cover image Gay Bar: Why We Went Out

Gay Bar: Why We Went Out

Jeremy Atherton Lin. Little, Brown, $28 (2320p) ISBN 978-0-31645-873-3

In this captivating debut, essayist Lin explores the gay bar as a cultural institution whose time may have passed. Focusing mainly on Los Angeles, San Francisco, and London, Lin delves into centuries of written and oral histories to chart the development of the first gay bars from as far back as the 13th century through to today, the roles different establishments played in gay liberation movements, and the many venues that have closed due to lack of traffic, rent increases, or transformation into heterosexual hangouts. He also muses on contemporary queer youth’s desire for quiet “safe spaces” as opposed to the fun, raucous, and often “raunchy” meeting places of years past. It isn’t all glowing nostalgia, though; Lin skewers what he sees as gay bars’ “persecution of the effeminate” gay man, and recaps a mid-1970s racial profiling controversy at Studio One in Los Angeles in which claims were made “by black and Chicano men that they were frequently denied entrance.” Lin’s writing is mostly sharp, though there are some bumps, as with a staid academic reference to Foucault and wordplay that can land with more of a thud than a zing (“We head[ed] to a venue less sleazy, more cheesy,” he writes about a bar-hopping night out). Nonetheless, this cogent cultural history sparks more often than not. Readers who want to go beyond Stonewall will find plenty to consider. (Feb.)