Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Sound of the Spike

The Spike was a gay bar on Eleventh Avenue by the West Side Highway in New York City. Long closed now to make way for the gentrification of far west Chelsea, in the 1980s and early 1990s it was one of my favorite weekend places. Well, "favorite" is perhaps being kind, but I went there a lot. A lot.

The Spike was a classic "S&M" bar, meaning, in this case "Standing and Modelling." It had an ultra-butch veneer, and for varying periods on Saturday nights one of the bar's two rooms was sometimes cordoned off exclusively for guys wearing black leather he-man drag. Its reputation as a leather bar was a little exaggerated, but every surface was painted black and it was certainly full of maculine guys cultivating a harder look than, say, the guys who went to Uncle Charlie's. It was a block south of the old Eagle, a somewhat seedier bar that usually had at least one porn film showing and, depending on the mood of the owners and the legal climate, often had some on-site sexual naughtiness going on.

Starting well after 11pm, as other bars gradually emptied out (and this was after the heydey of the more southerly Village bar scene), the Spike and the Eagle would fill up. Guys would wander back and forth between the two bars, and in warm weather the sidewalks out front were filled with people taking a break from the crowded, charged atmosphere inside. Neither place was particularly large, and at the height of the party about 2 or 3 AM, both places were usually filled to capacity. While these were places you could go with your buddies, these were above all places to go to get laid. There was usually a block-long line of yellow taxis out front waiting to take successful hookups off to "your place or mine."

Both bars usually had live DJs: The DJs at the Eagle spun disco, though there was certainly no dancing going on. The owner of the Spike, Chuck "CT" Thompson was also its main DJ, and his taste was not at all disco. He played mostly rock and rockish pop. He was a African-American guy with a shaved head, built like the proverbial brick shithouse, usually wearing a black leather vest. I don't know if he's still around, but he was a great guy, very friendly. He always recognized me even when the place was super crowded. The Spike had a Sunday afternoon stand-up burger brunch, and with the smaller crowd he was pretty social.

The music he played tended towards songs inviting some kind of cocky fuck-me or suck-my-dick swagger. If I never have the urge to hear a Huey Lewis and the News Song again, the Spike is the responsible party. That being said, the place was pretty reliable as a place to meet guys. When I started going there my um, "social" life definitely improved. Many fond weekends were spent there hanging out with my friend Marc and hunting for fresh meat, er, I mean for available gentlemen. The crowd was bear-friendly and if the kinky leather-bar edge was mostly posturing it meant that everybody knew what you were there for.

Anyway CT started to regularly play this really long super electric guitar jam. It's mostly a long guitar solo, pretty heavy at times, against an unrelenting drumbeat and some noodling synths and a synth bass. Oh it sounds completely dated now; I mean this is gay progressive metal from the late 1980s fer crissakes. But at the time when it came on the soundsystem at the Spike it really seemed to raise the energy of the place. The shrieking guitar seemed to add to an otherworldly air, and all the standing and modelling going on just seemed a little butcher and more focused. Eventually I asked CT what the tune was and it turned out he had recorded it himself. Next time I saw him he gave me an autographed copy of his plainly labelled "Debut EP." The three songs on the "Top Side" including a vocal number that well, let's not say too much about that. But there on "The Bottom Side" was this 14-minute relentless guitar epic called "The Get Away."

Listening to this track now it brings back a lot of memories. In my settled middle-age, five years into a relationship I don't go out to gay bars too often; and never with that "ohmygodIgottagetlaid" hunger and determination of twenty (ouch!) years ago. As dated -- and frankly, outside my general taste -- as it is, it brings back some of that sexually-charged excitement, despite, yes, all the shallowness of that years-ago relentless pursuit of cock.

This post is a special crossposting with my music blog Ile Oxumare. If you want to hear CT's "The Getaway," head over there to find a downloadable link.


  1. PS if after you've downloaded "The Getaway" from http://ileoxumare.blogspot.com/2010/02/chuck-ct-thompson-get-away-1988.html I'd love to hear your memories of The Spike.

  2. I headed off to the Spike once in 1991. I was in NYC because I had a short film in the NYFilmFest; paired with Van Sant's "Private Idaho" film. Me and my co-director did the schmooze with River Phoenix (hot, stoned, a bit quiet) and Keanu (surrounded by a few blondes), then hit the Spike.

    Wrong sort of men for me! But a real theatrical feel : lots of black velvet which made the guys seem like window displays , and a fun crowd : )

    Afterwards we went somewhere totally different - same district, kinda arty, the two guys from Deee-Lite DJ-ing, lots of blue fur and dressups. But with a backroom! I heart NYC :)

  3. Hey Simon... I had to read that three times cause I wanted to believe you were saying you brought River Phoenix along to the Spike. Still, 1991, I could have been there. Who knows! Fun story. What was your short film?

  4. You know ... if I'd slipped River ONE more joint we might have got him there lol :)

    Short film was called "Resonance"


    Not on Youtube as it was until recently in Frameline Film's distribution ... must put it up actually ...

  5. Thanks for this history kee kee! ;-)

    Jennifuh Leathuh

  6. Oh ish! I have a million stories of the "Speagle" running around in my head right now. That was during my tweaking decades. I'd drop by those bars for a couple of hours almost every night, Monday through Thursday, almost never went on weekends, except for a couple Brunches Sunday mornings... to watch the musicals they'd play on their TVs. I'm almost dizzy right now, really tired and my Advil PMs are kicking in, but I'll get back to you with some gems.I think I might need an entire chapter when I write my book!

    Did you ever see "Toe Man" outside? There was a guy that sat outside those two bars in the front seat of his old Ford wagon. He locked all the doors, and hung towels all around so you couldnt' see who he was, but he lowered the passenger window a few inches and stuck his toes out so they could be licked all night. And those taxis in the long lines outside?Not all of them were looking for fares. I found quite a few that wanted to play this way or that way and drop you wherever for free. Good Times, lol!

  7. Funny story, Casey. I don't think I saw Toe man! But I sure saw plenty. I never had um, a "date" with a cabbie from the Spike but one night on the way home from there on the ride to Brooklyn a cabbie asked if I was hungry; we stopped at a drive-thru White Castle or McDonald's I dont clearly remember which and then hung out smoking a joint in his cab til the wee hours.

  8. Heads up, went to hear CT's track but your other blog is invite-only.

  9. Loving these stories, I wish i could have been there... I used to "date" a bartender from SPIKE back in the early 90's, he was a flight attendant by day, bartender at night.. hot hot hot man.. Was fun when he visited seattle

  10. Wish I would have visited NY back in those days.. was there last month, boring... used to see a guy who was a bartender at SPIKE and a flight attendant back in the 90's.. he'd stop over in seattle often.. miss the days of bars, beer and men