No More Toxic Toys

From Chapter 11: Healthy Life

Originally published in Lavender #311 (April 27, 2007)


Let’s continue our journey into leather culture by visiting one of the places from which the leather community sprang: a bar.


Since The Minneapolis Eagle opened five years ago, I’ve heard many men say something like this: “Well, I’ve tiptoed up to the Eagle and stuck my nose in, but I could never actually go in there!” Evidently, quite a few Lavender Magazine readers have actually “gone in there,” and they liked it so much they chose The Minneapolis Eagle as “OutStanding Bar to Meet Men.”*


For many years bars have been an important social center for the gay male community. Gay bars were a safe place, a shelter from the outside world, where people could be themselves without fear of harassment. Bars were places to meet people of like mind, to converse, to dance, to watch a drag show or other entertainment, to cruise (or just to people-watch), or to hook up for a night or a lifetime. Bars were our turf, our territory.


For the gay male leather/biker community that evolved after World War II, bars filled the same purposes, and still fill them today.


There are many leather bars across the United States and Canada and throughout Europe and Australia. Their names are often some variety of masculine homoerotic double-entendre (such as “The Barracks” or “The Tool Box”), but probably the most ubiquitous name for a leather bar is “The (insert city here) Eagle.” If you’re in a major city and want to find the place where leathermen, bears and other masculine gay men congregate, the local Eagle is a good place to start.


The various Eagles are not members of a chain; each is independently owned and run and each has its own unique flavor. Here’s a description of the flavor of The Minneapolis Eagle on a typical Friday night.


9:45 P.M.: Things are just getting going. The music is lively but not overwhelming. The bartender greets me with a friendly nod (he’s the man for May in this year’s “Men of the Eagle” calendar). The manager of a local leather store is setting up a leather vending area by the front door. Two guys sitting on one barstool are sucking face, oblivious to the rest of the world around them. And two other guys leave—they must have hooked up early.


The lighting, both from the art-deco fixtures behind the bar and the utility lamps hanging overhead, is almost all red. Two TVs are showing a tape of the 1996 International Mr. Leather contest, while a third shows a continuing series of what appear to be amateur near-porn photos harvested from the Internet.


The Atons leather/levi club of Minneapolis is having its monthly fetish night, this month’s theme being rubber and latex. The club’s president is sitting at a table, brushing layer after layer of liquid latex on a pair of waders. He was supposed to be having the liquid latex brushed on him, but he had an unfortunate depilatory accident that left his skin unfit for the exercise.


10:45 P.M.: Next door to The Minneapolis Eagle is another bar, The Bolt. Both bars are under the same ownership, and they’re con?nected by a roll-up door that’s open most of the time. But the roll-up door is closed now, and the bootshine area is set up in front of it. Fridays and Saturdays after 9 P.M., when The Minneapolis Eagle’s dress code is enforced, the only way to get from one bar to the other is either from the street or through the outdoor patio in back that is shared by both bars.


I go back to the patio to check out what’s happening there, but it’s a sultry evening and the crowd on the patio is small. I return to The Eagle, and suddenly I’m struck by the fact that there is very little traditional cruising going on here. The crowd is not lining the walls, quietly staring at every man who passes by. Everyone is engaged in conversation in groups of two, three or more, scattered gloriously helter-skelter around the bar. I also notice that the music is kept low enough that conversation is possible.


11 P.M.: It’s hard to move. It’s crowded—there are men every?where. An intense game of pool is going on; several people are leaning against the back wall, watching and commenting. One of them is Mr. Minnesota Leather 1990 (the very first), who is watching his husband—“Yes,” he says, “we’re both husbands”—shooting pool. The line of quarters on the edge of the pool table indicates that it will be busy all night. Another gentleman leans against the back wall, watches the pool game, and smokes a cigar—“a Butera, with a B,” he says when I ask him what kind of cigar it is.


I notice the club colors of the Atons and Black Guard, two local leather/levi clubs, decorating the back wall. There are also posters from other leather bars, some of them long gone. It’s comforting to see our history on display. On a shelf toward the ceiling are many trophies and plaques for various Minneapolis Eagle softball teams.


11:30 P.M.: I make my way to the front of the bar. There are now two guys manning the leather shop area, helping a customer try on a leather vest. The on-site ATM is busy—a bearish guy in a sleeveless flannel shirt, cutoff jeans, a Van Dyke and a hardhat gets money while another guy stands in line watching him.


Midnight: It’s even harder to move in the bar now than it was earlier. A buff gentleman with a shaved head and no shirt bumps into me. In the butchest of voices and without a trace of campiness, he very politely apologizes by saying, “Excuse me, dear.” Chivalry is not dead.


I notice many non-white faces. It’s about time. I also notice that everyone is interacting with everyone else rather than maintaining skin-color cliques. It’s about time for that, too.


1:30 P.M.: One gentleman has stripped down to bare-ass chaps. The patio is jammed. The sound system is playing “Believe” by Cher (she’s in town tonight).


This evening I’ve seen camo fatigues and I’ve seen a very impres?sive chain harness. Some guys have been wearing leather, some have been bearish, some have straddled both categories and some haven’t fit into either. But regardless of what they’re wearing, for the most part each man here has at least one thing in common—as one man puts it, “There’s a little more maturity here than you find at some other places.”


The Eagle stays active until 2:30 A.M., but I don’t. On the way to the door I see a gentleman wearing a t-shirt that says, in large type, “This place isn’t for everyone.” In smaller type it says “(Thank God.)”

© Copyright 2014 Nelson Borhek Press