Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Eagle

The Eagle in its most recent, post-Giuliani incarnation is still at 554 West 28th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues in a relatively quiet corner of Chelsea in New York. It was for many years a popular longshoreman’s pub.

“Voted best leather bar by New York Magazine”—[sic], presumably New York counted the ballots, and did not cast one corporately—The Eagle is, at least, still loud, dark, and, frankly, as sexy as can be, not at all dampened by the pathetic Porsche and Daimler dealerships that stretch along the east side 11th Avenue between 27th and 28th Streets, just around the corner.

The Eagle is thriving, and at the risk of sounding or seeming like Andrew Sullivan, whose stated preference for “bears” is well known (i.e. on that rather dubious grounds that bears are more desirably and admirably masculine than gay men who are not), I first started going to The Eagle at a time in my life when the tummy was starting to exhibit certain undeniable signs of slackness, and I found it far less intimidating to spend a little time relaxing in a gay bar where almost everyone was older, fatter, hairier, and less self-conscious than me.

For this reason, apart from their delicious Musical Comedy Mondays, I find Splash Bar at 50 West 17th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues (, above) completely untenable.

I went back to The Eagle a couple of times earlier this week for old time’s sake, and although no New York gay bar is even remotely as sleazy, or even as piquant as was once the case, it remains true that The Eagle turns the brightest possible face, or perhaps the darkest, depending on how you look at it, to the failed health policies of successive city administrations.

The policy of no-sex-in-public-thank-you-very-much has failed, and failed utterly, to contain the pandemic in New York, where the ample provision of condoms, accurate information in simple, direct English and Spanish, and indeed affirmation, might at least go some distance towards stemming the tide of infection.

Meanwhile, in the face of the contempt directed towards it from various quarters of the straight community, The Eagle nevertheless contributes to community outreach, sponsoring three softball teams, two swimming, one volleyball, and, according to their website (, provides a home “for the third half” [sic] to the sexational Gotham Knights Rugby Team.

Good on them.

Sometimes you may be forgiven for thinking that New Yorkers of any stripe can be cold, aloof, and stand-offish, and never more so than whilst strutting their stuff in a Chelsea leather bar, where the stakes are rather higher, at least as far as maintaining the masculinity credentials is concerned, than the opening of an art exhibition, or a midtown book party.

However, no matter how frigid it may feel at first, the uppermost layers of ice usually turn out to be pretty thin. This, at least, has been my experience, and The Eagle is no exception.

The other night I hung out for a while, chatting at first with a playwright who outed himself to me as a committed foot-fetishist; then a full-time member of the Met chorus (bass-baritone); and afterwards a charming Irishman from Co. Donegal, a Spanish architect—somewhat too anxious to state, up front, that he is not, repeat not Latino—an off-duty cop from Beacon, New York, and an attorney who works for Crédit Suisse.

Even at The Eagle, the spirit of American free enterprise is alive and well, as I discovered when I offered a sincere compliment to one of the extraordinarily hard-working bartenders, who, in my considered opinion, has been blessed by nature with the prettiest bottom—or else, maybe, the best maintained—in the United States of America. His is the Koh-i-noor, the unaccompanied cello suites, the Temple of Karnak at Luxor, the Divina Commedia, the Chartres of bottoms, and, believe me, I know my bottoms.

Gregory Nalbone, a native-born New Yorker, whom you see here photographed from the other, more courteous direction (above), is also a bona fide model, trying to make his way in the toughest and most competitive market that exists for members of that profession, evidently with some considerable success, though not enough to be free from the modern equivalent of indentured labor at The Eagle.

As well as being stunningly attractive, Gregory is a thoroughly nice guy, but he also knows when to take advantage of a window of commercial opportunity.

After I boldly told him what I thought of his bottom, having beforehand begged leave to make a really personal remark—leave, which, I hasten to add, he granted straight away, with a winning smile—Gregory looked both ways, then dived under the bar, rummaged in his backpack, and, quick as a flash, presented me with a slick, business-card-sized promo for his own exclusive leather-man calendar.

“Exposed,” it read. “2009. Model: Gregory. Purchase online at

You’ve got to hand it to him.

I found the card in my bag just now, and logged in out of real curiosity.

According to the blurb, Gregory is a “hot, masculine, and super-sexy model from New York City.” It goes on:

This calendar includes a heated collection of some never-before-seen images and tantalizing nudes by nine distinguished and accomplished fashion, male-erotica, and fine-art photographers whose passionate, creative vision contributed to this much-anticipated production: Aaron Cobbett, Michael Alago, Dick Mitchell, Jake Sorrentino, Reed Massengill, jackson photografix, Stanley Stellar, Karl Giant, and Paradiso Inc. Gregory is a highly published model and has been photographed by some of the very best; his strikingly handsome face and perfectly sculpted physique have graced the covers and pages of countless magazines and coffee table books, entrancing viewers with his vigorous sensuality and captivating beauty. This unique fifteen-image, solo-model calendar captures and exposes his smoldering virility in its arousing exposition of provocative and exceptional photography.

Quite so. But I must tell you that the real man is a hundred times more attractive and better than he appears in his photographs, pace Cobbett, Alago, Mitchell, etc. The other night, Gregory worked that bar upstairs at The Eagle like the consummate professional that he is, spreading good cheer even to the most jaded of aging barflies, in fact to everyone.

His handshake alone would jump-start the coldest, hardest heart, and think of the competition!

A little later, Erik, the attorney from Crédit Suisse, only partially distracted by Gregory, talked very interestingly about the economic crisis.

According to him, 2008 was the year of the bad mortgage. By contrast, this year will go down in the annals of Wall Street as the year of equally big losses, perhaps much bigger because far more numerous, arising from bad credit card debt.

Based on that gloomy forecast, which I am inclined to believe, there is much painful damage yet to come, and President-elect Barack Obama is not to be envied, except, perhaps, by Timothy Geithner, soon to take office as his Secretary of the Treasury, the seventy-fifth since Andrew Hamilton.

To which, I suppose, the only thing one can do is to recall “the song of mehitabel” by the late, great Don Marquis, viz.

…i m toujours gai toujours gai

i know that i am bound
for a journey down the sound
in the midst of a refuse mound
but wotthehell wotthehell…

Or, as Erik the attorney put it, lounging against a weathered wooden crate, proudly twirling his chunky key-chain, with a little shrug, and a twinkle:


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