Guerillas in the Midst: Gay Flash Mobs Take Over Straight Bars
Narrow-minded sports fans and overcompensating frat boys beware: we're here, we're queer and we're taking over your bar.
Maybe it's a swinish comment. Maybe a bartender or waitress was particularly standoff-ish. Whatever the reason, Hugh Hysell, creator of TheMenEvent.com, the largest gay social and business networking company in New York City, is importing the best of gay culture to the city's straightest bars with his monthly Guerilla Gay Bar NY pub dive-bomb. One part flashmob, one part envoy, GGBNY is summed up by Hysell himself as an "opportunity for a very gay field trip with an activist overtone."
Hysell started Guerilla Gay Bar NY in 2007, in response to tales of homophobia in the New York City bar scene. While the "gayborhoods" of Chelsea and the West Village are famous for their gay populations, other regions of the city can be less than inclusive. Unenlightened attitudes toward LGBTQs can rise to the surface even in a city that is on the whole renowned for its celebration of gays and gay culture.
"We pick straight bars -- a sports bar, dive bar, or some douchey frat bar -- where we learn there has been some kind of anti-gay activity," explains Hysell, who relies on the 16,000 social media-savvy members of TheMenEvent.com family acting as eyes to discover potential locales.
The idea isn't a new one; Hysell found that gays and lesbians have been similarly flash-mobbing bars from Boston to Tulsa, all in the aim of showing not only the spending power of LGBTQs, but that an all-embracing attitude on the part of owners and staff is good for business.
"It's not exclusive that it is a place that has an anti-gay rep, but it often happens that way," Hysell continued. "At one bar, we learned one of our group was turned downed for a birthday party when they found out it was a gay party. They said they couldn't accommodate him."
But often, the bars involved have no idea that they have an anti-gay reputation, or have homophobes on staff. Such was the case of the Lincoln Park Grill in Hell's Kitchen, identified by Hysell himself as a GGBNY candidate.
"I walk by it on the way home," Hysell said, and noticed that, "the patrons who were outside smoking were young, very straight, 'very frat boy' bullies who were often rude to passers-by."
Once a bar is marked and meets the flash-mob requirements -- does it have the floor space? Can the mob intermingle easily with the patrons? -- Hysell and his team decide on a color all participants must wear as an identifier (in the case of Lincoln Park Grill, flashmobbed last October, purple or red). But other than always falling on a Friday for maximum impact with the regulars, no details are made public or posted on the Web, in order to keep the element of surprise.
Bars, staff and the public remain in the dark until the end of the day on Friday, when Hysell finally lets attendees know which bar to meet at by having members RSVP to TheMenEvent.com or Twitter. Within 30 minutes of call time, the flashmob takes shape.
While the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan has seen a proliferation of gay bars in the last decade, Lincoln Park manager Jud Schultz acknowledges that his clientele is not particularly LGBTQ.
"Lots of college kids from Fordham University and John Jay College," he noted.
"It was a bit busier than usual when I got there and it was apparent that everyone knew each other, or were at least at the same function," Schultz recalled, when Hysell and his mob descended. "I just thought it was a party that I either forgot about or that was unannounced. Some people were a little taken aback, but everyone seemed pretty cool about it."
Said Hysell, "We interact with all the regular patrons, and show that sharing a good time with a gay guy is cool and fun. We’re opening eyes and having a good time doing it."
Mobbed bars are quick to change their tune, sometimes literally. One quick-eyed owner told the DJ to switch the music to Lady Gaga and Whitney Houston. At another, the bartenders favored the color-coordinated mobbers over the regulars. Ultimately, however, GGBNY is not about shoving "gayness" down the throats of businesses, and Hysell is also quick to dispel the notion that Guerilla Gay Bar NY rewards perceived anti-gay establishments by patronizing them.
"We go to liven things up and show the power of the gay dollar, and that we should be embraced," he said, noting that the Lincoln Park Grill event was resoundingly profitable.
At the end of each GGBNY event, Hysell reveals what happened and why the bar was targeted. Many bar staff react with shock to learn that their bars have an anti-gay reputation; the staff at the bar that refused the gay birthday party were "horrified" such discrimination occurred. And Hysell reports that changes in both policy and personnel often result from his events, to the point he and TheMenEvent.com are often asked back.
"I see it as educating the ill-informed," said Hysell. "That we should be celebrated and included as valuable friends and neighbors. And welcomed."
For more information, check out the calendar of events at TheMenEvent.com