Mineshaft: NYCs Most Legendary Gay Club You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Managed by Wally Wallace, the Mineshaft ran from 1976-1985 at 835 Washington Street. The club was strict, it was meant for the exclusive purpose of men to practicing sexual activities which were distinct from the conventional gay norm. Hidden among the warehouses of Greenwich Village’s meatpacking district, it became a symbol of the sexual revolution that exploded during the seventies. Sadly, Mineshaft closed in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. 

Gritty, dirty, the epitome of sleaze, it was probably the most popular and notorious gay club in history.

– Robert Schanke

The men who were allowed to enter were hand selected. They frequently wore leather, cowboy clothing, motorcycle wear, workers’ gear, or police uniforms. In fact, unknowing people who were looking to enter the club oftentimes were afraid a police raid was happening because they saw so many men in uniforms outside. The police did raid, but on a usual night, those men outside were just in costume.

Even (according to rumors) The Village People were so inspired by the dress of the patrons, they used the bar as inspiration for their iconic costumes.

Instead of having “what to wear” dress code, they had a posted lists of what not to wear with the option to check your clothing at the door. Near the coatcheck, there was a sign which offered a discount of 5 cents to those who were not circumcised and that “could prove it.”

As it was so hard to get in, even celebrities such as Mick Jagger and Rudolf Nureyev were “blocked” and not allowed to enter because they did not respect the dress code. If the doorman did approve of your dress, you paid admission fees based on membership. The non-members and guests of members were issued a temporary pass with the house rules. Some member’s passes didn’t have their real name, but rather, nicknames to protect their identity.

According to a history blog of Leather Clubs, immediately after the entrance the venue had a bright red washroom with urinals, wash closet, and sinks through which the water fell directly on the floor. The front room was up a flight of stairs and quite large with one long bar, a wardrobe, and some benches. The walls were made of wood and there was sawdust on the floor throughout. If you were daring enough, you went down the shaft (another stairway) to the Mines. The bar had a roof deck, dungeons, slings, and cans of Crisco everywhere (a popular lube at the time).

Personal stories say there was an entire wall of glory holes with people kneeling in front of crotch-high holes and servicing disembodied erections. A variety of small rooms were located downstairs including a re-creation of a jail cell, the back of a truck, dungeons, and the most infamous room talked about in NYC at the time: a room where there was a bathtub in which men so inclined would take turns being pissed on.

‘The bar was approximately 20 feet long,’ one inspector wrote. ‘Near the bar in the center of the floor was a pool table covered wth a sheet of plywood.

To the rear of the bar was a coat room where a man was checking all coats that were not leather. Located on the floor, there were two horses which I would describe as the type used in a gymnasium. The interior of the premises was painted black.’

The inspectors wrote of seeing several men ‘in various stages of undress’ fondling each other, engaging in oral and anal intercourse and doing so in the open.

They said that they observed men moving from one sexual partner to another and that although signs warned of AIDS and offered to provide condoms, condoms were not being used.’

Two of the inspectors said they heard sounds of whipping and moaning, but did not investigate ”or reasons of personal safety,’ one wrote.

The New York Times, 1985
 

The iconic club was shut down by Mayor Kochin in 1985, he was quoted saying “by closing the place, the city was not trying to impose any restrictions on sexuality, but to save lives.” Officially, the bar was closed because of its lack of liquor license, but it was interpreted as a “violation of the new anti-AIDS regulations and public nuisance.” Some New Yorkers agreed, but others thought that by closing the bar the city was using government control and regulate private behavior.

Another New York Times article published after more popular gay bars had been closed, two days after the close of Mineshaft was quoted saying “a number of leaders questioned the fairness of government’s focusing on homosexual practices while apparently ignoring heterosexual health threats. In fact, while homosexuals gather at their West Village bars late at night, women prostitutes can be seen freely soliciting all over the darkened streets near the Hudson River and escorting their customers into alleyways or cheap hotels.”

It seemed that homosexual and other “deviant” behaviors at the time were and still to this day are targeted unjustly, but it remains an important part of LGBTQIA history and BDSM culture. The club represented a judgment-free, safe haven for people to live out their fantasies, express themselves, as well as, a social club to interact with others who shared the same interests not allowed to be discussed elsewhere. Even Freddie Mercury wore a T-shirt with the Mineshaft logo in the official video for the Queen’s song “Don’t Stop Me Now” showing support.

The Mineshaft club was a central part of NYC’s sex scene, as it was mostly male and very uber-masculine.

The fact that this club was uber-masculine made it stand out from the other clubs during the time period, as it threw out the fact that there had to be a “feminine and masculine” partner.

There aren’t many photos of the club or any video content, so you’ll have to use your imagination, and be thankful so many people helped pave the way for BDSM to be as acceptable and talked about as it is.

Sasha

Co- Founder of Psych n Sex, previous writer and campus educator for the Kinsey Institute & published psychology researcher. Manhattan girl obsessed with post ww2 abstract expressionism, beet juice, vintage clothing & Scandinavia.

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