Most kids cannot wait until they reach legal drinking age so they can visit their first cocktail lounge, or sleazy bar, depending on how you want to remember it. Like most young men coming of age, I was no different except the legal drinking age in Las Vegas was twenty-one and I had to wait three long years more than my old classmates from Maryland because their legal drinking age was only eighteen.
The wait wasn’t exactly an inconvenience as I had plenty of opportunities to try alcohol long before my twenty-first birthday, but my first official visit to a public establishment that served booze wasn’t until October 1983, or thereabouts. Unfortunately, I don’t remember my first visit to a cocktail lounge, but I do remember my first visit to a gay bar called the Red Barn.
The Red Barn started its life as an antique store in the late 1950s and converted to a gay bar in the early 1960s after new owners acquired the property. By the mid-1980s, when I found my way into the barn, the building and clientele had already reached their senior years. Of course, to a twenty-one year old, anyone ten years or so older might be considered an AARP member, so in all fairness to the men at the bar that night, many of them might not have been as old and used up as I remember them to be.
What I do remember about that night is being accompanied by my best girlfriend, Jamie. I had just recently come out as a gay virgin, so I needed protection from being sucked into a void of unfamiliar gayness and/or a reason to hightail it out of there if things got weird.
And things did get weird soon after we ordered cocktails. At least weird to me as I had no experience being the new young piece of meat sitting at the end of the bar. I thought Jamie and I would be mostly ignored as we huddled together in conversation giving me the opportunity to quietly observe what other gay men were about. What I didn’t realize when we walked in was most of the men at the bar were old drunken regulars sitting in wait for someone like me who might allow them to grope my toned and tanned body or have anonymous sex in the back alley!
It reminded me of a zombie apocalypse, except the zombies closing in on us were unshaven horny old men with potbellies and receding hairlines, desperately stretching their arms out toward my private parts. Jamie somehow kept them at bay as we finished our drinks and escaped relatively unscathed.
Oddly, the memory of the Red Barn has become more frightening as the decades have passed because now that potbellied zombie could be me!