Aww, Daddy, the Gilded Grape! You just slammed me with a bunch of memories of a gay New York that no longer exists... bars and floors and stages that harkened back to a mysterious
verboten subculture that truly was the twilight world of the homosexual (always one of my fave phrases, of course.)
I can remember waking up each day, hungry to experience a different aspect of it... would it be the outdoor cruising at The Soldiers & Sailor's monument, the miniscule dancefloor at The Barefoot Boy, the Stand-And-Stare at Boot Hill, The Barracks Baths on 42nd Street, The Gaiety or The Gilded Grape, The International Stud in the Village, The Trucks, The Piers, tonight?
New York had an amazing menu to choose from. All of which was very obviously leftover from the great influx of homosexuals to this town during the War. There was always the feeling that the sticky floor under your feet had not been cleaned since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. It was, dare I say, romantic, dangerous and very very secret. And there was a lot of it-- much more than there is now. If you were not in the know, however, it was very possible to be completely oblivious to its existence. You really did have to be a "member" of a secret club to know what was hidden behind this or that particular doorway. The map to these secrets was passed down from generation to generation-- a living, oral tradition, always acquired at an early age; it required a finely tuned radar to navigate the difficult terrain. So much so, that later I was able to go to anyplace on earth, discover the exact counterpart to this hidden world and even speak the local sexual lingua franca with ease.
Part of what erased this, of course, was acceptance. Which is what we really wanted in the first place. But along with that acceptance has come assimilation and even ghettoization. The signs are very clearly marked for the uninitiated-- it's now a "gay club" or a "straight club," squeaky clean, above board and... soulless.
Ah well, I remember driving with my friend Karl downtown in his father's car. He was so much older than me, 21, and had a license. We would go to the the Gilded Grape or The Gaiety and just marvel. "Girl," he would say in his rotten Bronx accent, "Didja get dat dancer? Da one in cowboy drag? She had trade fa days... fa' days!"
And there is also a gorge bit in one of the genius Miss Vera's books describing exactly what The Grape was like in those days.