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Does gay still have a place?
Strobing lights and dark rooms, drag queens on counters, first kisses, last call; the gay bar has long been a place of solidarity and sexual expression. Now they are closing, a cultural demolition that has Jeremy Atherton Lin wondering: Could this spell the end of gay identity as we know it?
In prose as exuberant as a hit of poppers and dazzling as a disco ball, the author embarks on a transatlantic tour of the hangouts that marked his life, with each club, pub and dive revealing itself to be a palimpsest of queer history. Gay Bar time-travels from Hollywood nights in the 1970s to a warren of cruising tunnels built beneath London in the 1770s; from chichi bars in the wake of AIDS to today’s fluid queer spaces; through glory holes, into Crisco-slicked dungeons and down San Francisco alleys. Jeremy charts police raids and riots, posing and passing out—and a chance encounter one restless night that would change his life forever.
The journey that emerges is a stylish and nuanced inquiry into the link between place and identity, inviting us to go beyond Stonewall and enter the underground. Elegiac, randy and sparkling with wry wit, Gay Bar is at once a serious critical inquiry, a love story and an epic night out to remember.
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I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so happily surprised and enchanted by a book. GAY BAR is an absolute tour de force.
– Maggie Nelson author of The Argonauts
GAY BAR is a book of rare dreamlike power. Brainy, audacious, funny, vulnerable, and sexy, it’s endlessly awake not just to codes and signs but to a culture that’s changing faster than most of us are able to see.
– Paul Lisicky author of Later + The Narrow Door
Jeremy Atherton Lin’s personal history of queer nightlife is shot with vibrant intellectual adrenaline. With keen original insight, he celebrates the gay bar as a site of ribald, sensuous, and urgent resistance. A must-read for all.
– Cathy Park Hong author of Minor Feelings
A vibrant and wistful report on a bygone era in gay culture… consistently engrossing… unfettered reminiscence and sharp wit… – Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
Lively and dirty, intellectual and gossipy, GAY BAR is the rare book that feels both like a guilty pleasure and like it is making you considerably smarter as you read. A super exciting debut and an important document of queer lives.
– Michelle Tea author of Against Memoir + Black Wave
A brilliant, exhilarating juxtaposition of memoir, social history, architectural analysis, shoe-leather geography and more penises than you can shake a stick at, GAY BAR is a study of the intersection between sexuality and identity made concrete. Passionate, wry, funny, clear-eyed, romantic, sceptical, randy, bold, celebratory and stinky, often all at once.
– Will Ashon
author of Strange Labyrinth + Chamber Music
GAY BAR is searching, erudite and sexy, probing the past, present, and future of queer life while refusing easy binaries. GAY BAR is about pleasure, but is deeply serious too. It is wonderful — one of the best books I have read in ages.
– Katherine Angel
author of Daddy Issues + Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again
In this captivating debut, essayist Atherton Lin explores the gay bar as a cultural institution whose time may have passed. – Publishers Weekly
Utterly blown away. Jeremy Atherton Lin creates something new from a territory that feels so familiar and known. We can never have enough complex, intersectional writing about queer experience, and this is such a welcome, needed addition to the canon.
– Niven Govinden
author of This Brutal House + Diary of a Film
Raunchy, tender, and bracingly erudite, GAY BAR is an archeology, a 4 a.m. afterparty, a disco-and-glitter drenched fever dream. Written in luxuriant, sublimely evocative prose, Atherton Lin wafts between personal anecdote and political history, exploring the evolution of queer spaces, and how their disappearance is a sign of what we’ve both gained and lost. GAY BAR is pure pleasure to read: like having an intimate conversation with your funniest, smartest friend.
– David Adjmi author of Lot Six
Each page made me yearn for the dance floor and each chapter made me think about our need for queer spaces in new ways. I’m so glad that someone has written the definitive book about gay bars… but specifically, Atherton Lin, who has captured the subversiveness and sexiness that make these places what they are, or tragically, were.
– Amelia Abraham author of Queer Intentions
Veers from conversational to academic, covering topics from Proust to fisting, and remains engaging throughout. This is an excellent read-alike for Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015) or microcultural histories like Tim Mohr’s Burning Down the Haus (2019).” – Booklist
Like the hypnotic thumps of good house music, Jeremy Atherton Lin’s voice pulses. Painstakingly researched and tenderly written, GAY BAR marks queer bars as sites of resistance and reinvention. I longed for nothing more than to club hop with him, to occupy the spaces between light and shadow and consume the night so that we might emerge wholly new.
– Alex Espinoza author of Cruising
…a complex work… an essential read… – Emma Specter, Vogue, The Best Books to Read in 2021