Walk inside the Black Cat restaurant and lounge in LA’s ardently arty Silver Lake neighborhood, and you’ll see photos lining the walls depicting scenes from the venue’s 1960s era, back when it was one of the city’s favorite gay bars. In fact, a New Year’s police raid on the original Black Cat in 1967 inspired spirited LGBTQ demonstrations along similar lines to the far-more notorious Stonewall Riots, which occurred two years later.
The Black Cat, which has operated as a queer hangout with different names over the years, is today not a gay bar. This stylish, urbane space is first and foremost a modern bistro serving creative — and quite tasty — globally inspired comfort food. There’s a long bar up front and ample seating in the cozy dining room. On any given night you’ll encounter chatty locals who live in the neighborhood, stylized hipsters, tourists in the know, scene-y types seeking an alternative to glitzy West Hollywood, and — to be sure — same-sex couples.
Today’s Black Cat epitomizes a steady, inexorable shift in attitudes, demographics, and social politics within the LGBTQ community. Silver Lake was the prime gay ghetto of Los Angeles in the ‘50s and ‘60s and has, to a degree, remained of hub of the gay leather and gay Latino subcultures ever since. But as West Hollywood famously became the region’s prime “gay ghetto” in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Silver Lake became more eclectic.
Over the past decade, it’s become a prime example what’s often termed a “post-gay” neighborhood. At many of the neighborhood’s remaining LGBTQ-owned businesses, you’re apt to bump into plenty of straight folks as well. And at ostensibly “mainstream” restaurants and bars around Silver Lake, there’s often a sizable gay presence.
Whether you’re sorry to see tight-knit gay nightlife districts and rainbow-flag-draped residential neighborhoods assimilate, or you’re completely onboard with the notion of gay and straight demographic lines blurring and blending, LGBTQ demographics are very clearly changing. It’s a good bet that the explicitly gay neighborhoods that thrived during the latter part of the 20th century — from Chelsea in Manhattan to the Castro in San Francisco to Church Street Village in Toronto — will continue to become steadily more mixed over time. It’s also unlikely that current and future generations of young, LGBTQ urban dwellers will ever gravitate as loyally to one specific part of a city as they did 30 or 40 years ago.
That said, traditional gay ghettos are by no means dead. Many of them still contain clusters of very popular gay bars and other gay-owned businesses. But what is changing, and quickly, is that even LGBTQ-identified establishments in famously gay neighborhoods like Boston’s South End, Dallas’ Oak Lawn, and San Diego’s Hillcrest are drawing increasing patronage from the rest of the population. And in cities throughout North America, many — especially younger — LGBTQ residents are choosing to live, shop, eat, and socialize in demographically mixed neighborhoods.
For both gays and straights, post-gay enclaves have a lot going for them, both as places to live and visit. The kinds of neighborhoods that foster a decidedly mixed scene these days tend to share in common a spirited creative energy, an appreciation for independently owned businesses, and a diverse and progressive vibe. You can’t really talk about these neighborhoods without conjuring up the somewhat dreaded “hipster” label — there’s no question that the hottest post-gay neighborhoods in North America these days are also bastions of sometimes eye-rolling hipster self-consciousness and occasionally haughty attitudes about indie art, food, and fashion. (Of course, traditional gay ghettos have often maintained their own often rigid fashion codes and cliquey sensibilities.)
But if you can get beyond the sometimes precious conceits of these trendy urban districts, you’ll discover some of the best coffeehouses, craft cocktail and beer bars, alternative dance clubs, indie clothiers and design shops, provocative art spaces, sustainable neighborhood restaurants, and — increasingly — dapper boutique hotels in the country. And depending on your taste, you may find these mixed gay-straight enclaves prime territory for meeting like-minded new friends and even dates.
Every day over the next two weeks, we’ll be taking a look at a dozen of the most dynamic and interesting post-gay neighborhoods in the United States and Canada. These aren’t necessarily the biggest or the most popular — just a good sampling of especially notable ones. If these sorts of neighborhoods are your cup of tea, keep in mind that there are plenty of other similarly interesting ones out there. To name just a few, there’s the Bishop Arts District in Dallas, Capitol Hill in Seattle, Bay View in Milwaukee or North Park in San Diego.
(Featured image via Jere Keys/Flickr)