Disappearing Gay History: The Mineshaft – 835 Washington St. NYC, NY (1976 – 1985)
At one time the NYC’s Mineshaft was the most notorious “members only” gay S&M/B&D club in history. Today it is treated as a dirty secret to some and is all but a forgotten to many.
Membership was granted on the spot if one passed muster no designer clothes, no sneakers, no cologne. Located on Washington Street at Little West 12th Street in the heart of the meatpacking district, it was open around the clock from Wednesday night through Monday morning, featuring a clothes check, dungeons, and other amenities. Yes, one was allowed to check all one’s clothes and stroll about naked or in a jockstrap undress was encouraged.
The building that housed The Mineshaft was constructed in 1927 as an ordinary business office, and become the most incredible sex-palace in the ’70’s. Opened in October 1976 years before the onset of AIDS and closed in October 1985 at the height of the AIDS epidemic.
Housed in an area which was all meat packing plants the Miineshaft’s nondescript street-level door opened to a stair way which led up to the doorkeeper, sitting on a barstool. If you could pass muster you were let in. You see the Mineshaft had rules of entrance, denim and leather only, no shirts with little alligators, no sneakers, and absolutely no cologne. But once inside everything was fair game. The Mineshaft existed for one reason. SEX. Pure hedonistic no-limits sex.
Just inside the door was the big bar area with its low lights and pool tables. Behind a partition was the “action” part of the club on two floors. There was an entire wall of glory holes with people kneeling in front of crotch-high holes and servicing disembodied erections.
A whole rabbit warren of small rooms was downstairs, a re-creation of a jailcell, the back of a truck, dungeons and the most infamous room talked about in NYC at the time. A room where there was a bathtub in which men so inclined would would take turns being pissed on. But there were glimpses of romance at the Mineshaft: in the basement two stoned men are kissing passionately under black light.unaware of everyone around them, while feet away another man was blindfolded sitting in a sling while a group of men took turns fucking him.
In this day and age it’s shocking. In the gay life in NYC in the late 70’s and early 80’s it was non-news.
In the early 80s with the outbreak of AIDS the Mineshaft scene turned sour. NYC swept through the gay sex haunts of the community shuttering establishments left and right under ‘health violations” which in reality they were. But it was also the chance that NYC needed to rid the city of sex establishments. Were establishments like The Mineshaft, The Club Baths, The Adonis, and The David X-rated theatres responsible for AIDS. No, not really. They certainly didn’t help thats for sure. But they were not the cause. The city closed these establishments and still men gay men persisted having unprotected sex. Once one club was closed they moved to one that was still open, after the clubs were gone they went to the porn theatres, and after the porn theatres they went to Central Park, back to the bars and by then onto the Internet. If half the time, money and effort that NYC spent on closing these spots went to Health Education and planning in the gay community the city and the stigma of gay sex would have been much different. Now please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that places like the Mineshaft and others were innocent when it came to the spread of AIDS. But they were a small part of the overal problem.
I have many friends who did not make it through the 80’s because of that cursed disease. But as much as I still love them and weep over thier loss to this day, in the end it was their responsibility to take precautions and protections. And many did not because while the GMHC did their best. New York City and our Government ignored the real problem. AIDS and HIV Education and finding a cure. New York City’s answer was to close the clubs. The Governments answer under Regan was to ignore the problem and let gay men die.
So here we are over 25 years after the height of the AIDS epidemic and history, there is still no cure for AIDS and memories of places like the Mineshaft have been hidden, swept under the rug, and are slowly being forgotten. Should be be ashamed of it? No. It is part of our history and existed in another time far away from the morally uptight society of today.
I am a survivor of that time. I remember, I mourn, and I go on. And I do have my memories good and bad and I must embrace them all and can never forget. And before they disappear I post them here so they can live on. Courtesy of our friend from back2stonewall, Thank you.