Where Cowboys Roam

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A Gay Bar That’s Part Coyote Ugly, Part Reality TV Fodder
By JAMES BARRON

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This sounds like the premise for a sitcom or a reality TV show: A straight couple opens a gay bar.

She favors off-the-shoulder tops and stiletto heels; he wears leather jackets and rides a Harley. The place — improbably for Manhattan — is a country-western joint where the staff climbs on the bar and performs dance numbers.

“It’s high drama and high energy for sure,” declared Kris Coughlin, a bartender there.

The bar, Flaming Saddles, at 793 Ninth Avenue, near 53rd Street, opened in 2011. The actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson and the television personality Anderson Cooper bantered about it on Mr. Cooper’s daytime talk show. And New York magazine, which named it the Best Gay Bar in New York City last year, said the bartenders “do-si-do on the bar top like an all-male version of Coyote Ugly.”

There is a reason to mention Flaming Saddles in the same breath as Coyote Ugly, the raucous First Avenue saloon where female bartenders dance on the bar. Jacqui Squatriglia, 48, who choreographed the moves at Coyote Ugly, does the same at Flaming Saddles, where she is an owner.

Now she and her business partner and boyfriend, Chris Barnes, 54, say they are on their way to opening gay country-western bars in other cities.

Mr. Barnes, a songwriter and actor who appeared on “Seinfeld,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “30 Rock,” is also working on a musical about Flaming Saddles. And, indeed, a reality-television producer has been pitching a series that would focus not only on the bar and its customers, but also on Ms. Squatriglia, Mr. Barnes and their relationship. They have two therapists on call around the clock.

This is no shot-and-a-beer joint. The top-selling drink at Flaming Saddles is vodka and seltzer. (Amid calls for a boycott of Stolichnaya to protest attacks on gay people in Russia and antigay legislation backed by President Vladimir V. Putin, Flaming Saddles changed its “midnight Stoli hour” to a “midnight Absolut hour,” with the same $8-a-drink price.)

The jukebox has John Denver’s “Country Boy” and Will Smith’s “Wild, Wild West.” The room is a homage to a frontier-town saloon, or perhaps to the set of “Annie Get Your Gun”: comfortably dark, even in the daytime, with bordello-red drapes, velvety patterned wallpaper, wide-plank floors and an old-fashioned pressed-metal ceiling.

And there is a down-home sensibility rooted in a kind of nostalgia for places where the cowboys are real: The couple estimates that 60 percent of Flaming Saddles’ customers grew up in Oklahoma, Texas or Tennessee (even if, Mr. Barnes said, many headed for New York because they were uncomfortable acknowledging their sexuality there).

“There was not a gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen for me,” said one regular, Brianne Demmler, who went there with her girlfriend on the day they became engaged last year. “I can walk into Hardware, and they’re cold. I can walk into Barrage, and they’re so busy. I can walk into Boxers, and it’s too loud. You walk in here, and even when there are 200 people in here, somebody behind the bar makes eye contact to acknowledge you’re here.”

Steven McWilliams started out stocking liquor and doing behind-the-scenes chores. Now he is serving up drinks and is part of the troupe dancing on the bar. “You know, gay bars for the most part thrive on sexual energy,” Mr. McWilliams said. “That’s how they keep people coming back, the whole idea of finding someone to go home with or flirting with a sexy bartender. I’m sure people enjoy flirting with us, and they like watching us dance on the bar, but we keep all of our clothes on and we’re not gyrating in people’s faces.”

Nor are they performing the ballet “Rodeo” just inches away from patrons. People pull out their cellphones and make videos as the bartenders jump and pivot; the dance captain, Dane Sorensen, likes to add cartwheels and splits. But the staff is under orders from Ms. Squatriglia not to let things get too suggestive.

“Our style is not raunchy,” she said. “Not to say that’s not good at other places; it’s just not what we set out to do.”

They may be long on energy, but they are short on space. The bar, only 32 inches wide, is a runway of possible hazards. As dancers, the bartenders must sidestep customers’ drinks, not to mention elbows. Ms. Squatriglia eliminated one potential problem in the beginning. She put in a flat bar top, replacing one that had an ornamental lip that could be tripped over, and she insisted that it be made of harder wood. “No divots from when they pound their heels,” she said.

The reaction from the crowd? “It’s a fun experience,” said Roger Welch, a theater director who discovered the bar when it opened. “Everyone’s excited. It’s country line dancing. I think for that style, they do quite well.”

Customers are not allowed to jump up and dance along. “We point to the sign,” Mr. Barnes said. It is over the bar and says, “No woohooing.” He said it was there mainly to keep out straight women’s bachelorette parties.

Flaming Saddles was Ms. Squatriglia’s idea. She and Mr. Barnes met in 2009, when he had a part in the film “Good Day for It,” an independent movie shot in rural Pennsylvania, and she was an executive producer. After what Mr. Barnes described as “the usual on-set romance,” they moved to Manhattan together and had one of those serious couples talks.

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“I said, ‘Do you want to get married and have kids, or do you want to have fun?’ ” he recalled. “She said, ‘Have fun.’ I said, ‘What are we going to do?’ She said, ‘I want to open a gay country-western bar.’ I was trying to be spontaneous and comedic, so I said, ‘As long as we call it “Flaming Saddles,” I’m in.’ Then I said, ‘Not that it matters, but why?’ ” She said that at Coyote Ugly, she would work out a routine, only to say to herself, “I wish that was boys.”

She had definite ideas for Flaming Saddles — “I had opened 25 other bars,” she said. “I knew what I wanted.” — and Ms. Squatriglia and Mr. Barnes rejected advice they got as they prepared to open.

“We have a lot of gay friends we consulted with,” Mr. Barnes said. “They said, ‘Topless on the bar.’ Jacqui said, ‘I don’t think so.’ They said, ‘You have to have a D.J.’ Jacqui said, ‘I don’t think so.’ They said, ‘You can’t use a jukebox in a gay bar.’ Jacqui said, ‘I think so.’ We said: ‘You know what? Let’s just open a saloon we’d like to walk into regardless of sexuality.’ ”

The timing turned out to be good. Older gay bars have closed since Flaming Saddles opened. Rawhide, a stalwart on Eighth Avenue and 21st Street for 34 years, shut in March. Splash, on West 17th Street in Chelsea, closed in August after 22 years. “There’s something in the air about this that at this particular moment makes perfect sense,” said Marvin Taylor, director of the Fales Library at New York University and an expert on the history of bars and restaurants.

So does the location, he said: “They put it in the center of where the gay community is, in Hell’s Kitchen, because Chelsea has completely disappeared.”

Mr. Barnes said owning a gay bar had been something of a consciousness-raising experience. “As a straight man, I didn’t realize the bashing” gay men took, he said.

“We’d see Midtown West yuppie couples” walking by when the bar was under construction, Mr. Barnes continued. “They’d go, ‘I hope it’s not another gay bar.’ I’d say, ‘Excuse me?’ I had never felt it was my fight, but once we put our brand up, it was. And then I looked at Sean Penn’s portrayal of Harvey Milk” — the gay city supervisor in San Francisco who was shot to death in 1978 — “and realized, it’s a civil rights issue. What’s that …”

His voice trailed off, but Ms. Squatriglia finished the sentence with the word “Stonewall,” meaning the Stonewall Inn, the West Village bar known as the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement.

“It was owned by a straight family, too,” he said. “They happened to be a crime family” — the owner was reputed to be a frontman for a Genovese crime capo known as “Matty the Horse” — “but they were straight.”

Governor Cuomo announces new “I love NY LGBT” website

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By STACEY DELIKAT, Fox 5 News Reporter

NEW YORK (MYFOXNY) -
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new “I Love NY LGBT” tourism website on Saturday as lesbian and gay New Yorkers celebrated gay pride weekend.

The state has started a new tourism campaign designed to attract Gay and Lesbian travelers.

Already a huge week for LGBT community and businesses who serve them so the launch of this new website is just an added bonus.

In honor of pride week the boys of Flaming Saddles Saloon are showing off their new line dance.

The bar in Hell’s Kitchen is among those featured on New York States freshly launched “I love New York LGBT” website in what Governor Cuomo is calling a one-stop portal into all the state has to offer to LGBT tourists.

Flaming Saddles is already well known in the local LGBT community but bar owners Chris Barnes and Jacqui Squatriglia, a straight married couple, support the efforts to bring in more LGBT tourists.

The website is part of the state’s $60 million dollar tourism campaign. In addition to entertainment and historic landmarks, the site will spotlight LGBT events, resources and a wedding planning guide for same-sex couples who want to tie the knot here.

The website launched Saturday and will be promoted at Sunday’s Gay Pride Parade which of course is the culmination of the historic week.

New York News | NYC Breaking News

Moonglow Release Party @ Flaming Saddles

Next Magazine

April 9, 2013. Scottie Gage celebrated the release of his new single and music video
“Moonglow” at the Hell’s Kitchen gay country bar.

Brett_Steven Kris_Ryan Matt_Daniel

(L-R: Brett & Steven, Kris & Ryan, Matt & Daniel)
Photographer: Gustavo Monroy

Hell’s Kitchen Is Gayer Than Ever!

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By Michael Musto Wednesday, Jan 2 2013

Hell’s Kitchen is actually heaven’s boudoir for gays these days. The queer ratio is so high there that if the person to the left of you is straight and the person to the right of you is, too, then you’re definitely gay.

Way back in the mid 2000s, I was nudging everyone that the gay energy was migrating north, as Chelsea became a little too fancy, expensive, and hetero for the younger gays. Hell’s Kitchen beckoned with its relatively cheap walk-ups, Thai noodle restaurants, and growing lounge-based nightlife. What’s more, it seemed relatively unvarnished—an off-limits work in progress whose malleability was extremely appealing to gays who like to be part of an urban aesthetics project.

Jump ahead, and HK is now the NYC neighborhood with the most gay bars—13, as opposed to seven in Chelsea.

But my two favorite HK spots are the ones that are so wrong they’re right up my alley. Flaming Saddles is a brightly lit country-western bar that attracts a surprising crowd of flamboyantly gay wannabe cowboys and cowpokes. The screens there seem to show The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas on continual repeat (with Dom DeLuise and Jim Nabors in prominent roles, it’s gayer than a sheriff in a gingham dress), and at odd moments, three short, frisky dancers perform a hoedown on top of the bar—uniquely amusing, even if it tends to interrupt drink service.

Flaming Saddles Bandit

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We’ve made the cover of METRO!!!

AMANDA BARKER | NEW YORK

On the one-year anniversary of the month gay marriage became a reality in New York State, the NYC Pride parade was louder — and prouder — than ever this afternoon.

Rainbow flags flooded the streets and flamboyant drag queens paraded in wigs and sparkly dresses to kick off the 43rd annual LGBT Pride March, which 1.5 million people were expected to attend.

Grand Marshals of the event included Grammy-award winning artist Cyndi Lauper, who performed last night on Pier 54, and Chris Sagardo, the openly gay president of Kiehl’s, the beauty and skincare line. Phyllis Siegel and Connie Kopelov, the first same-sex couple to get married in the city following the passage of New York’s gay marriage law, also served as grand marshals for the event.

The past 12 months have seen some watershed moments in gay rights: In June 2011, the New York state Legislature voted to allow gay marriage in the state. One month later, in July, President Barack Obama announced the official repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military.

5 top pickup lines to pull out during NYC’s Pride March

According to flirters at Flaming Saddles bar | By Carrie Seim

“Say, ‘It’s a good thing same-sex marriage is legal in New York, because I’m already planning our wedding.’ ” Matthew

“Say, ‘When I’m around you I can’t think straight.’ ” Nicole

“Wear a rainbow T-shirt, then tell them they’re your pot of gold.” Mario

“Say, ‘Don’t worry, I brought protection,’ then hand them a copy of the equal protection marriage law.” Matthew

“Ask if he’s really a shirtless cop or he just plays one during Pride.” Andy

Best Gay Bar

Flaming Saddles | 793 Ninth Ave., nr. 53rd St.; 212-713-0481

An establishment that (like straight dancing-bartender predecessors such as Hogs & Heifers) pulls off the trick of being both rousingly festive and laid-back at the same time. The venue commits to its Wild West saloon theme with wood- plank floors, steer motif, Bonnie Raitt on the jukebox, and Westerns on TV. But it isn’t above pleasing its clientele with flashing rainbow lights and bar-dancing cowboy bartenders. The beers on tap are a tad expensive, but that’s more than made up for by two nightly happy hours: the usual four-to-eight, plus an Absolut-ly Stoli Happy Hour (two-for-one vodka drinks) from midnight to one.

From the 2012 Best of New York issue of New York Magazine

New York “Giants” Crash Flaming Saddles, Gay Cowboy Bar

No, not those Giants! Last night, a club for New York’s tallest men convened in Hell’s Kitchen for drinks, conversation, and (sorry, ladies) a lineup of dancing, muscled cowboys at Flaming Saddles, the Western-themed gay bar co-owned by Jacqui Squatriglia, the famed choreographer of Coyote Ugly.

The group, Tall Gay Agenda, is a coterie of gay men from assorted backgrounds, united by their lofty stature. “6’2 and up,” is the general rule of admission, with a range that extends to over 7′.

Membership is obtained through word of mouth, or tall applicants can apply to the group’s Facebook page for updates on the next meeting’s location, which is apt to change.

And while fans of tall men are always welcome, the shorter set seemed a little ill at ease last night among the towering group. “I should have worn my heels, I feel like I’m lost in a forest,” one petite guest quipped, jumping up and down to attract attention.

Founded by Justin Ocean, Evan Hoyt Thompson and his husband Addison Smith, TGA was born out of a casual joke among tall friends. In an interviewwith NEXT Magazine, Mr. Thompson states:

“A few years ago, we went to this party that [Magnetic Fields frontman] Stephin Merritt was having in the East Village for short guys and their admirers called Runt,” Thompson told us. “We met Stephin and joked with him about how fun it would be to be in a room with everyone the same height.”

And a movement was born. Although it was a Monday night, Flaming Saddles was packed with, overall, the kind of guys you’d bring home to mama. Tall, attractive, fit, and educated, the men drank beer and cocktails, debating topics like the Republican primaries and the last Harvard-Yale tailgate. And although the crowd tended toward the white-collar, there were enough creative types like actors, photographers, poets, and opera singers to provide conversational diversity.

While flirtation was certainly an element, many guests claimed to be attracted to TGA by a feeling of tall fraternity. “Never has 6’3″ felt this small,” one member glowed after the night was over, and friends agreed, commenting on how refreshing it was to look others in the eye–or look up–for a change.

Many also bonded over the shared travails that come with living at a higher elevation. Common complaints included airline legroom (it’s discriminatory against the tall!), back pain (gravity!), and shorter life expectancy. But in particular, members commiserated over the gawking they often receive among those of average heights.

“I hate it when people ask if we play basketball,”said one tall, suited, professional, as he checked his blackberry. “I’m a lawyer, I haven’t played basketball since high school.”

“Yeah,” responded one giraffe-hatted young man, laughing. “And the weather up here is just fine.”

Left: Co-founder Evan Hoyt Thompson, Photo via | Right: Daniel Reynolds, Dennis Kwan, Will Sheridan, Evan Hoyt Thompson

By Daniel Reynolds