The Men's Bar History Project was launched on Coming Out Day (Oct 11) 2004.  The project's mission is to explore the history of night clubs and bars in Buffalo, NY that cater to male homosexuals.  There are three types of gay bars:  men's bars, women's bars, and everybody bars.  The men's bars and the everybody bars are the subject of our study.  The focus is a cultural history of these establishments rather than a legal, political, or economic history.  How did these bars enrich gay men's lives?  How did the bars help gay men to meet other gays, find sex partners, and cope with Buffalo's homophobia?

Phase One of the project, the name collecting phase, was completed by early 2005.  Posters announcing the project were placed in local gay bars and questionnaires were distributed asking for input.  Initially the posters listed the names of only a few old bars and, as the list grew longer, the posters were updated to encourage even greater participation.  Bar happy-hours became contests as to who could remember the greatest number of old bars.

Phase Two involved doing background research on the bars through legal records found at Buffalo's City Hall, the Public Library, and the Erie County Clerk's Office.  Phase Three, involved collecting stories about Buffalo's gay-bar life.  So-called "oral histories."  Especially helpful have been interviews with former bar owners and managers, former bartenders, and numerous drag queens.  Another big help is the Internet.  Gay men across the country, in fact across the world, have been writing to us to share stories about living in Buffalo and their fond recollections of the Buffalo gay bar scene.

During the June Gay Pride Celebrations in 2009 and 2013, we presented workshops on the history of Buffalo's gay men's bars.  The 2009 workshop was entitled "A Trashy History of Gay Buffalo" and the 2013 workshop was called "Beers and Queers"  (see poster below).  The 2013 workshop was presented at the BUA Theater on West Chippewa St.  Folks who attended received a free historical map showing the locations of all the old bars and discount drink coupons redeemable at the local gay bars.  Both workshops were sponsored by the Pride Center of WNY.

For our 10th anniversary in October 2014, our project received a Community Recognition plaque from Alternative Expressions magazine, a local LGBT publication.  The gala presentation ceremony was held in the Smith Theater on Main Street in downtown Buffalo.  Five other honorees received 2014 recognition awards, including Madeline Davis.

We are now in Phase Four of our project which involves reading every Buffalo gay magazine, newspaper, and newsletter in the Madeline Davis Collection housed at the E.M. Butler Library on the campus of Buffalo State College.  The collection has been invaluable for pinning down the exact dates that many of the men's bars opened and when they went out of  business.

Future plans include making presentations before local gay organizations and reaching out to other cities to encourage similar bar-history projects.  In cooperation with the current bars, we plan to sponsor a series of Bar History Nights where old bar stories and old bar memorabilia can be collected.  The results of this research project will be maintained as a permanent website and ulitmately will be donated to the Butler Library LGBT Archives.

The American gay rights activist Larry Kramer repeatedly spoke this admonition, with which we strongly agree:


“Gays have a history and they need to know that history.”

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Here is the poster from our 2013 Gay Pride Workshop:


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