The Bars

A thriving gay scene, captured by Leonard Fink

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

Groups Gather Outside of Badlands by Leonard FinkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

Leonard Fink's photographs of the bars between 10th and Christopher Street on West Street are incredibly important documents of a thriving gay scene in 1970s New York. His photographs wonderfully portray gay bars as safe havens, where men could gather and socialize free from harassment and persecution.

Overhead Street View of Badlands by Leonard FinkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

These bars, catering for those on the edges of society, physically ended up on the edge of the city. This area had long been the sight of clandestine activities and sexual experimentation thanks to the docks and piers nearby. Back when they were operational, people arriving one day and leaving the next would leave their inhibitions on the boat.

Gay Bars Along West Street by Leonard FinkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

Fink mainly photographed three bars along West Street. Ramrod, on the left, Underground, in the middle, and Badlands, on the corner on the right.

Overhead View of Ramrod and Sneakers by Leonard FinkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

Ramrod was one of the most popular leather bars in New York, it ran from 1973-1980.

Posing With the Flag in Front of The Underground by Leonard FinkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

The Underground bar

Groups Gather in Front of Badlands by Leonard FinkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

Badlands was one of the most popular bars on the strip.

Men Pose Inside Gay Bar by Leonard FinkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

Fink very often took photographs of other men in the bars. This may not seem significant today but this was a bold move in the 70s. Coming out was a difficult thing to do, even Fink never came out to his family and colleagues. But he must have been able to put his subjects at ease, as many smiled back (like in this photo) and others even put on a show (as in the next image).

Playfully Posing Outside of Gay Bar by Leonard FinkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

Posing Outside of Badlands by Leonard FinkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

On top of this, Fink also busts the notion that gay bars were dark and dingy places without windows. In a previous era, a bar catering for gay clientele would have needed to be hidden, to protect its customers and evade law enforcement. However, after Stonewall a sense of optimism within the gay liberation movement filled the air, letting gay men more openly frequent the bars that appealed to them.

Leonard Fink Self Portrait, Outside of Badlands by Leonard FinkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

Fink, pictured here in a self-portrait, took valuable and often beautiful photographs of the gay scene along West Street. Without his photographs this jubilant moment in gay history would not be nearly as well documented. The joie de vivre and lust for fun exhibited by the gay community in Fink's photographs are a gorgeous moment, left particularly poignant in the foreshadow of the AIDS epidemic.

Groups Gather in Front of Badlands by Leonard FinkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

Credits: Story

Curated by G.D.M Benson
Bibliography:
Leonard Fink: Making a Scene, Jonathan Weinberg
Bars & Nightlife, nyclgbtsites.org

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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