Located at 11th. Avenue and 21st. Street, NYC’s The Eagle’s Nest was originally a longshoreman’s bar called the Eagle Open Kitchen from 1931 – 1970 which was then acquired by Jack Modica who turned the rough and tumble pub into a Leather/ Levi bar
With a few coats of black paint and an old beat up motorcycle for decoration, a gay institution was born. “The Eagle” was open 7 days a week including holidays. And was always the place to go.
Back in those days it’s patrons loved the isolation and the raw masculinity of this dark sexual playground and bar on the West Side Highway. Cigars, uniforms, poppers, and sex in the bathrooms and backroom were on the menu nightly.
But with the onset of AIDS in the mid – late 80’s, sexual habits were changing and the gay community was reassessing itself. By the 90’s the neighborhood was evolving and the frontier was now being gentrified. Old warehouses were converted into upscale loft buildings or art galleries. Landlords were not renewing old leases and by the year 2000, Jack Modica chose to retire rather than to reopen The Eagle elsewhere.
And while a new version of called the Eagle NYC was reopened on, October 5, 2001, by different owners at 554 W 28th Street it was never the same.
The video below taken after hours shortly before it’s closing and is all remains other than the memories of its patrons of the infamous gay leather bar.
Have a story about the original Eagle’s Nest? Post it below and share the memories.
For those of you too young to remember the movie Cruising it is a 1980 psychological thriller film directed by William Friedkin of The Exorcist fame and starring Al Pacino. The film is loosely based on the novel of the same name, by New York Times reporter Gerald Walker. It’s about a rookie NYPD cop that goes undercover to bait a homophobic serial killer in the leather and S&M world of New York’s Greenwich Village.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force ( back when they actually had a task and did something ) in a letter to the New York Times wrote that “in the context of an anti-homosexual society, a film about violent, sex-obsessed gay men would be seen as a film about all gay people. The psychosexual dynamic of Cruising is certainly questionable—deliberately so, to some extent—though in chalking up violent homoerotic impulses to unresolved daddy issues, the movie may be a greater insult to the intelligence of psychoanalysts than to the sensibilities of gays.”
The movie suffered a huge backlash from the LGBT community which did everything it could to disrupt the movies filming in Greenwich Village and promotion in NYC.
Village Voice writer Arthur Bell was the person who raised a call for full out sabotage on the movie writing that Friedkin’s film “promises to be the most oppressive, ugly, bigoted look at homosexuality ever presented on the screen,” he wrote, “the worst possible nightmare of the most uptight straight. I implore readers . . . to give Friedkin and his production crew a terrible time if you spot them in your neighborhoods.”
Gay-owned businesses on Christopher Street barred the filmmakers from their premises. People attempted to interfere with shooting by pointing mirrors from rooftops to ruin lighting for scenes, blasting whistles and air horns near locations, and playing loud music. One thousand protesters marched through the East Village demanding the city withdraw support for the film to which Mayor (and famous closet case) Ed Koch responded, “Whether it is a group that seeks to make the gay life exciting or to make it negative, it’s not our job to look into that.”
Al Pacino who starred in the movie said that he understood the protests but insisted that upon reading the screenplay he never at any point felt that the film was anti-gay. He said that the leather bars were “just a fragment of the gay community, the same way the Mafia is a fragment of Italian-American life,” referring to The Godfather, and that he would “never want to do anything to harm the gay community”.
Friedkin asked noted gay author John Rechy, to screen Cruising just before its release. Rechy had written an essay defending Friedkin’s right to make the film, although not defending the film itself. At Rechy’s suggestion, Friedkin deleted a scene showing the Gay Liberation Front slogan “We Are Everywhere” as graffiti on a wall just before the first body part is pulled from the river, and added a disclaimer:
“This film is not intended as an indictment of the homosexual world. It is set in one small segment of that world, which is not meant to be representative of the whole.”
Friedkin later claimed that it was the MPAA and United Artists that required the disclaimer, calling it “part of the dark bargain that was made to get the film released at all ” and “a sop to organized gay rights groups”. Friedkin also said that no one involved in making the film thought it would be considered as representative of the entire gay community, but the late great gay film historian Vito Russo disputed Fredkin claims citing the disclaimer as “an admission of guilt” writing “What director would make such a statement if he truly believed that his film would not be taken to be representative of the whole?”
Now over 40 years later despite the movies content which by today’s standards seem schlocky and mediocre at best. Snippets of Cruising are easily one the most graphic and true depiction of the NYC underground gay leather scene ever seen in a mainstream movie and is also in a way, a documentary of a time and places lost in history with background shots of the West Village and West Side highway that capture that period in time.
Locations like The Ramrod, The Anvil, Mineshaft, and the Eagle’s Nest (the latter two eventually barred Friedkin from the premises) have been gone for decades, but Cruising is a flashback to a time of poppers, color-coded pocket hankies, hardcore discos, bathhouses, backrooms, park cruising and yes even Crisco. It is a visual time capsule back to a part of our history that has been overshadowed by by the plague known as AIDS that would soon wreck havoc on the gay community in the years after the movie was released.
Like it or not the movie Crusing is a part of our history and reflects an era of images and memories that is slowly being lost forever.
Note: The exterior entrance of the club that Al Pacino enters into is actually the door to the infamous Mineshaft in NYC. (CLICK HERE to learn more about The Mineshaft.)But as stated above Friedkin was barred from filming within the establishment. The next shot of Pacino walking down the stairs was actually filmed at the Hellfire Club Sex Club in the triangle building at 14th street which later would house J’s Hangout and home of the New York Jacks on 14th and Hudson Street.
What now stands in its spot is the gentrified 675 Bar which is described as a “subdued lounge attempts to bring back some dignity to the Meatpacking District with pedigreed cocktails, and uncomplicated entertainment”
San Francisco has always had a large gay leather community. By the late 1970’s, they had created ‘Miracle Mile’, a stretch of Folsom street that featured over 30 gay leather bars and bathhouses. But Miracle Mile as it was called. was a bothersome eyesore to City Hall, but the leather community defended their sanctuary and fought back against City Hall’s ambitious redevelopment program for the South of Market development already underway on Rincon Hill.
In the early 1980’s as HIV and AIDS tore through San Francisco severely weakening the leather community. City Hall took this opportunity to push through a series of redevelopment plans that together with AIDS, spelled the end of Miracle Mile as a leather sanctuary.
But in 1984 a coalition of leather community organizers and hosing advocates got together and decided to start a street fair. The fair would enhance the visibility of the leather community, provide a means for much-needed fundraising, and create opportunities for members of the leather community to connect to services and vital information that the bathhouses and bars might otherwise have been situated to distribute.
And thus the Folsom Street Fair was born.
Now the Folsom Street Fair after 35 years has become California’s third-largest single-day, outdoor spectator event attracting a whopping 400,000 slaves, masters, mummies, ponies, puppies, pigs, nudists, fairies, boot boys, jocks and people-with-such-crazy-sexual-interests-that-there-are-no-noun-for-them-yet, all crammed into 13 overcrowded street blocks of fun. It has also grown as a non-profit charity, with local and national non-profits benefiting from the proceeds from numerous fundraising booths within the festival including games, beverage and even spanking booths. (And a helluva lot more that is definitely NSWF).
Similar events also take place in Canada and Germany. And in San Francisco FSF also manage “Up Your Alley” street fair and special events like the “Folsom Street Fair Formal Leather Gala”
Folsom Street Fair Trivia: The first Folsom Street Fair date was chosen to coincide with the autumnal equinox which it did through 1992. Thereafter the Fair became more associated with one of the last two Sunday in September.
*Photo: Gene Dermody and Carl Martin at the 1984 Folsom St. Fair. Carl served in the U.S. Air Force in the 1970’s with gay activist Leonard Matlovich.
Both song and video for the 1984 hit Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood were swooped on by censors in the UK and USA, because of its gay S&M bondage styling and the overtly sexual imagery of the video. The then racy lyrics, were labelled “obscene” and both the BBC and MTV banned the video. But still the song went on to become a smash hit and helped define mid-80s pop.
Well its that time of year again when Illionois’ own D Lister anti-gay leader Porno Pete LaBarbera gets to pack his assless chaps and camera and takes a paid vacation to San Francisco and cruises the attendees of the Up Your Alley Fair, (Dore Alley) the smaller version of San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair that precedes the main event by two months.
LaBarbera writes at his anti-gay propaganda website Americans for Truth About Homosexuality:
I was curious to see what out-and-proud San Francisco was like AFTER the city council passed its 2012 “public nudity ban”–which, curiously enough, exempts massive street fairs celebrating nudity and perversion. (This is San Francisco, after all.) So I ventured out to the world’s most sexually deviant city last weekend (Sunday, July 27) to cover its annual “Up Your Alley” street fair, also called “Dore Alley“–put on by the same proud perverts (er…sadomasochistic “leathermen”) that annually stage the notorious Folsom Street Fair. Organizers of the “Up Your Ally” fair call it “Folsom’s Dirty Little Brother,” which, considering Folsom’s unbridled debauchery, is quite a recommendation for boundary-defying libertines and tourist gawkers who are there for the freak show. I saw more exposed penises and butts in a few hours at the Up Your Alley fair than I’ve seen in a lifetime, or so it seemed–and that includes diaper-changes for my five kids! It got real old, real fast (and note the sartorial conformity of the proud sex rebels!). Of course, deviance begets deviance, so it makes sense that the immoral, perverse and once-taboo behavior of homosexuality would be disproportionately associated with various other sexual and gender perversions–including exhibitionism (a paraphilia). Think about it: if it’s OK to be a “proud” homosexual, why not be a proud exhibitionist? Or a proud sexual sadist? Or even a proud “slave”? Did you know that there is a special flag for “Leather Pride”? (It’s black and blue–no joke.) Moral Relativism 101 in action.
LaBarbera who was nicknamed “Porno Pete” by Wayne Beesen of Truth Wins Out years ago because of his bizarre fascination with naughty gay magazines and his penchant to go “undercover” at leather events and photographed more naked men has been to more gay sex related events than I have and has had every one of them financed with money from anti-gay bigots.
Perhaps I should start a bogus anti-gay hate group to fund this blog and a trip to Folsom Street fair.? It works for Ms. LaBarbera.
The D.C. Eagle, one of the oldest gay bars in Washington is being forced to shutter its doors by Nov. 30th to vacate its current location at 639 New York Ave., N.W to make way for a new office building courtesy of the The Douglas Development Corporation, one of the city’s largest real estate developers and eminent domain.
Eagle manager Ted Clements said the bar plans to hold a closing party on Nov. 25, with the hope that the popular establishment will have lined up a new location shortly before or after that date.
The D.C. Eagle has moved 4 times in the past 40 years but has always stayed within 4 blocks of its current location.
In the early 60’s group of guys put together dinners for local motorcyclist and leathermen These dinners took place at a bar on 9th Street in NW called Louis’. Which was actually located right across the street from FBI headquarters, and these were the days of J. Edgar Hoover. The bar was renamed Louis’ Spartan Lounge, after the Spartans MC was formed on April 3, 1968. On September 4, 1968, Don Bruce became, what we now refer to as, our first “Baby Spartan.” These dates and events are important to this story, because they would give birth to the legendary DC Eagle.
Eventually, Don Bruce, became one of the early Spartans Presidents. He then decided that the leather crowd should have a home of our own. Don and his brother Eddie pooled their money to open the first of three buildings on 9th Street. The night before the Eagle was to open, Don invited the Spartans to take part in a ceremony. They placed nails into a sculpture of an eagle. This sculpture hung on the wall of that bar until the building was claimed by eminent domain to make way for what was then the “new” DC Convention Center. The Eagle gave flight to a number of other businesses, including the Leather Rack and the Eagle in Exile.
After moving from 9th Street, to make way for a new convention space. The bar closed at the regular hour on moving night and reopened the next day at noon in a brand new location. Many of it’s patrons were drafted into the moving party to make sure everything would be ready.
And now once again it is being forced to re-locate due to the gentrification of Washington D.C.
Douglas Development’s does plan to move the Eagle building to another location on the site of the new development to keep its façade and structure intact because it has historic status.
“They’re going to jack it up, move it, dig out for a parking garage, then cut off the back by 30 feet and put it back somewhere on the block and build a high-rise in the center of the block”
But that’s just the building, the business and it’s patrons have not been invited to come along.
More gay history lost forever.
If only those walls could talk and someone would start a National LGBT Register of Historic Places