STORIES ABOUT GAY history often begin with a bar: the Black Cat in Los Angeles, Stonewall in New York. Equally important, our personal gay stories often begin with the gay bars of our youth. Yet these establishments are vanishing across the country for a variety of reasons, most prominently the rise of hookup apps like Grindr and skyrocketing rents for brick-and-mortar venues.
Does this disappearing act matter? That’s the question Jeremy Atherton Lin wrestles with in his ambitious new memoir cum cultural analysis, Gay Bar: Why We Went Out. In it, he examines the various functions that gay bars serve (as a refuge, for sociability, sex, and alcohol) and recounts the history of the ones he frequents in London, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Everything is viewed with cool detachment through the lens of his own biography. He analyzes his experiences as a representative of the larger group he identifies with, whether it’s London’s fashion crowd, the art queens of the Butt magazine era, or today’s politicized queers.