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Blues in the Cruz

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Greg Roden

Santa Cruz's only men's bar is all but arrow-straight

By Traci Hukill

THE PROSPECTS for breeders look pretty good outside the Blue Lagoon on Pacific Avenue on a weekend night. Girls with Friends haircuts and platforms stand in line right alongside guys with gelled hair and maybe a little too much cologne. Inside, the scene looks much the same, with groups of girls standing around ignoring groups of guys, and couples grinding away on the strobe-pulsing dance floor to techno or hip-hop, sneaking looks at the mirrored wall. There's a Y for every double X here, a key for every lock. The whole scene suggests a potential population explosion.

In fact, the only clues on a busy night that the Blue started out a gay bar are (1) its name; (2) the utter immunity of the doormen and bartenders to feminine wiles; and (3) the signs on the bathroom doors saying "ONE AT A TIME."

The Blue Lagoon suffers from an embarrassment of riches that has led to an unfortunate personality split. Not only is it the only game in town for gay men, but it was, until recently, the only game in town for anyone wanting to dance--to anything besides Loverboy covers, at any rate. For house, hip-hop, disco, funk and '80s, the Blue was it.

So the inevitable sad story began to unfold in the early '90s as straight people started filtering into the bar's smoky interior (for these were the good old days) to get down with their bad selves under the strobe light and maybe spend some quality time staring up at the gay videos playing behind the bar. This left gay men trying to sort out who's who on their own turf--and especially who might punch their lights out.

John Bunch, a seven-year veteran of the bottle side of the Blue's bar, confirms that although the Blue Lagoon is still a men's bar during the day and early evening, at night it's pretty much straight.

"There's an evolution that takes place," he says. "I've seen it happen lots of places. It's all gay, then people bring their cool straight friends, and then they bring their friends who aren't so cool."

But then he shrugs. "On the other hand, without straight people we wouldn't have this," he says, gesturing vaguely toward the new addition, incorporated two years ago. "They bring us business."

Dante Oliveras, 22, remembers sitting outside the bar when he was a wee little thing of 13 picking teams. "It was nothing but gay people," he recalls with a touch of wistfulness. "Now I can come in here, but I can't pick people up. They give you dirty looks if you're just holding hands with someone.

"My sister is a Budweiser model," the Gap-sweatshirted Cabrillo student continues, "and all her friends are models. They used to come here and be so happy because they could dance and not be gawked at. But now it's a meat market. They don't come here anymore."

Ah, but straight couples are wandering in as we speak, and the few jock boys in the room squirm when they realize they're still on the gay side of the evening's cusp.

As luck would have it, the one other downtown bar with a dance floor and a DJ, Club Dakota, is ... a lesbian bar! But Dakota's owner, Jeffrey Stout, has learned a lesson from the Blue Lagoon.

"What's happened down the street," surmises Stout, "is women enjoy going dancing there because it isn't a meat market, and then their friends and the guys go there. On weekends, we probably turn away one in five. No one gets past the front door that probably isn't who we want to have in our bar."


Liquid Account: Two women go looking for looks
in all the wrong places.


Combo Plate

OVER THE HILL in downtown San Jose, the sad legacy of Hamburger Mary's, overrun by straight folks and newly incarnated as mostly straight Club Ecco, remains a warning to the few gay dance bars in town.

Says Annette Owens of the Savoy in Santa Clara, a women's bar, "We do get a lot of straight women coming in because there's not a lot of ogling. But we haven't had the follow-through with the straight men coming in. We do have them sometimes, and I welcome them, but we want our clientele to feel comfortable. A lot of our patrons look at the establishment as their own."

Crouched amid decrepit industrial buildings, neon glowing like a cat's eyes in the shadow of the San Jose Arena, the valley's newest gay bar makes its home in a neighborhood better known for its homeless population than its night life.

Foxtail moved in when the gay-popular Greg's Ball Room moved out, and now shares a street with two homeless shelters. But the thudding dance music inside, the Tina Turner videos on mounted monitors and the procession of gorgeous young drag queens dressed to the nines and parading in and out of the bathrooms actually look pretty rich.

Two particularly attractive queens, all done up in black halter tops and black hip huggers, with exquisitely polished makeup and hair out to here, slide Cleopatra eyes up and down two young straight women walking in the door. Of course the newcomers pose no threat.

Apart from the queens, the atmosphere around the Foxtail bar has a distinctly truck-stop vibe to it: just a bunch of guys being guys, not particularly interested in the women. The two women crane their necks in vain search of a boy who doesn't like boys.

The truth is, they stand a better chance of being picked up by the 50-ish lesbian couple making out in the corner than by any of the guys here. One or two straight couples have walked in the door, but they're couples. Packs of straight predatory males on the make--or even lone wolves--are noticeably absent from the scene. Straight boys just don't come here except with their girlfriends.

Richard Velarde, the big sweet guy behind the bar, has only worked here a few days but says it's a vast improvement over the sports bar gig he just left. "Straight men don't know how to tip," he complains. "I think that women feel a lot more safe in gay bars," he continues. "They can come in and feel like they're not going to get harassed." He definitely cannot promise them any love tonight. He just hasn't seen any straight boys scouting out girls at Foxtail.

Dennis Andrews, owner of Foxtail and Cupertino's Silver Fox, hopes to pick up Mary's old clientele. He doesn't view straight infiltration as a problem, but he does say that "we have a lot of straight couples in here, especially for our drag shows." From the sounds of it, he'd be happy with a mixed crowd. "We want a combination club," he says, "like in the old days."

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From the October 29-November 4, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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