For over a decade, G Lounge has thrived as one of Chelsea’s most popular gay bars and established itself as an iconic nightspot in the neighborhood. With its reasonably priced drinks, free coat check and free admission, G was an obligatory passage point for many New Yorkers’, some of whom would visit the bar to “pre-game” before hitting the big clubs, while others would stop by for a few drinks as part of their bar hopping journey in Chelsea. It’s no coincidence that with its circular bar counter, G felt like a revolving door, with boys coming in throughout the night, touring the bar a few times, before exiting onto their next destination. How many tours one would take and how long it would take to complete one depended on various factors such as how packed the bar was, how many friendly faces one would run into in the course of their revolution, or how many attractive guys one would spot in attendance.
But a few weeks ago, G’s management took the controversial decision to start charging a cover charge on Friday and Saturday nights, which stunned the legion of G regulars and threw New York’s gay world in turmoil. Prospective visitors are now required to pay the sum of $10 to be granted entrance to the bar, which necessarily makes you think twice about swinging by. Prior to the institution of the cover charge, a visit to G presented a very low opportunity cost, which was part of the bar’s attractiveness. You could drop by, check out the scene, and if it was to your liking, linger around – and if not, you could quickly move on to one of the many neighboring bars, having lost only a few minutes of your night. But now, one has to ponder whether it is worth investing $10 to be permitted to go spend money at the bar…
The reasons which led G’s management to institute a $10 cover charge have been much discussed in New York’s gay world. G introduced the change with a slight repositioning of its Friday and Saturday nights, moving toward a “clubbier” format with a reaffirmed focused on house music, bringing back DJ’s like Alex Lauterstein who had made a pretty big name for himself in the late 90′s New York dance music scene before vanishing into oblivion. With this return to electronic dance music, G sought to differentiate itself from the trend of Top 40 hits music that most DJ’s are playing across every New York gay bar. By hiring some (more or less) dance music DJ’s, G could arguably justify imposing a door cover to its patrons. But of course, such reasoning is not fooling anyone – and many are bringing up racially charged arguments as the real reason behind the institution of $10 cover charge.
While G started as a bastion of the mostly white “Chelsea Boy” culture in the late 90′s, it quickly evolved to attract an increasingly ethnically diverse crowd coming from all boroughs and neighborhoods. It’s undeniable that G was by far the most mixed and inclusive gay bar in Chelsea, and the majority of its patrons were non Caucasian. And this racial diversity was certainly what made G such a unique and popular destination in Chelsea. For many years, G’s distinctive diversity produced a successful alchemy and the bar benefited from increased foot traffic due to its heightened popularity, while its patrons enjoyed G’s melting pot atmosphere and got to experience the “treasures” of other cultures.
It is also undeniable that things have been different at G and that the bar had somewhat lost some of it’s luster, especially among many long time regulars who started to shun away from the venue. Arguably, the recent closure of some mainstay West Village gay bars such as Chi Chiz could have contributed to the influx of a new crowd which started to patronize G Lounge. This particular crowd, sometimes euphemistically referred to as “urban”, but more often bluntly derided as “ghetto” was becoming more and more visible at G Lounge, and by some accounts, contributed to the perception that G was becoming more and more a “black” gay bar. As a result, some of the “white” contingent of G Lounge patrons, feeling less “comfortable”, stopped coming, which turned the assertion that G Lounge was becoming a “black” bar into a self fulfilling prophecy.
Leaving aside the highly controversial debate as to whether the shifting ethnic mix of G’s clientèle was a welcome evolution or not, many have pointed to the fact that this new crowd had a lower propensity to drink. Obviously, for a business whose success depends on the sell of alcoholic beverages, the irruption of this non drinking crowd lingering around the bar was seen as problematic by G Lounge’s management.
In these circumstances, the institution of a cover charge can then be seen as a reasonable attempt at weeding out the non drinking crowd, and possibly restore the crowd dynamics that had made G’s success in the past.
Unfortunately, this move also had the effect of infuriating what remained of the crowd of G’s regulars, causing many to voice their outrage and vow never to return, and accuse G of racial discrimination. Admittedly, it appears quite unusual for a Chelsea gay bar to charge its patrons an entrance fee. This is usually reserved for full fledged dance clubs, and while the neighboring Splash Bar could get away with its repositioning as a dance club, G can’t fool anyone since it doesn’t even have anything resembling a dance floor. However, quite a few bars in the West Village do charge on weekend a cover such as the Hangar Bar on Christopher street, where patrons must pay upon entrance the sum of $5, but receive in exchange a voucher for $5 worth of drinks purchase. The outcry over G’s decision to impose a door charge is understandable, but the accusation of racial discrimination are certainly far fetched. G’s bar manager is himself a black man, and G’s longstanding reputation of inclusiveness and diversity is precisely what made this establishment so successful. It’s certainly unfortunate that the circumstances led the bar management to impose a door charge, and while it wasn’t driven by greed, it certainly brought about an unavoidable controversies around the real motives behind what has been perceived as an abrupt departure from a long tradition of inclusiveness.