#39: Chelsea Girls
On drugs, poetry, and the reopening of Brooklyn’s lone lesbian bar
Have you heard that Ginger’s is back, sort of?
If you’re unfamiliar, Ginger’s is the sole lesbian bar remaining in all of Brooklyn. Or at least it was, until the bar shut down in March 2020 and never reopened. As other bars and restaurants gradually started welcoming patrons over the summer, with new outdoor spaces and COVID precautions, Ginger’s storefront in Park Slope remained dark.
Now, given the bar’s importance to Brooklyn gays, there have been whispers about its reopening (or not) for the last year and a half. But its Instagram has been inactive since 2017, there’s no website to speak of, and the owner is notoriously impossible to get in touch with.
(I personally had a pitch accepted by Brooklyn Magazine for a story on the bar’s future in November 2020. After agreeing to an interview, the owner didn’t answer my phone call at the agreed-upon time. I never heard from her again.)
All of this is to say that the bar’s reopening was highly anticipated, but also highly uncertain. Then, a single post on GO Magazine’s Instagram yesterday afternoon announced a “one night only soft reopening” starting at 5:30 p.m. I dropped by later in the evening because I simply could not resist the allure of a one-night-only lesbian bar, especially not one within walking distance of my apartment.
It was fairly packed, and just so… warm. Last summer, when other bars first reopened, the general energy was exciting but in a nervous kind of way. The tentative return to socializing, combined with very real safety concerns, meant that most of us kept to ourselves (and whoever we came with) even on evenings out.
Last night at Ginger’s was different. A bunch of strangers congregated in a beloved lesbian space for the first time in a year and a half, and the energy in the room was joyous. Hopeful, even. It was nice.
On my way out, I’m pretty sure I read something on the chalkboard sign about the bar being open all weekend. I’m not 100% sure. Naturally, there’s no way to verify this other than just showing up at the door.
P.S. Before heading to Ginger’s last night, I dropped some zines off at Quimby’s Bookstore in Williamsburg. If you happen to be in the neighborhood anytime soon, I’d highly recommend stopping to browse their selection of books and zines. And if you see T is for Trash on the shelf, please tag me so I can see it :)
Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles
Fiction (technically), 1994
I’ll go ahead and say right off the bat that I’m not much of a poetry person. I prefer prose, and prose that mostly follows grammatical conventions. This writing in this book simply does not do that. Eileen Myles shows a willful disregard for any sort of consistency, with haphazard punctuation choices and perspective shifts and run-on sentences and fragments. They aren’t overly concerned with making sure you fully understand what’s going on, and they certainly aren’t going to sacrifice style to make that happen.
But if you’re into poetic, stream-of-consciousness-style writing (or willing to give it a shot), this autobiographical novel will give you a window into the drug-fueled lesbian scene in 1970s New York you won’t find anywhere else. Structured as a series of short vignettes, the book offers glimpses of the author’s life as they pursue survival as a poet, navigate incredibly messy relationships, and get very drunk, very frequently.
Some of the chapters jump back in time to the author’s childhood and adolescence in Massachusetts in the ‘60s, which I was surprised to find myself enjoying more than the later, gayer stories. My favorite part, though, was Myles’ blunt self-awareness that shows up throughout:
Getting extremely drunk was a regular part of my life and the stories told in the aftermath always included: “And then we heard Leena’s Doctor Scholl’s coming down the stairs…” Part of the comedy was that I was so beautiful that year. Everything clicked for a moment that summer and I came out looking like some kind of unwitting hippy wasp model who had absolutely no defenses against the boys and men who were looking at her on the beach or were offering to buy her drinks in bars.
The attention of women was softer and more pleasing, but I didn’t know there was anything you could do with those feelings. The best solution I ever arrived at was to try and control myself and be dead.
I love a writer who can be forthcoming about both their hotness and their attempts to suppress just how gay they are. But this is the type of book I assume you’ll either love or hate. To assist you in figuring out which category you’ll fall into, I’ve compiled two brief lists.
Read it if you’re into:
Poets so charming that they have dozens of friends, despite owing all of them a lot of money
Coke-fueled book parties in the ‘80s
Skip it if you’re not into:
Listening to people recount stories of things they did when they were drunk
Graphic depictions of (occasionally very bad) sex
+6 for documenting a time during which there were 3 lesbian bars in the East Village alone
+9 for two Catholic lesbians named Mary
Buy it on Bookshop