Door Policies at Local Gay Bars

Do lesbians have more at stake?

On a typical Saturday night at Woody’s – one of Philly’s most popular gay nightclubs – men are crowded around the front bar with a few women (some lesbians, some not) sprinkled in for good measure. The cologne seems to overwhelm the spilled beer smell. And you’re as likely to hear Lady Gaga as you are an old Culture Club tune. As long as everyone has valid I.D. – and isn’t falling down drunk – pretty much everyone gets in.

Around the corner at Sisters – the city’s only lesbian-exclusive nightclub opened six days a week – it’s a whole other story. The place comes alive after a quiet happy hour when twosomes and groups of gay women emerge from Chancellor Street to drink and dance. And while men are certainly welcome at the club – there are gay male regulars the female bartenders all seem to know by name – the door policy isn’t quite as welcoming. At Sisters, it’s reputation for being selective about what men get by the bouncer has long been the talk of the Gayborhood. And not always in a good way.

But this past Saturday explained itself when a man in head-to-toe camouflage with two enormous suitcases was not permitted entry. It was hardly the usual getup for a Saturday night in Philly. And what was he carrying in those bags? He could have had an arsenal. And it happens all the time, the bouncer explained. In fact, she said, a group of several straight guys (who were permitted entry the week before) were recently asked to leave after unsuccessfully trying to bump and grind with lesbians who rather they didn’t on the dance floor. The guys couldn’t understand why the ladies were so “unfriendly.”

Really? It wasn’t obvious?

How would these guys feel if – when on the sweaty dance floor at Woody’s – a Muscle Mary decided to shake his groove thing in their direction?

Exactly. They wouldn’t be on the dance floor at Woody’s. But they would try to get into Sisters. And that seems to be the biggest problem for management and customers alike.

So is Sisters being unreasonable? Do they discriminate against men? Or do lesbians have a lot more at stake when it comes to expectations about what’s allowable? And what isn’t?

Most straight folks don’t show up at a gay male bar in hopes of picking up the regulars (closet queens being the exception). But at Sisters, it happens all the time. And it makes the job of weeding out troublemakers tough for anyone trying to make a buck. While a straight guy at a gay bar full of men is pretty much a unicorn, drunk and horny guys who want nothing more than to take home two girls often end up at Sisters before last call.

For younger folks, these delineations between bars throughout the 13th Street corridor are anything but obvious. Even the line between gay men and lesbians, not to mention “queer,” is fast becoming blurred. Many teens and twenty-somethings consider their sexuality to be fluid, like the old joke about “trisexuals” who will try anything. Younger people are less likely to identify with one sexual orientation as they are to buy the same brand of toothpaste for their entire adult lives.

For younger folks in the LGBT community, nightlife is also a lot less linear. You find “homo hipsters” and self-declared “queers” at clubs and watering holes all over town where sexual orientation doesn’t dictate the door policy (East Passyunk Avenue is a great example of where hipster meets homo). But among more mature gays and lesbians, the stereotypes seem to stick – unfortunately so. You have the gay guys who cringe when women women walk into “their” bar or lesbians who go on guard when men manage to infiltrate the door policy.

So who’s right? Is it time for gay and lesbian bars to relax about who gets in and who doesn’t? Is Sisters being unreasonable? Or do women have more to worry about?

In some ways women have it easier. Even though the acceptance of lesbianism is more of a fetish among heterosexual (men), a lack of masculinity believed to be a characteristic of male homosexuality means gay men are often in danger of violence. It’s a lot easier to tell a randy guy to get lost at Sisters than to deal with a dangerous homophobe who wants to prove how tough he is.

So maybe there is a reason for all these door policies after all? And it’s up to society to do some changing first. Here’s hoping, Philly.