(Un) Happy Hour: Straight Bartenders in Gay Bars
We’ve all been here before...
You walk into your favorite bar and notice a new bartender. He’s a handsome fella with dark hair, kind eyes and a bright smile. You sit down, he greets you, lays a napkin on the bar and asks what you’re having.
You order a vodka cranberry. He mixes the cocktail, drops a lime in, and places it on the napkin. It’s happy hour, so it only costs you five dollars. You give him six, he thanks you for the tip, and you strike up a conversation.
He may or may not be flirting, but he certainly knows how to use those kind eyes and that bright smile. You’re single and always open to making new friends, meeting the next great love of your life or securing a hot piece of tail, so you start engaging with said bartender.
Then he mentions his girlfriend. You feel confused, stupid, angry— but not too angry because, though apparently straight, he’s still cute.
But wait. You’re in a gay bar. Why would a straight guy want to work in a gay bar?
“I moved to LA and heard the gay bars make the most money,” says Frank, who works at one in West Hollywood. Shawn, who works at the same bar, also mentions the money but adds, “A close straight friend of mine worked [here] and wasn’t gay. I figured I’d give it a try.”
It’s a rising trend in the gay bar scene, especially in major cities. Not bisexual boys, and not closeted gays pretending to be straight while exploring the scene from a bar’s distance away. No, these are Will Schuester bartenders working in Will Truman bars, and the first thing many gay men wonder is how can they be comfortable working in this setting.
“If anything it’s easier, more pleasant and safer,” says Frank, who had worked with so many gays in straight restaurants that being in the scene didn’t bother him. He says, “I don’t have to worry about massive brawls breaking out like at straight bars.” Shawn explains that part of his comfort lies in how customers treat him. “The regulars are great and funny guys,” he says. “[But] some visitors from out of town are a little crazy...”
“I suspect the gay customers respect me since I’m so comfortable in what some may consider being ‘way out of my place’,” Frank theorizes before taking his response one step further. “I also feel some of the gays treat me almost like a son. They take care of me and take time to listen to what’s going on in my life… I probably have more gay friends in LA than I do straight friends. The straight crowd in LA can be very douchey and ego-driven. I feel like gays understand me a lot better since I’m driven toward career, opportunity and upholding my personal image.”
Despite the increasing presence of straight men working in gay bars, it’s natural to assume that anyone working at one is gay. That doesn’t bother Frank or Shawn. “It’s usually just them wishing,” Shawn says. “It’s probably a compliment. It’s WeHo. I don’t take offense. I love my woman. What do I care what they wish I am? I know I’m not and most cool people accept that.” Shawn pauses, considering the double standard he faces, the assumption that he must be repressing something in his sexuality and he’s using this job for some kind of flirty release. “It’s funny. For so long gay men want and still want to be accepted but they can’t accept a straight guy being that: straight.”
It’s a valid point, but are these men also taking advantage of their surroundings? Are they using their good looks, kind eyes and bright smiles, along with their naturally masculine energy— that “straight acting” attitude gay men often seek in online profiles— to just play into a customer’s fantasy and score good tips?
“I like talking dirty to girls, so why not have fun with the guys?” Frank says. “It’s all in good fun. [But it also] depends on the relationship I’ve built with a customer. If someone becomes my regular [customer], I genuinely care about what’s going on in their lives. If it’s someone new, it’s more of a show to begin that friendship, which eventually turns into something I genuinely care about.”
Shawn doesn’t flirt with his customers, but says, “We joke and make fun. That makes it a fun place [to work]. It is genuine friendship since most of the people I see are there all the time.” Likewise, Shawn grew up in New York City and knew many gay men who died of AIDS, so he’s got no problem keeping his boys in check. “That’s why I yell at all my straight and gay friends to wear protection.”
What’s interesting about this new breed of hetero men working in gay environments is their outside perspective on the LGBT world.
“Everyone is born with a natural instinct to be attracted to a certain gender,” Frank says. “There is nothing that can change that. [But] I also feel bad for the gay men who seem lonely as they get older. I’ve noticed that it can be very challenging to have a companion to be with. Their best option is to stick with their friends, which is always great, but what about having someone to come home to?” He pauses, then continues by saying, “There’s a lot of back stabbing and cheating that I hear of and see. It must be hard to be in a relationship when it’s okay to have your partner hit on other people and be okay with it. I see it a lot.”
It’s this kind of care that forms a different view of these heterosexual men. Plus, consider for a moment that plenty of sexy gay bartenders pump up, put on butch airs and shamelessly flirt with customers while having no intention of ever hooking up, all in hopes of getting a good tip. And assuming a straight man would be uncomfortable among large numbers of homosexuals plays into the mistaken belief that gay men are sexual predators waiting to pounce on guys and convert them. So if these Will Schuester bartenders have no problem working at Will Truman bars, is there a problem? Isn’t this just an example of the world that gay rights activists have long been trying to create— a world where gays and straights are equal and comfortable with one another?
Perhaps in the microcosm of the gay bar we’re seeing the world change just a little bit. And if the worst part is not getting to date, marry or make out with the cute bartender with the dark hair, kind eyes and bright smile, then so be it.
Terrence Moss is an independent writer based in Los Angeles. He recently contributed the piece "Exercises in Fruitility: Taking Myself Off the Market" for Gay.net and is a regular contributor to the Frontiers Magazine website. He also operates a website for people who like to read at www.terrencemoss.com
Images from Photos.com for illustrative purposes only.