What are the best fictional gay bars featured in films?
Until very recently homosexuality was the butt of every joke in Hollywood movies, and so it’s hard to find films where queers aren’t depicted as one-dimensional, perverted or tormented individuals.
So, I rolled my sleeves up and fired up my VCR (ok, I streamed films on the internet but it doesn’t sound as cool) to find the best, most glorious, fictional queer, lesbian, and gay bars depicted in the movies.
Nightmare on Elm Street 2
I have a feeling this scene was supposed to make viewers think of queer bars as grotty, seedy, threatening, hyper-sexual, and…. well, I kinda like it.
Rather than turning a generation of kids off queer bars, it may have actually had the opposite effect.
In fact, I want to go there right now.
Since its release Nightmare on Elm Street 2 has gained a cult following for its homoerotic themes. So it may surprise you to hear that, at the time, producers were adamant that this was not an intentions when making the film.
When watching this scene in a gay bar, where the protagonist’s male gym teacher hits on him (before getting a bare-arsed spanking from Freddy), it’s hard to imagine that everyone on set was oblivious to how camp the entire set-up was.
The wood panelling! The mounted bull head! The pool table!
Oh, yes, we are most definitely in a lesbian bar in the 70s.
But rather than the usual everybody’s-had-a-bit-too-much-alcohol bar brawl we get a proper smack-down between Foxy and one of the bar’s regulars, who has her eyes on Foxy’s colleague Claudia.
Before you know it most everyone in the bar has joined in with the shenanigans, and there are broken tables, discarded chairs, and what potentially might be an electrocution when one patron’s head is smashed in to the jukebox!
Wayne's World 2
What is it with Hollywood sequels and gay bars?
In what could be considered the least subtle set-up in comedy history Wayne and his friends don disguises to spy on his girlfriend and her producer.
They choose disguises to help them blend in to street life – construction worker, sailor, police officer and leatherman (see where this is going?) – but even these aren’t enough to conceal their identities, and they are soon spotted by Bobby, the producer.
Scurrying away, the group rush through a metal door in a quiet alleyway, and soon emerge inside The Tool Box, a busy gay bar.
Pushing their way through the crowd they spot another door to escape through. Trouble is, this exit door, which is on the club’s stage, is locked.
Spotting this group of familiar macho stereotypes on the stage, the club’s DJ puts the Village People’s YMCA on the turntable, forcing the men in to an impromptu performance for the baying crowd.
All ends well, though as the excitement gives them the distraction they need to escape safely.
Connie and Carla
It may be terrifyingly well-lit, but The Handlebar, the bar featured in 2004 rom-com Connie and Carla is full of loving, caring, open people who embrace all patrons.
Exactly what a queer bar should be.
The film is about two cis women, coincidentally named Connie and Carla, who stumble upon the bar when on the run from the mafia.
They soon go undercover as super successful drag performers that help turn around the struggling bar’s fortunes.
Over the last few years the conversation about who can and can’t perform drag has progressed immensely. Way back in 2004, though, we were still very much in the cis-gendered-men-do-drag-and-that’s-all-there-is-to-it kind of mindset. So, even though Connie and Carla start off by lying about their identities – pretending to be male drag queens in order to get jobs at the gay bar – when they eventually come clean and everyone embraces them wholeheartedly it means the film was accidentally ahead of its time in embracing cis-gendered female queens.
Find out more about the film by reading my review.
"And they had recreated this whole nightclub interior, that the second you set foot in it - it was all built from scratch - you sort of felt like 'I’ve been to this club'"
Former Lost Spaces guest, and featured extra in ‘Connie and Carla’, Jordan King talks about her experience as one of the drag queens in the film.
I went back and forth on whether to include this film, as The Blue Oyster Bar was definitely more of a laughing-at than laughing-with type of gag in the Police Academy films.
Despite that, though, I think that the queer community were so desperate for any representation at the time the films were made that the space was embraced and celebrated.
The bar is a fairly cliched depiction of a leather bar, and it was used as the scene of many a prank throughout the film franchises run.
The gag itself is very straightforward. Non-queer people get pranked in to entering the bar, at which point they are trapped and forced in to dancing with the leather daddies and bikers that frequent the space.
Why can I never find a dance partner that easily?
But I'm A Cheerleader
Escaping their conversion therapy camp for a night of freedom, the teenagers from ‘But I’m a Cheerleader’ find themselves at Cocksucker.
This is a bar that is proudly queer – a giant cock (the bird, that is) stands out the front next to the bar’s rainbow flag sign.
What happens inside is a familiar scene to anyone who has ever had a painful teenage crush or flirted badly at a bar.
The two main characters, Megan and Graham, dance with strangers when they should be dancing with each other, both looking longingly at the other whilst bodies gyrate around them on the dancefloor.
Such sweet longing!
The Birdcage, the film’s title as well as the name of the busy drag bar featured, is owned by Armand Goldman and is one of the hottest spots in South Beach, Miami, Florida.
Armand lives in an apartment above the club with his partner Albert, who also happens to be the star attraction at The Birdcage, where he performs as Starina.
And, above all this, they have a live-in housekeeper.
Dream life, right?
Things get disrupted somewhat when Armand’s son shows up, new fiance in tow, and essentially asks his father to hop back in the closet to appease her conservative parents (and, whilst he’s at it, he changes his surname to sound less Jewish).
Dubious moral quandaries aside, the star of the film is the art deco hotel used as the exterior for the bar, and the grand, elaborate drag performances held within.
Call Her Savage
I am fascinated by the Motion Picture Production Code (also known as the Hays Code).
Introduced in 1934 it effectively banned Hollywood films from showing ‘profanity, suggestive nudity, graphic or realistic violence, sexual persuasions and rape’. This meant there were no queer people shown in Hollywood films until the code was revoked in the late 60s.
The films made just before the code was introduced may not have been showing a particularly nuanced depiction of gay characters, but, at least they weren’t the tortured, deeply troubled characters we’d get in the 70s and 80s when films started to depict us again.
Though it wasn’t a main feature of the movie, this scene is one of the very first depictions of queer people in movies, two years before the code was introduced in 1932.
I mean, come on – who wouldn’t want to go to a gay bar with these two working there?
The First Wives Club
It was pretty rare to have a big-budget film starring three middle-aged female leads in the 90s.
And, on top of that, it was almost unheard of to have a lesbian character (albeit in a supporting role) that wasn’t there just for a cheap gag.
Okay, so maybe there was a cheap gag – when the film’s three main characters, played by Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton, go to a gay bar.
Each responds to the space in a different way, and the film does a pretty good job of depicting the social attitudes that were common at the time.
You only see very brief cutaways to the action, but at least they bloody show some action!
Whilst most films sanitise the kind of seedy, grimy men-only leather bars like that featured in Cruising, this film seeks to give a level of accuracy, right down to Al Pacino huffing on a poppers-soaked rag whilst flailing around on the dance floor.
It’s possible that the film-makers took extra care in getting these details right – the production was fraught with controversy, and many people protested the making of the film, viewing it as both anti-gay and exploitative of the community.
Viewing the film through a contemporary lens, it sure does look like a place I’d like to explore!