Well, along came Labor Day, and suddenly — and I don’t know about you — partygoing had started to feel … laborious. We keep going out anyway, of course, because God forbid we feel like we’re missing out on something, but nothing hits like it did back in June, when the whole summer was ahead of us and our energy reserves were still at 100 percent after our winter hibernation. And yet, after partying all holiday weekend, I didn’t meet many people who had decided to take a night off. Rather, I received a number of morning-after texts that said something like, “I should’ve stayed home last night.” When the hot, horny summer felt like it was ending, and the world occasionally felt that way too, everyone kept apace — “Want another shot?” (Pfizer, please.)
By the time Sunday rolled around, without an invitation to someone’s beach house, tired and wanting to go somewhere new, I decided to head to the Q, a multilevel gay club in Hell’s Kitchen opened earlier this summer by Frankie Sharpe with the backing (at least on Instagram) of a handful of gay glitterati, including Billy Porter, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Carver, and Jake Shears. All summer, I’d heard word of this old-school gay playground, which, older gays tell me, hearkens back to the pre-Bloomberg era of midtown megaclubs, as well as to the sorts of multi-environment clubs long popular in other cities, from Minneapolis to Miami Beach. In that all-you-can-eat-buffet spirit, every room is somewhat queasily themed — the Disqo, the Qruise, the Speaqeasy, and the Qabaret (though each is nearly indistinguishable from the others). I was surprised to hear about so many Brooklyn gay boys traveling to Hell’s Kitchen for the Q who would never go to the neighborhood’s other staples: Therapy, Industry, even the Eagle. “What are those?” a date asked me earlier in the week, after telling me he’d been to the Q. On Sunday, I noticed the club was throwing a “Labor Day Weekend Finale” in the form of an underwear party, so I called up that date to see if he’d show me around in his blue boxer briefs. I must admit: I could really use a Pedialyte.
11:01 p.m. | We arrive at the Q, a four-floor matte-black building on Eighth Avenue, sandwiched between an already-closed deli and a number of Midtown gift shops selling souvenirs and electronics of questionable provenance. With a giant golden Q on the front of the club and a lit marquee that reads “We’re queer. Get used to it,” it looks not unlike a cartoon villain’s ironically conspicuous headquarters. After we get past two hot, bitchy ticket girls in big hoop earrings, we enter the first bar area, where Robyn is playing and two boys are already eating each other’s faces on a barstool. The first floor looks like a vampire’s living room, with crystal chandeliers, more matte-black paint, and red velvet curtains. The bartender, wearing a choker and a thong, makes us drinks while a short, hairy man in a jockstrap bends over the bar and shakes his cheeks. “Own it honey!” his friends scream.
11:30 p.m. | The second floor is also a narrow lounge with a bar, but this one features a few go-go boys and walls painted with Tom of Finland characters and ACT UP protest slogans (“Silence=Death”) and is located next to the darkroom (for those in their underwear only), via a speakeasy-style passage through a hidden door in the leather wall. A cringey remix of Alanis Morisette’s “You Oughta Know” comes on and everyone starts singing along, including a herd of shirtless boys riding a carousel pony in the corner of the room.
11:44 p.m. | The top floor is a big dance floor with a balcony where almost everyone is in their skivvies — or as my date says to me when the strobe lights flash on, “It looks like a gym.” Not drunk enough to let loose yet, we return to the first floor, passing an exit sign that reads “Thanks Babe, Cum Again.”
12:02 a.m. | If we’re going to fit in, we realize we’re going to need to take our clothes off, so we head to the “coat check” in the basement. The line is filled with gays in white tennis shoes, white socks, and multicolored underwear of all kinds — jockstraps, thongs, briefs, G-strings, pouches, and the very occasional boxer briefs (but no boxers) — and the line is so long it extends into a dank back stairwell that, per someone in line, “smells like farts.” The world is always smaller than you want it to be, and we end up in line next to a guy my date went home with the last time he was at the Q, two nights previous. “They dragged me here,” my date says, pointing to me, and his hookup’s friend, in a white ball cap and a pink crop top, asks me, “Oh, you do drag?” The problem with being in our underwear now? The AC is on full blast.
1:15 a.m. | Shivering a bit and obviously self-conscious standing mostly naked with the also-mostly-naked boy I’d talked into showing me around here after having gone to dinner with him… yesterday, I decide to mingle with the people who look the most out of place: The Women. “My friends, who are as gay as can be, brought me here,” says one, a 20-something hetero girl in blue jean shorts near the second floor bar. “I’m, like, live-laugh-loving right now.” Shortly after we separate, and in a truly Homosexual course of events, Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” bleeds into “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and then even more quickly into Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” and I imagine that girl must be singing her ass off somewhere.
1:41 a.m. | Back upstairs near the dance floor, I meet a middle-aged Latina with chunky blonde highlights and incredibly long fingernails. Though she’s currently fully clothed, she tells me she just returned from the darkroom, where she’d had to strip down to her panties to get inside. “I had the biggest ass in the room,” she brags, telling me it’s because she’s a Pure Barre instructor. She reminds me of a cheery tourist at the Central Park Zoo, lounging on a couch watching boys quite literally dance in cages — not to mention the dark petting zoo she just traipsed through. But her investment in gay men, she tells me, goes beyond partying at the Q. She actually works in HIV prevention for Gilead Sciences, which created Truvada. When I ask if she learned anything tonight, she laughs. “Gay men and straight men really aren’t that different.” Then we watch a few guys absentmindedly mess with their junk.
2:00 a.m. | Back on the first floor, I chat with a skinny boy with frosted tips who’s sitting all by himself in a corner. When I ask him what could be better, he admits, shyly, “I could be better. I could be more lit.” Then, with a wink, he says, “Let’s get outta here,” and I understand what he’s actually looking for to improve his night.
2:10 a.m. | On the second floor, I spot someone else sitting alone, a soft-bodied shirtless boy from Astoria, still in his blue jeans, which he says he’s too overstimulated to take off. After all, he just came out a few weeks ago, and this is the first gay bar he has ever been to. “My friend went to the restroom, but I think he found something else,” he says, dejectedly. Eventually, his pal, an interior designer with a blond combover, bounces back excitedly, clearly energized by some kind of bathroom encounter. “I love it here,” he says. “It has an underground feel to it like it’s illegal, but it’s not illegal.”
2:50 a.m. | As it gets later, the first floor empties out, while the second floor becomes a frustrated waiting room for the darkroom and the third floor and its panopto-mezzanine stay a packed, dance-y club. On stage, an OnlyFans boy I recognize with an impressively plump butt and a long pink feather boa dances alone — though it’s unclear what purpose he’s serving at this hour, when almost everybody is staring into someone else’s eyes (or crotch) rather than looking to him for inspiration. “Honestly, this place is soulless,” an Instagay tells me, before taking it back because he “really loves Frankie,” the owner. I meet two Black trans partygoers, who tell me this is their favorite gay spot in the city, offering up some clichés that, who knows, might be true for them: “It’s super accepting here” and “You can really be yourself.”
3:15 a.m. | Because, I’m told, the dark room is “the only thing really happening here” tonight, we decide to spend more time behind the big leather door. It’s nicer than most darkrooms, with a little bar, even though no one has hands available to hold a drink, and a DJ, even though the DJ is currently struggling to spin while a six-packed twink is getting railed over the edge of the stand. It’s intense, of course, and all watched over by a big bear happily crucified to the wall by handcuffs, but the people are also fucking and sucking with a strange remove from what’s happening. One man in a kimono, in the middle of blow job, cools himself with a fan instead of paying attention to what’s going on down below. Another, being fucked against the wall, scrolls his Instagram. I’m guessing he’s lit enough. My date and I make plenty of awkward eye contact. For a darkroom, it’s really not that dark.
4:00 a.m. | After five hours of being either very hot or very cold, we head back downstairs to retrieve our clothes from a black plastic garbage bag. In line, a guy with a spiky blond mohawk tells us, “I’m jealous. Your noses are melting off your faces like London Bridge,” which, when I check, does not seem to actually be the case. Outside the Q, in the glowing light of the gift shops, we meet a boy with loads of facial piercings who came here from Long Island. It’s his fourth time at the Q, which he claims is the “second or third easiest” place to “get with guys” in New York. Asked if that’s the primary reason he goes out — to hook up — he tells me, “Well, when you’re bored, and you have nothing better to do …”
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