible discomfort from those of us on the dancefloor. I was 18, I stripped and hustled for money, but anal, not to mention fisting, was not my thing. I did not even have the decency to wait for Mr.Montreal to complete his act to rejct him again: I fled the scene of the crime, like I was an accomplice guilty of ruining this sweet Canadian. On a more personal/bsns note, I would like to meet (assume you are in NYC) to discuss our common opportunities of experiencing and surviving hedonistic NYC. My book, ‘Homo GoGo Man’ is top seller 4 years thanks mostly to my blogging, but I convinced my publisher that I need an agent to get me to next level (and next book, the epilogue to recovering from the disco bug). You may know of someone who is on the same page as us? email me: xristo_pherre@hotmail.com

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