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.