She-Males in Gramercy Park

The Lost Culture of New York Sleaze

There is a Transvestite/Trans-Sexual night in a Gramercy/Flatiron bar.

Two and a half blocks away from my apartment, at 3:30am on a Sunday, I saw a gaggle of Asian T-girls smoking outside the Gramercy Tavern, one of the best and most popular restaurants in the City. The dichotomy struck me as odd so I looked into the window of that bar saw a TS/TV party complete with bikers and other admirers. I grinned and walked home.  The culture of New York sleaze had returned, albeit in a small, clean wet lit Sushi joint.

I’m sure most of you think, so what, freaks hanging out on New York Streets, so what, hit the mental delete button.  I was heartened.  If the question could still be asked is it a boy or a girl in the post Giuliani/Bloomberg era maybe there was hope for the rest of us.

I told Mark, the head chef at the joint I work about my discovery.  “New York sleaze makes a come back.  It’s about fucking time,” he told me, a broad smile on his face.  I decided to check out that bar after I was done with my Saturday shift.

Walking down a deserted 20th Street, I got nervous.  Frankly, I couldn’t believe it I was actually weirded-out about going into the place.  I didn’t understood why.  When I was hanging out in the sleaze culture around Times Square and points west in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I was fearless.  No scene could be too weird, sleazy or dirty when I was in the mood to investigate.  I used to grab a few 16oz. beers, drop them into my black backpack and make a beeline for 12th Ave. and Times Square, just walking around to see what I could see.  The neighborhood’s mixture of pimps, TV hookers, X-rated bookstores, drugs, crime and unsuspecting tourists made for some of the best street theater imaginable.       

Hamachi, the sushi joint was clean and well-lit, a warm, inviting blonde wood place.  For the uninitiated or out-of-practice sleaze scenseters, there was no chance of accidentally taking home someone of indeterminate gender, no matter how drunk you got.

I walked down the steps only to be stopped by a large dark haired man in a blue-stripped shirt barely covering the belly hanging over his belt.  “It’s $10 to join the party,” he told me.  There was a no nonsense air about him, like a Hell’s Angel or Mongol hired because he could be pleasant while scaring the shit out of any trouble makers.  I must have taken too much time fishing the $10 bill out of my right front pocket because the young lady behind the doorman pulled out her breasts and smiled at me.  I smiled back, looking down at her small brown nipples and as I walked into the event.

Once at the bar, safely with bourbon in my hand, the guy next to me, grayish blonde, balding in a widow’s peak, tapped me on the arm.  “Some weather we’re having, huh,” he asked.  I nodded and smiled at him while I looked around the room. The TV’s (and the TS at the door) weren’t the Warhol glamour types.  They were mostly badly made up men, trying to pull drinks out of the other men who came in that evening for the ‘party.’  This wasn’t a pick-up event but a place to meet your fantasy and set up a date.

“Do you think it’s going to get warm anytime soon,” the blonde guy asked me.  I shrugged and smiled again, my thoughts drifting back to a stevedore’s bar my buddy Jim Kelly used to take me to in the low 40’s on 12th Ave.  We went in to the place to score some heroin from the barman but most of the men were there to meet the TS/TV of their fantasies.  Meeting the glamorous she-male didn’t seem to be the driving force behind the Hell Kitchen crowd either.  The women were older cross-dressers who liked to tease and flirt. It seemed to me, the people looking for each other in that place solely looking to getting off, unlike at Hamachi.  Come to think of it, Jim and I were there for the same idea although we would get off in an entirely different way. 

“I can’t take another cool spring day like this, can you,” my neighbor asked.  I looked at the blonde guy as he swirled what was left of his vodka around the bottom of the large rocks glass.  He seemed like another lonely guy in a bar, looking for a friend, not a she-male admirer—much to the chagrin of the 6’4” brunette who sipped white wine directly to his left.

The barmaid, with tattoos running down both arms, bid me a good night as I got up to leave.  Directly behind me, the staff of the restaurant, all off the boat Japanese, looked on with a combination of amusement and horror.  I wondered if the horror was from the stench of male sweat mixed with Channel No. 5 or if I was missing something.

Half an hour later, I reported my findings to my friend Seneca.  “You didn’t know about She-Male Night on 20th Street,” he asked me, looking somewhat shocked. 

“No, I was at the Speakeasy hanging out with that crowd on Saturday nights,” I replied.

“That party has been going on for over at the Silver Swan for over15 years as far as I know.  They moved it across the street when the Sawn closed last year,” he said.

A TV/TS She-Male night in a German restaurant, I thought.  How could I have missed that piece of the Weimar Republic in NYC?  Jesus, here I am, a man who likes to complain about old New York dying and a piece of the Sleaze Culture was only 500 yards from my front door.  What the fuck was I doing?  Oh yeah, I was hanging out in the Loser bar.  It makes me wonder what else I’ve missed in all of that time.

Just shoot me now.


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