Among the many and many-splendored amenities here in town, there is one bit of culture that Fort Worth has never quite perfected: a viable gay and lesbian nightlife scene.
But maybe we’re so behind the curve that we’re actually ahead of it. A recent New York Times article about the gradual dwindling of so-called “gayborhoods” in major cities like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago actually mentions Fort Worth as a city where, according to recent U.S. census statistics, many gay couples are relocating, choosing to toil over mortgages in suburban neighborhoods and townhomes alongside the largely hetero neighbors rather than self-segregating.
This was heavy on my mind as I returned to the South Side after a long absence to visit 651 at South Jennings and Pennsylvania avenues on a recent Saturday night. The club, which for a brief moment not too long ago was known as the cruising den Hot Shots, was one of Fort Worth’s most popular queer gathering spots during its halcyon days five or six years ago. The new 651 is true to the original mission.
As in days of yore, the club on Saturday was packed almost exclusively with men, bootscooting across the dance floor amid floating strobe lights and the sounds of commercial country music studs. Why did late-night comics like Letterman and Leno find so much novelty in the cowboy romance Brokeback Mountain? Gay men have been donning hats and shit-kickers since well before Annie Proulx put pen to paper, especially here in Cowtown.
The new version looked a lot like the old one. The major change, according to the cute, friendly young bartender, was that the floors had been refinished. Maybe the word hasn’t gotten around yet about the club’s second coming, or maybe gay men really have become the suburban nesters that the NYT identified. In any case, the crowd at this new-old club was considerably smaller in number, more sedate, and, gratifyingly, more diverse. I didn’t get the sense that there was much cruising going on, but I did hear plenty of laughter.
I also saw something more unusual: interaction across social lines. Gay men were smoking and sipping with lesbians, a dolled-up beauty in a sequined gown with suspiciously large hands and feet was holding court with two gray-haired gentlemen, and guys, whose body type – like mine – ran more to keg tummy than six-pack abs, perched on barstools were shooting the bull with the aforementioned bartender. Bonhomie, rather than sexual competition, abounded.
Are social phenomena like internet chat rooms, gay churches, and sports leagues tolling the bell for gay-bar owners? I’m not ready to go that far. Nothing mixes quite as well as vodka, pounding dance beats, and men in bouffant blonde wigs and mascara. And, after all, 651 has been open less than two weeks now, and the holidays are usually the deadest time of the year for bars.
But it could also be that diversity – the goal toward which sexual minorities have been marching throughout the decades – has replaced, um, homogeneity on the gay scene. Maybe now that guys can hook up more conveniently online, they can let their hair down at the bars and just mingle. I see that as a big leap forward.
651 S Jennings Av, FW