Getting (Coat) Checked: Is Philly’s Guerrilla Queer Bar One Big Marketing Ploy?

coat check guerilla queer barI’m always early when I go places, despite the age-old (and rather annoying, might I add) principle that gay men are supposed to be “fashionably late.”  So, naturally, I arrived at 8:45 p.m., about fifteen minutes before the start time of March’s Guerrilla Queer Bar at Field House, the sports bar located next to the Reading Terminal Market, a mere two blocks from the Gayborhood. I walked right in, hung my coat on one of the numerous hooks located throughout the restaurant, sat at the bar, ordered a Moscow Mule, and waited.

Five minutes before the event was scheduled to begin, a young female employee of Field House started running around, hanging what appeared to be freshly printed signs adjacent to all of the coat hooks that read “COAT CHECK: $2 per coat.”  A line formed outside, where a bouncer began charging the $5 “cover” to get in the door.

I immediately texted my friend who was joining me: “I got here at the right time!  Now there is a bouncer!”

He texted back: “Girrrrrrrrl, I’m not even trying to play these hetero games.”

To the pleasure of the event organizers, quite a few people did play these “hetero games,” as the Field House was filled with hundreds of LGBT people, dancing, drinking, and mingling.  Yet, I couldn’t help but think about the social implications of such an event, and how it boils down to one magic word: money.

The goal of the Guerrilla Queer Bar is for the LGBT community to “take over” a hetero-normative space for “one night only.”  Here’s the problem: It’s 2014. We don’t need to take over spaces anymore — we’re here.  I could have easily walked into Field House on Friday with a group of five gay men and we would have fit in just fine, Guerrilla Queer Bar or not.

So what’s the point?

When I saw the $2 coat check signs pop up magically five minutes before the start of the event, it registered rather clearly that we, as a community, are seen as a target of income.  The hospitality and entertainment industries prey on us, just like they do any demographic of people who have cash to spend.  Why do you think the owners of gay bars allow heterosexual female bachelorette parties in their spaces? Despite the moaning and groaning of gay men who are offended by the parties, the tipsy bridal parties bring money in the door.  End of story.

Three Moscow Mules later, my friend and I decided it was time to move on.  I went to get my coat off the hook, where I found it covered by at least a dozen other jackets.  It was a little after 11 p.m. at that point, and the line to get into Field House was still wrapped around the block. From a sheer numbers standpoint, the event was a success, but make no mistake — success here is measured by how much liquor is sold, how many people show up, and how much money is made, not by the queer-ing of a hetero-normative space.

It does beg the question: How much money did they make over that makeshift coat check?