One night in the mid-1970s my parents came home from the theater in Manhattan and told us all about their night on the town. We were living on Long Island, Baldwin to be exact. I was 16 or 17 years old, still in high school. They said they had been out to Greenwich Village, and found a strange bar. It was called the Ninth Circle, and it was filled with homosexuals, they said. Oh, it was just fine, they had fun; my family was always gay friendly. It was on 10th Street, they helpfully provided. I had never been to a gay bar, but the idea sounded good to me. Filed under: “information to use.” After high school I got a job at the local supermarket, and made good money, so one night I took the train into Manhattan, found the bar, walked in, and a magical world opened.
Ah, the Ninth Circle. What a bar. I don’t think my parents ever knew they introduced me to my first gay bar. They were aware, I’d guess, that I was gay, even if it wasn’t exactly discussed. But well, they were recounting a fun time in the City, and I was just following their recommendation.
The bar was busy that first night in 1976; a year of liberty indeed. It was always busy. I became a regular on Tuesdays and Saturdays, because I still lived in Long Island. In 1978 I moved into the city and became a bit more of a regular. A denizen or habitue, even, but no, not an alcoholic. They joked I was a Christian Sobriety crusader. It was a bar that an American would be comfortable in. It had dark wood paneling, and stuffed animals like a raccoon and deer heads, and big picture posters of Janis Joplin and John Lennon, signed by them. The building and wooden bar are still there, and the patio and the basement. You can go see the location today, walk inside, even eat at the restaurant it has become. The bar itself closed in 1990. There should be a plaque: “Here was the greatest gay bar on earth.”
The people who came through, they were wonders. John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Bette Midler, Andy Warhol, and many others. And Rock Hudson. Not regulars, no, that was for guys like me. But they came in once or twice a year, just zipped through, often with entourages, then they zipped out. But they electrified the place, for sure. These were important folks, after all. But not Rock. No, he came in quietly. I know this to be true, for I have my story about him.