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Michael Ryan, who leads the Gay Bars That Are Gone walking tour in NYC, and loves queer spaces as much as I do, is this week’s guest.
Originally from Augusta, Georgia, he first moved to New York for college, and although he quickly threw himself in to the scene, he wasn’t sure what ‘kind of gay’ he wanted to be…
It wasn’t until he found Splash, one of those old school gay bars that was bold, trashy and, invariably, the place you’d end up at the end of the night, that he found his tribe…
And that tribe was the people that went to Musical Mondays, a night that celebrated all things musical theatre….
And, if you’ve listened to the show before you know that I’m a bit of a luddite when it comes to musicals, but through this conversation I feel as though I’m starting to understand the appeal a little bit more…
Find out more about Michael at his website, or follow him on Instagram.
If you’re in NYC and you want to go on Michael’s walking tour you can book through Bowery Boys Walks.
Michael Ryan 0:00
And everyone like knew these references and I remember like 18 year old me it’s like looking around like, oh my god, how’s everyone know the words like I want in?
K Anderson 0:07
Hello, I am K Anderson and you are listening to lost spaces, the podcast that mourns the death of queer nightlife. Every episode I talk to a different person about a venue from their past, the memories they created there and the people that they used to know. My guest this week is Michael Ryan, who leads the gay bars that are gone walking tour in New York City, and loves queer spaces almost as much as I do. Originally from Augusta, Georgia, he first moved to New York for college. And although he quickly threw himself into the scene, he wasn’t really always sure about what kind of gay in inverted commas he wanted to be. It wasn’t until he found splash, one of those old school gay bars that was bowled trashy, and invariably the place that you’d end up at the end of the night, even though you promised yourself you wouldn’t be there, that he found his tribe. And that tribe were the people that went to musical Mondays, and night at splash that celebrated all things musical theatre. Now, if you’ve listened to this show, before, you know that I am a bit of a Luddite when it comes to musical theatre. But through this conversation, I feel as though I’m starting to understand the appeal a little bit more. Oh, and before we get going, if you are listening to this on Spotify, I am currently experimenting a little with the new interactive features. I’ve set up a really simple question, what is your favourite musical of all time? So if you could have a look at that on the episode description and answer the question, that would make me super excited. And if you answer agrees to I’m going to be your best friend forever. Right? Let’s get going. So I thought to get us warmed up. And to get us started, we could do a little bit of a word association game. So I’m going to say some words. And I want you to say in one word, your first knee jerk immediate response to the thing that I’m saying
Michael Ryan 2:45
K Anderson 2:47
I would have picked better words if I knew you were into danger. Right? So the first word, Georgia
Michael Ryan 2:54
K Anderson 2:58
Second word High School Theatre. Oh, then our guy said that my third is musical theatre.
Michael Ryan 3:08
K Anderson 3:11
for his New York City,
Michael Ryan 3:14
excitement, splash. Burn, joy,
K Anderson 3:20
musical Mondays. Education. Educate. Okay, that’s a good one. Well, anyway, so that leads us into the conversation today and a bit of a spoiler for anyone who’s listening. So why don’t we start at the beginning. And the first word I said was Georgia, which is not the country, which is the state and is where you grew up. Are you able to tell me a little bit about what growing up in Georgia was like for you?
Michael Ryan 3:48
Yeah, I lived in Augusta, Georgia, ever since I was three. Augusta, Georgia is the home of the big masters golf tournament. James Brown is from there and has this cool sort of music history. But then, you know, it has a terrible racial history. It’s kind of a broken city in a lot of ways growing up the downtown was kind of boarded up. You know, the suburbs is where everyone moved to and sort of the 70s and 80s. And I was always sort of fascinated by the old historic downtown. And I studied urban planning in college and I was always sort of like, okay, why why is all those cool buildings? Why are they all empty? And this seems to be where all the old theatres were. And this used to be sort of a bigger, more important city and it seems sort of like down on its luck. But growing up, I grew up in the suburbs. So it was like, traditional American suburb you know, the high school look like a little bit of a movie set. Nothing too remarkable out
K Anderson 4:55
and said like jocks, and nerds and cheerleaders and God yes,
Michael Ryan 4:58
yeah. The set of mean, girls, I think that’s what we’re thinking.
K Anderson 5:03
Well, yeah, I’m I’m always fascinated by this and like, how realistic those kind of TV shows and films are because it just seems so hyper real. Is that actually how it is?
Michael Ryan 5:15
I mean, there’s definitely like little tribes in these these high schools. I don’t know, there was about 2000 kids in my high school, and, you know, everything is kind of divided about what your extracurricular is, you know, do you are you on the football team? Are you on Student Council? Are you, you know, in the drama club, like, you are kind of what you do a little bit, I think,
K Anderson 5:37
and does everyone look like a 26 year old Hollywood actor?
Michael Ryan 5:41
Absolutely not, you know, everyone has bad acne and braces, and you know,
K Anderson 5:48
okay, see, that’s that’s kind of like a more of an idea as to
Michael Ryan 5:51
Yeah, no, it doesn’t look like, you know, the set of Glee or something where everyone, you know, it’s not like Stockard Channing, in Grease.
K Anderson 5:57
Yeah, I was very confused when I got to high school and people didn’t look like Luke Perry. It’s unfortunate. I just figured that’s how I would look when I was 16. And it just didn’t happen. I was still spotty and gross and oily. very oily. I’m sorry. Oh, yeah. So in terms of tribes, you fit into one particular tribe. And what was that?
Michael Ryan 6:23
I was drama club president in high school. Very, very, very prestigious. You know, what does the President to? Lots of responsibility, you know? No, we were just Broadway nerds. We went to like a theatre conference every year, called the Georgia thespian conference. There was like competitions like, we took this very seriously.
K Anderson 6:48
Would you see what happened? I think what, okay, what happened at the conference? Is it like new ways to act
Michael Ryan 6:54
so that you will bring a play, like there’s there was a few different like competitions, and you would bring like one act of a play. And there was like a panel of judges and you would like compete. And you would also watch a bunch of other plays, you would do like classes. And I feel like the Georgia thespian conference was like, the first time I saw comfortable out gay kids who were in high school, like there was no one out in my high school, I wasn’t out in high school. And going to a theatre conference kind of opened up my my world a little bit. There are people who like, knew how New York worked. And the theatre industry worked. And they were like, from a young age like that was their goal, where I feel like the goal when I was in high school, maybe at my high school, like the limit was, you’re going to eat the University of Georgia, or you’re going to like a college in the region. There were like, our guidance counselor’s really didn’t encourage us to like go beyond that. Really, I think,
K Anderson 7:59
Ah, so let’s talk about this. Then when you were at the conference, and you first saw gays in their natural habitat. Were you? You weren’t out in high school. But were you gay? Like did you know?
Michael Ryan 8:12
I mean, you know, those, there’s a lot of lying to yourself. Um, but yeah, I knew at some point. So
K Anderson 8:19
what was it like then seeing people who were comfortable with their sexuality that were like the same age as you?
Michael Ryan 8:26
Oh, my God, it was it was freeing because also, it tended to be that the out gay kids were like the most knowledgeable about theatre, they were the ones who were like collecting the like Broadway cast albums. And they knew the most, so they were kind of the coolest, it kind of felt like the upside down where, you know, maybe in, you know, the traditional school day, they would have been bullied for that. But they were sort of celebrated for it in this space.
K Anderson 8:54
And so you weren’t terrified then of like, being associated with them or being seen with them, like for fear of people putting two and two together and then somehow assuming that you were gay?
Michael Ryan 9:05
No, I was like taking notes.
K Anderson 9:09
It was musical theatre notes, right. It wasn’t like fellatio notes or anything.
Michael Ryan 9:14
Yeah, pretty, pretty, pretty innocent notes. But like, but I mean, also the people who were kind of teaching the classes and running this conference, like they were working in the theatre industry, most of them, you know, one could assume were, were gay, and they were the people who were, you know, being brought in as successful and with these great careers, and that was that was inspiring to like I, I didn’t really have sort of, you know, adult, out adults, either in the community.
K Anderson 9:44
And then so, like going back to high school, returning from these conferences returning from these competitions, like, were you accepted for being a theatre nerd or was that like, just kind of the death knell to your popularity and social status?
Michael Ryan 10:00
I, I feel, I think accepted, um, I don’t know, in some ways, it became a little cooler. Or, also, I kind of found my own tribe within that. So it kind of didn’t matter to me at that point. Like, I was just kind of happy because I had a group of friends. And you know, it seemed kind of interesting and cool enough to me. So I was kind of happy in that little bubble. So it was finding your tribe.
K Anderson 10:27
Okay, so it wasn’t that fat, like extreme version of a high school film, where if you’re not in the football team, or if you’re not a cheerleader, then you’re just kind of like,
Michael Ryan 10:38
No, it wasn’t that but I will say, and maybe I brought this on myself, but I have a specific memory from freshman year, I was cast in a production of Into The Woods. And for some reason, we all thought it would be a good idea to market the show, you know, a little bit of marketing, we would wear our costumes during the school day. And my costume was like an all white sort of like Renaissance suit. And I remember like, was
K Anderson 11:06
this about marketing or just about you getting to wear this suit? I’d be honest with me,
Michael Ryan 11:11
it was to say, you know, like, some girls were walking around, like hoop skirts all day and like trying to fit into their desk. This is ridiculous, right? But we convinced ourselves, this is what we have to do to sell tickets like this is what the job calls for. And I have a distinct memory of waiting in line like the school cafeteria. So it kind of feels like your high school movies that and like turning around. And like someone like flicking ketchup on a spoon all over my like white costume and like that’s like the like, you know, Glee moment like slushy in the face a little bit. And, you know, it’s not so traumatic but and like, you can kind of look back on it and be like, also, why were you wearing that ridiculous costume out and about?
K Anderson 11:53
No, don’t do not victim shame you wherever the hell you aren’t. They should not have splattered you with ketchup. Did that. Like I know this is not important at all to the story, but like, did this stain ever come out?
Michael Ryan 12:05
It was ketchup. So you know it washed out?
K Anderson 12:07
Oh, okay. Okay, good. Because I was thinking like that would on white. This is why I never wear white because I just get it stained, like very easily. I think maybe I just have never learned how to adult properly. And I don’t know how to wash clothes.
Michael Ryan 12:20
I mean, it’s a risk. And I was taking big risks in high school.
K Anderson 12:25
So, so then leaving Georgia and moving to New York City, what was that? Like?
Michael Ryan 12:31
I mean, it was completely like Emerald City. Right. You know, I mean, Augusta. Georgia isn’t necessarily a small city. I think like, the metropolitan areas like 500,000 people. I’m second biggest city in Georgia. But I mean, New York is no comparison. Right? So I was like, why died showing up with my suitcases? Like how am I going to make my way here? In some ways, it felt almost like not a real place at all. And a little bit like unmanageable, like you don’t know where to start? What type of New Yorker do I want to be? What type of gay person in New York? Do I want to be? Lots of decisions, you know?
K Anderson 13:14
So what are the options then? In terms of what kind of New York or what kind of gay you could be? What were you doing?
Michael Ryan 13:20
I feel like, you know, the image of New York is a little bit you know, nightlife is a part of New York, a strong social life as a part of New York. Like, it’s not the college experience of like, I’m reading the classics on a green quad. Like you’re kind of torn between everything the city has to offer, and also learning and sort of like, reflecting on things internally, I think. So I feel like, there was a little bit like, oh, do I have to go out all the time? Like, what what type of gay person am I like, I remember freshman year, like the choice like I sort of wanted to sort of stay in my dorm room and watch like, the West Wing on my laptop. But I remember like, you know, people on my floor and hall like, you know, putting glitter on getting ready to go to the club. And I was always like, pulled off like, which which 1am I or do I have to choose that sort of like FOMO feeling that you always feel
K Anderson 14:20
so? So you were a nerd?
Michael Ryan 14:23
Yeah, but a nerd like an anxious nerd of like, should I should I should I not be? And then I feel like those spaces where you first moved to New York are kind of awful. Like, they’re like the 18 and up places, and they can be like shiny and exciting, but they’re like, it took me a while to also kind of find spaces that like oh, this this feels right. Like one of my favourite gay bars in New York is a bar called Julius which is in the West Village. It’s been there since like the 1860s. It feels like it has that Cheers feeling like you walk in, you’re probably gonna see someone you know, it’s kind of all types of gay people mix of ages, you can like grab a burger and a beer and it’s very chill. And that’s kind of like more of my vibe where I feel like when you first moved to New York, you’re like, encourage to go to like Meatpacking district clubs with like promoters. And it’s like a little bit more intense. Yes,
K Anderson 15:24
yeah, yeah. Well, you kind of got to get the clubbing out of your system, right? Like, it’s one of those things that’s best to do when you’re young and your knees can handle it?
Michael Ryan 15:34
Well, you know, I’ll say I feel like when I moved here, it was like the peak of like bottle service, New York, where like, the big clubs were still kind of more lounges where it was like bottle service around tables, where New York really didn’t have many great big dance clubs anymore. Either they had moved out of Manhattan, or places that were in Brooklyn were more like kind of roving parties. Rather than like, here’s the big, massive club where you’re going to like dance all night, which is kind of post pandemic New York, all of a sudden, we’ve had a few big dance clubs open up and big gay clubs, and they also change some of the nightlife laws, they removed this really antiquated law called the cabaret licence, which made it illegal to dance in most places. So they removed that. And it’s kind of like, there’s a little bit of post pandemic New York can dance again. And so I feel like if I moved to New York now, I feel like it’d be a little while just because it’s there’s a lot of more exciting options. All of a sudden, where when I moved here before there was more everything kind of felt like Sex in the City, I think.
K Anderson 16:43
So there were clubs that you would go to that you just wouldn’t dancing.
Michael Ryan 16:47
I mean, people kind of did dance, but that wasn’t like the central focus. Like I, I love dancing, like I love a dance floor and a disco ball. And that’s, that’s fun. But I kind of don’t know what to do in the lounge where people end up dancing, but there’s not like a proper space for it. And it’s more about the velvet rope and like sitting around the table. That sort of thing. I’m not really interested in that sort of space. I don’t know about you.
K Anderson 17:15
Ah, yeah, I don’t think like we really have anything like that. I mean, I’m never invited to the VIP area. And so then, in terms of university, you were not out in high school, was moving to New York an opportunity for you to be like a flaming homo jumping out of the closet, or,
Michael Ryan 17:34
yeah, I feel like I yeah, I feel like I signed, you know, the letter that, you know, I’m going to move to New York, and then it was like, Mom, Dad, I have something to tell you. It was like, Okay, we have confirmation. And I kind of wonder, you know, had I gone to university in the south, I wonder if I would have, you know, put off that for a little more. And if I wouldn’t have felt as comfortable. I think there was a sort of like, instinctive Oh, well, I’ll be okay. In New York like I can. I can be myself like, it almost be ridiculous to not be myself openly and coming to New York.
K Anderson 18:12
I said, wasn’t wrong, say this, the sense of release this kind of, like, Oh, I’ve kind of held it in. And I’ve just kind of finished high school, I’ve done kind of what was expected of me. And now when I’m going here, I can just kind of let it go. And with that, did you put a lot of pressure on yourself to just like, just be really gay.
Michael Ryan 18:36
Yeah, but I kind of didn’t know how, like, I was just like, I don’t know, what does it mean, but I did like arrive in New York. And I remember, you know, the first couple of friends I made in college, like, I was just always out and gay to them. And I like they didn’t know that I had come out, like literally, like two weeks before then. You know? So like, I just arrived being like, pretending like smoking a cigarette, like, oh, yeah, I’ve always been this way. But meanwhile, you know, on the inside, you know, you’re probably more nervous and sort of like, not sure what exactly to do what everything means. And you’re just sort of figuring it out as you go, which I guess is what university can be about, too.
K Anderson 19:11
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I guess like there’s so much change at once isn’t there, then it’s maybe hard to separate the gayness from everything else that you were going through at that time. But you said before that there were lots of people on your floor in your dorm that were the ones that were saying, oh, let’s go to the club. Let’s go here. Let’s go here and you wanted to stay at home? How did you? How did you find that?
Michael Ryan 19:33
Um, I mean, I guess so many people who went to the college, some people had grown up in New York, they were from LA, they were from bigger cities. So it felt like a little bit of an outlier to be from the south be from a smaller city. So there’s just a lot of things I didn’t know like they had so much like knowledge of gay culture, city culture, like just how things work. They just seem so much more with it, so I was intimidated. And a little bit kind of like, there was a little bit of like cattiness, too, you know, like there wasn’t it wasn’t like totally always so friendly. There was a little bit of like, competition and judgement. So I also kind of wanted to like stay away from that energy. I don’t know. I was very like, just looking for like, nice people.
K Anderson 20:20
And when you say like, cattiness just in the way that like, stereotypically, gay people, or you’re like, looking down on you because of your inexperience?
Michael Ryan 20:34
Uh, yeah, a little bit like I remember going to Splash one night. And everyone is wearing these, like, you know, drapey, like tank tops, they like have their hair claw soft, and I’m wearing like a long sleeve flannel shirt, you know, and people are like, What? What are you wearing? You know, that sort of?
K Anderson 20:57
Well. So that brings us to Splash down, which is what we’re here to talk about. We’re here we’ve arrived. So is that the kind of place it was that where people dressed up to go, and if you wear a flannel shirt, you’d be like, ostracised.
Michael Ryan 21:09
I mean, maybe that’s the place and why you freshmen dressed up to go, um, you know, I think like Splash was been open for like 20 years, by the time I started going there. And when it closed there was like this. This quote in the New York Times where someone said something to the effect of like, splash was the place everyone complained about and said was lame, but everyone always ended up there. Because it was one of the like, the last. It was one of the last sort of like big clubs in Manhattan that you could dance, it was like two floors, there was a big dance floor like big disco ball. So there was that sort of like, big space. So it was big in a lot of ways. But also, I think by the time I started going, there was a little bit on the way out in terms of like, being the cool place to go.
K Anderson 22:01
Well, yeah, so it opened. So my extensive research has shown me that it opened in 91 and closed in 2013. So you would have been there for the last few years, if you moved to New York in 2010. So give me a sense of it. It was two floors. It was a big club. What kind of clientele would you expect to see there?
Michael Ryan 22:26
So it, it’s in Chelsea, just to like orient folks, so it’s not like 17th street and Sixth Avenue. And it opened when the gay energy in Manhattan was sort of shifting from the West Village, Greenwich Village up to Chelsea. And it’s sort of immediately this sort of plays for the standard, Chelsea boy, which is like the type of gay who lives in Chelsea the stereotype, which is like, muscly goes to the gym, like they’re just like stereotypically gay and sort of like the meme, I would say, of this place. And nobody here exactly. Yeah, you got it. You got it. But they also have different nights. Right? So they have Latin night they have um, I guess, I guess that was it. That was music and then Latin Night. So So yeah, I don’t think Splash is a place known for like, great. Diversity or, or like diversity of of looks really
K Anderson 23:29
always at one of those gross places where totally man.
Michael Ryan 23:33
Yes, yeah. Wow. And, you know, I remember going there a couple of times, with, you know, girlfriends from, you know, university, you know, wound up out and like being turned away, like, with a woman, which, I don’t like that at all. So, you know, and I remember that
K Anderson 23:53
day, like upfront about it, like, sorry, you can’t come in with a woman, or were they like, Oh, you don’t have any ID you can’t come in Oh, sorry, we’ve got a private party on.
Michael Ryan 24:01
It was I remember the line was about because it was 18 and up night, like I wasn’t yet 21, which, you know, that’s the age here in New York. And so it was, oh, men can be 18 and up, but women have to be over 21. So like, they didn’t want like, they were like taking the legal risk with the boys. But not like it doesn’t even that makes no sense. It makes it it makes no sense. And like, you know, maybe I’m sure that wasn’t like their policy, but that’s how the door worked out sometimes. Which which, you know, isn’t great. Like I had this idea of gay bars being this like, great, safe space for everyone and sort of like kumbaya like that’s like, a lovely space, but they can also be spaces of discrimination and you know, all the bad things that exists in the gay community too, right.
K Anderson 24:48
sound weird, so weird. And but we are here to talk about why you loved this place. So let’s not focus on the negative.
Michael Ryan 24:55
Yeah, for sure.
K Anderson 24:57
So, you mentioned that it has had a Latin night where he didn’t mention is musical Mondays, which I know you’re a fan of.
Michael Ryan 25:07
Yeah, I frequented splash most on on Mondays and Musical Mondays was their musical theatre night, right. So it was like, more of like a happy hour vibe. So it’s earlier on. There’s some good like drink specials. And then they have massive screens all around the two story club. And they have a DJ that is very specifically curating musical theatre clips, and like gay camp clips, that all sort of like lead right into each other.
K Anderson 25:41
Okay, so just kind of give me a flavour of what I would expect if I was there for musical Monday. Like, what would I hear?
Michael Ryan 25:48
Right? I mean, so you’re gonna hear you’re gonna hear the hits the crowd pleasers, right? There’s gonna be like a Rent moment. It’s gonna be a Dream Girls moment. But the reason I love Splash because I would go there and see clips where I was like, What is this from? What is this thing that everyone knows the words to that I’ve never heard of. And or just like jaw dropping sort of like Tony Awards clips where you’re just like, Who is that performer? So I always learned something. But the reason I was like always entertained by it is because the, the DJ would always do things like okay, you’d be watching the Tony Awards performance from Guys and Dolls. So the song would be ‘Sit down, you’re rocking the boat’. And then the next clip would be a clip from Titanic the musical so like, rocking the boat to sinking the ship, you know? Like that. That’s
K Anderson 26:40
funny say really? Titanic the musical.
Michael Ryan 26:43
There’s absolutely a titanic the musical. It was on Broadway, like around the same time as the movie. And they’re totally separate from each other. Like they’re not. It’s not like a related to the movie.
K Anderson 26:55
What are the songs, like ‘help, I’m drowning’ or they’re
Michael Ryan 26:58
they’re very grand. It is a very serious serious.
K Anderson 27:04
Okay, so what I am, I have to look this up. I’m sorry. We can’t go any further until I find out about ah, Titanic 2 the film. What’s that?
Michael Ryan 27:13
I can’t help you there.
K Anderson 27:16
Wow, it was deserted. The film is set on a fictional replica of the Titanic that sets off exactly. 100 years. Okay, I’m getting distracted. But Titanic 2 is out there if anyone wants to see it. Titanic the board game. Oh my god.
Michael Ryan 27:31
There’s a whole world.
K Anderson 27:32
It’s not here on Wikipedia. Television. Other uses, magazine. Oh, here we go. Titanic musical. Titanic is a musical with music and lyrics. Oh, geez. I just need to find this song list. Okay, okay. So this songs. How Oh, one of the songs is called ‘How did they build the Titanic?’ Not very well. That’s the answer.
Michael Ryan 27:56
Yet the architect of the Titanic is like a main character.
K Anderson 28:01
‘Wake up. Wake up’. Oh. I’m sorry. Oh, why did this go to the lifeboats. And then ‘we’ll meet tomorrow’. I don’t think they met tomorrow. God love Yeah. Okay. All right. Sorry. We got distracted. So Titanic the musical. So you. So hang on, you found out about Titanic, what were we actually talking about? I got distracted.
Michael Ryan 28:24
So we were talking about the curation behind the clips that they would show that like they would all connect to each other in some sort of way. So like that first one being sit down, you’re rocking the boat. And then like the next one is the finale of Titanic, the musical the boat. Like that’s, that’s really funny. And there’s like, I just found it. I always wanted to like, oh, what’s the connection to the next one? And there was like, you could tell that there was like some amazing gay DJ making it all happen,
K Anderson 28:54
I think was the next one. Ding dong, the witch is dead. I’m trying to think of a song of someone dying.
Michael Ryan 29:01
I mean, and like, it’s not so serious. There wasn’t always like magical connection, but it was just kind of like, thoughtful. And I just liked that. I always learned something. There was always something where I was like, what is that clip? And like it was it you know, like, YouTube’s starts in like 2008 or nine. Like, it wasn’t I forget when YouTube started but like, a lot of these things like I just had never seen before, right? Because we weren’t totally in the space where we could always pull up a clip on our phone like I didn’t have a smartphone when I moved to New York, you know, so it was it all seemed very exciting and like I knew what was on the Tony Awards. The couple years I had watched it the year before but otherwise my knowledge was like minimal about musical theatre. And then you also just sell which musical theatre songs or like Broadway divas were like, I don’t know, the gay community claimed them as their own. Like this is where, you know, I learned about you know, people like Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone and all of their sort of like torch songs, you know?
K Anderson 30:05
Okay, so you just like, treat me like a novice in this area because I am but that name Patti LuPone. I hear quite a lot when I talk to people from New York. Okay, I should look her up one day. What do I need to know about her?
Michael Ryan 30:20
So famous for being the original Evita. Okay, and, you know, she’s in lane, Ms. She was in an iconic production of gypsy as Mama Rose. And she is like a big brassy Broadway diva. Also just like does great interviews and gives us great content. You know what I mean?
K Anderson 30:42
Okay. Oh, okay. Well, let’s say that was the question that I was gonna ask, like, how does a Broadway diva become a gay icon?
Michael Ryan 30:52
She has incredible Tony Awards clips that get played at Musical Mondays. That’s but
K Anderson 30:58
is there more to it? Like, I mean, yeah, again, like, I don’t know enough about this. But surely there are some really good singing women type that are in theatre that the gays don’t care about.
Michael Ryan 31:09
I mean, I feel like common traits are like, you know, amazing vocals. And that could be like, we’re hitting high notes, or like, I’m hearing the emotion in your voice, you know, like, I hear the vulnerability. And then there’s also like, if you play a character that like resonates with the gay community, so someone who’s misunderstood you know, someone who’s ostracised in some way, like those are those are the characters and the people who play them, I think become pretty iconic.
K Anderson 31:44
And are there like lots of parallels with the pop world in terms of like a pop diva like Kylie Minogue or Madonna or Janet Jackson, where the same thing doesn’t really happen with male performers. Yeah,
Michael Ryan 32:01
I think so. Like, you would have great clips from Broadway men. But they you know, that’s not the one everyone is like standing on the barstool singing to is what I noticed that musical Mondays, which is absolutely true. In the pop music world, right? For some reason. We idolise the women.
K Anderson 32:22
Yeah. I’m wondering if with like the rise of the queer pop star, if that’s kind of no longer going to be a thing.
Michael Ryan 32:32
I hope so.
K Anderson 32:33
It’s really interesting, isn’t it? And so then, when you first moved to New York, you were trying to figure out what kind of gay you wanted to be having gone to musical Mondays? Did you answer that question?
Michael Ryan 32:50
I yeah, I I embraced, like nerdiness and musical Monday. And so I love that they were like people who knew every clip who knew what production what was the story with the understudy who went on that one time, and I was like, I kind of like listening to that guy. Like, kind of like, knows the full backstory about everything. And I was like, You know what, whether it’s about like New York City history, or musical theatre, pop culture, like I’m just gonna be comfortable with being a nerd. I’d rather like know, the history of something that like the coolest new songs or new production sort of thing.
K Anderson 33:30
It’s to what nerdy things would you tell me if you ran into me at the bar?
Michael Ryan 33:36
I mean, I would talk to you about gay bars that are gone the like walking tour of of gay bars that I do in New York, I love talking about people’s favourite I mean, as as you do, right, like people’s favourite queer spaces and what makes them happy and feel comfortable as gay people. I love hearing people’s memories. And I, I really love talking about the like, you know, we’re talking about a recent bar from like, the 90s. And in the early aughts, but like I love talking about, like, the bars and the queer bars from New York from like the 1850s in the 1890s, and all that stuff that sort of like blows apart. The myth that like gay people didn’t exist before Stonewall, you know,
K Anderson 34:18
so what’s your favourite?
Michael Ryan 34:20
My favourite gay bar that is gone is a bar from 1859 here in New York, called fasts. And it was like a bohemian beer cellar that Walt Whitman used to go to. And there was like reports of him like cross dressing with his like male friends at this like bohemian beer cellar and like lower Broadway, and that’s just like a space that there’s like, beautiful poetry that Walt Whitman wrote poems about and there’s like some homoeroticism in the poems and it’s like from 1859 like that. That gives me like a lot of pride as a gay person that, you know, we’ve been a fabric of the city for for that long and visible in the city for that long that it wasn’t in the 60s and 70s that people just showed up like we’ve always been here we’ve always been a visible part of New York City.
K Anderson 35:09
So do you remember hearing about Splash closing
Michael Ryan 35:14
yeah um I we were like part of the like okay splashed they like announced it like a few months in advance and there was like a summer of like splashes closing like get your last you know here’s the last this party here’s the last this that I think I didn’t go to the actual closing party but I think you know legend lady bunny close things down in 2013 there and I remember my my sister had moved from Georgia to New York and we I my college job was working on the highline Do you know the Highline? Yeah. And I was a park ranger on the Highline, which is probably the purchase job I’ll I’ll ever have in my Did you.
K Anderson 35:57
Did you kind of walkie talkie
Michael Ryan 35:59
Oh, I had a walkie talkie. That was like the most rugged job I had. But
K Anderson 36:03
we should probably explain what the highline what used to be a train track. But then it was converted into like an a walk.
Michael Ryan 36:10
Yeah, it’s like an elevated train line that ran to the meatpacking district where all the trains would pick up the meat when it was actually for meat packing. And then it was abandoned. And a natural like wildflowers and stuff started growing on the tracks, and a to a game that actually, in 1999, were like, Hey, we could actually turn this into a park, the city wanted to knock it down. So they work to kind of adaptively reuse it. And they turned it into this like highly designed Park. And there’s art and it’s a beautiful way to see the city. And it was supposed to be this like, Oh, it’ll be this nice park. And now it’s like one of the top tourist attractions in the city. Right. So it was like a big success story.
K Anderson 36:52
And so what would you arrange your duties include?
Michael Ryan 36:56
Oh, I would, you know, do all you know, I’d help people to the wilderness of the highline first. No, you know, it was like, you know, telling people about the history of the park making sure they like keeping away pairs. Yeah, I mean, we were in Chelsea, there was lots of pairs. Yeah. Oh, I see what you did. Yeah. But you know, it was it was it was a lovely, like college job and, you know, talk to tourists and you know, made sure they had a good time on the Highline. But when my sister moved to New York, I was like, oh, you should work here with me. And you know, she needed some money when she first moved here. And the way our schedules worked was like our Friday was Monday. And like musical Mondays was like happy hours. So we’d like get off and go to musical Mondays together. And that was her like, and she was on our weekend. She was allowed in. Yeah. I mean, they were about to close. Right? They were. And I mean, for me, like, I mean, that was fun to like, kind of share that like last summer at that splashes open with with my sister and we would like dance. And you know, my boyfriend was there and we would just like have a good time. Like, I have really good memories from that like, last few weeks of splash closing. So I remember like, showing my sister I was like, this is like my New York. This is like the place I’ve been going to like it was a lot of fun. And she was like, Oh, I remember all this shit used to listen to in the back.
K Anderson 38:19
Well, that was gonna be my follow up question. Was she a musical theatre nerd as well, but maybe not.
Michael Ryan 38:23
She was like, What the hell are you listening to all the time? You know, but um, you know, she she saw the light. I mean, it’s come on days.
K Anderson 38:30
Oh, okay, so she wasn’t there agog while everyone was doing the call and response like what the fuck is going on?
Michael Ryan 38:36
No, she got that she’s on board.
K Anderson 38:39
Brilliant. Good. It’s good when you can indoctrinate someone. So, so little Michael moved to New York. Got to practice homosexuality and become a full full grown gay. I did that. How did how did splash help you on that journey?
Michael Ryan 39:01
Musical Monday’s was the like, Introduction to like, the idea of like gay culture that there’s like references. Most people know there’s like, like a there was something that would happen at the end of every musical Mondays. So you know, you’re watching like a few hours of like clips and there’s like some like pop up performances and that sort of thing. But at the end, they would always have like a Broadway understudy or like some some performer that would like do a short show at the end. But at the end, they would always play Jennifer holidays 20 word performance from Dream Girls. Are you familiar?
K Anderson 39:41
Is it and I am telling you? Yeah, that’s it.
Michael Ryan 39:44
That’s it? Yes. That’s okay. Yeah, you nailed it. And it’s Tony work performance is famous because she like had to do the scene before to like ramp up to the song so normally like, on a award show performance. It’s like a quick medley of all the highlights from the show or something. And she like insisted I need to do this, the scene before to like ramp up to this like big number. And the scenes starts with dialogue. And so that clip would always end musical Mondays. And after that clip ended, the emcee would like get on stage and she would like call and response the dialogue that we just heard. So it’s like Curtis was supposed to and the audience was shot Love Me morale. Where’s my dress, and everyone like, knew these references. And I remember like, 18 year old me it’s like looking around like, Oh my God, how does everyone know the words like I want in? This all seems really cool and exciting to me. I feel like that’s what splash means to me. And it’s kind of specific on musical Mondays for me a little bit like we would go there on weekends to like dance and it was fun. But I kind of think of splash. Being about musical Mondays, actually.
K Anderson 40:56
Quick side note, would you ever go out on a Monday night now?
Michael Ryan 41:00
I mean, yes, yes. I love weeknight going out in New York. I don’t know. I actually, like weekends. I’m kind of like, I’ll stay in you got the riffraff. There’s like crowds, like I kind of love a half empty game over
K Anderson 41:17
the bridge and tunnel thing. Yeah, it’s that it’s still referred to in that way.
Michael Ryan 41:22
Not really. Because, like, I know, I live in Queens, like we’re all bridge and tunnel, you know. But it’s more of like, there’s just crowds. There’s lines. You know, like, I I love gay bars. I love going out and clubs and stuff. But I kind of love a half empty space. I don’t know.
K Anderson 41:42
There’s a tipping point that wasn’t there. Like I understand what you mean. And I agree. But sometimes it takes like two or three people to take a space from like depressing and boring to just right.
Michael Ryan 41:54
Yeah. And you know what? To be honest, like, the music is good, and the atmosphere is good. I’ve had a great night with like me and a best friend and an empty place. And like, we are just like under the disco ball doing our own thing. Yeah. But you know, it’s always nice to meet new people and there’ll be a crowd to
K Anderson 42:11
new people is scary. Do you have any memories of splash or clubbing from your own queer scene that you want to share? Well, if you do, please get in touch. I want to create the biggest online record of people’s memories and stories and all that good stuff about queer nightlife. Go to La spaces podcast.com and find the section share a lost space and tell me all about what you got up to. You can also find me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as last spaces pod. Find out more about Michael at his website. Michael Ryan loves places.com Or follow him on Instagram, Michael James Ryan, or follow there are gay bars that are gone Instagram, which is at gay bars that are gone. If you’re in New York City and you want to go on Michaels walking tour, you can book through the Bowery boys walks website, I’ll make sure to include a link in the shownotes for the programme. La spaces is not only a podcast, but a concept record as well. I have been writing songs about queer venues and the people who used to live their lives there and we’ll be releasing songs over the coming year. You can hear the first single which is called well groomed boys and is also playing underneath my talking right now on all good streaming platforms. If you liked this episode, I would really appreciate if you subscribed left a review on your podcast platform of choice or you just told other people who you think might be interested in giving it a little listen to I am K Anderson and you have been listening to lost spaces