NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: UPPER WEST SIDE; Far From the Flash of Chelsea, a Gay Pub with a Local Feel: By RICHARD MORGAN, New York Times. Published: July 31, 2005
ALL men are islands. Perhaps especially gay men, so many of them wary of homophobia. But, as Manhattan itself proves, islands need not feel isolated.
Far from the Chelsea mainland, at the tip of a gay archipelago spread scattershot up the West Side, lies Suite, which opened in March at 109th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. The closest gay bar, Candle Bar, is 35 blocks away, at 74th Street and Amsterdam.
Why put a gay bar all the way up there? And why bother going? Suite, it turns out, is the un-gay bar: a mix of ethnicities, ages and attitudes very different from what many of the patrons describe as the cookie-cutter world of downtown flash or East Village hipsterdom.
”Downtown is all young white gym guys,” said Ralph Spencer, a black 51-year-old from Harlem, as he stroked a graying goatee. ”I don’t feel welcome. Here, I can be myself.”
With unlikely symmetry, Mr. Spencer’s view is shared by his bartender, Matt Tutsky, 21. ”This is more relaxing than downtown,” Mr. Tutsky said as a Yankee-Red Sox game played on a TV above him. ”Downtown is very gay. This just happens to be gay.”
The décor at Suite, warm and welcoming, is mostly brown, from the plush curved booths to the dark wooden bar, which dates to the Irish pub that originally occupied the site in the 1920’s. But the furnishings also include lava lamps and other tacky objects, and the drinks, it must be admitted, swing a bit cliché: cosmopolitans, vodka martinis, vodka tonics.
Danny, a closeted 25-year-old financial consultant who lives a few blocks away, is drawn to Suite by convenience. ”I was considering going downtown, but this is right here,” he said. ”And I don’t have to dress up.” He was sipping hard cider, and wearing an orange T-shirt and khaki cargo shorts.
Like Danny, the patrons are mostly local, and include Columbia students. For some, the proximity is nearly ridiculous. Suite’s ceiling is Atticus Gannaway’s bedroom floor. A 27-year-old editorial assistant, Mr. Gannaway describes the ”Chelseafied” world of gay clubs as nothing but snap judgments. ”I want conversation,” he said. ”We’re not all ‘Queer as Folk’ or ‘Will & Grace.’ I am a gay person, and sometimes even gay people just want to talk.”
Suite has appeal for even the downtown crowd. Downtown, said Damian, who asked that his last name not be used because he works at a gay club elsewhere in the city, ”You’ve got all these great visuals — hot guys, designer layout, all that — but you really have to agree to be uncomfortable to be there.”
”Here,” he added, ”it’s beautiful and comfortable.”
Ivan Balachandran, one of Suite’s three owners, approves of the lack of flash. ”I don’t want Greek gods for bartenders,” he said.
But when it was pointed out that the two bartenders on duty that night were both young, muscular, handsome men in tight sleeveless Suite T-shirts, he added with a smirk: ”Well, yeah. I mean, it is a gay bar. It’s important to look good.”