About The Mineshaft

In New York City, the meatpacking district of Greenwich Village is home to many LGBTQ communities and movements. The most notable landmark is the Stonewall Inn that led to a series of riots in 1969. On the west side of Greenwich Village, however, was a lesser known gay hotspot: an exclusive, members-only BDSM sex club / gay bar called the Mineshaft. Formed in October 1976, the Mineshaft was known for its strict regulations on dress code and distinct sexual practices. During the time it operated, the Mineshaft provided space for the gay community to thrive.

Managed by Walter Wallace, the Mineshaft was designed strictly for men to practice sexual activities distinct from the conventional gay norm. That said, not all men were allowed to participate. The Mineshaft, in addition to its interest in BDSM and alternative kinks, was notorious for its strict regulations on dress code, which listed more of what one should not wear in opposition to what one should wear (what was allowed). Adopted since the beginning, the dress code rules of the Mineshaft denied the following: cologne; any formal wear including suits, tuxedos, ties, and dress pants; any designer clothes; sneakers; disco drag; and dresses. This dress code was enforced for erotic reasons in addition to political reasons.

Though the Mineshaft was known as a predominantly male members-only club, membership was granted to those who showed up in compliance with the dress code.1 There were, however, exceptions to this exclusive, gender-specific club. According to Annie Sprinkle, only three women, including herself, were permitted into the Mineshaft. Prejudice against these women was inevitable, since the place was considered home to homosexual men. Although, the prejudice was usually only prominent against women there; in other words, the club welcomed diversity in race, occupations, and sexual preferences. As Sprinkle describes it, the Mineshaft was “definitely a place of sex positivity, personal acceptance, power, love, fun, [and] community.”2

If you got past the bouncer with your acceptable wardrobe, then you walked into another world. You could check your clothes at the door and walk around wearing as much or as little as you’d like. The point of the bar was for men to have completely unrestrained sex. Inside you would find an entire wall of glory holes, a jail cell, the back of a truck, dungeons, and even a bathtub perfect for golden showers.3 The men who went to the Mineshaft were uber-masculine in dress and action much like the men depicted in artwork created by Tom of Finland. The collection of characters included Police Officers, Cowboys, Motorcyclists, and the works. This place threw out the notion that there had to be a ‘masculine’ and a ‘feminine’ partner; that is, a masculine man could be submissive to another masculine man. They threw out this idea of women and femininity being a weak and submissive role. They did not allow transvestites nor transsexuals, because everyone was very butch and tough as Annie Sprinkle describes in correspondence with the authors,

“BDSM, very raunchy. but it felt like a love fest. Not something evil or dangerous. It was just very tribal. Very spiritual actually. We were in a state of bliss, of ecstasy, of love, and pure animal attraction. There was something very beautiful and profound.” 4

This overall vibe made Mineshaft a safe, loving place for gay men to explore their sexuality, and to fulfill their urges for wild, kinky sex.

There was a great diversity of members at the Mineshaft; they were not prejudiced against any race. There were also a great variety of occupations represented including artists, actors, models, etc. 5 Back when the Mineshaft was open 1976 – 1985 was when gay sex was really coming out in the world, so this idea of doing what they wanted, how they wanted, with who they wanted, and not caring what anyone else had to say about it, was political in itself. Their gayness became powerful in an interpersonal way.

During the time that Mineshaft was open, the AIDS epidemic hit gay communities across the United States. When AIDS became known as the “gay cancer,” Mineshaft became a sour place to be and a place where NYC officials could come in raid and shut the club down for health violations. Mineshaft was officially closed on November 7, 1985 at the height of the AIDS epidemic, because city officials felt that it would be easy to get rid of sex establishments that surrounded the city. Shutting down bars and clubs like Mineshaft was a misguided attempt to end the spread of AIDS, since most believed that the clubs and bars were where the “gay cancer” began.  These establishments, however, were not the main cause of the spread of HIV/AIDS; they were only a contributor, but to NYC officials, clubs like Mineshaft were the reason AIDS was being spread.6 According to Annie Sprinkle many of her friends and lovers that she met while Mineshaft was open passed away due to AIDS. “IT was the ‘great dying’,” Sprinkle says, “and a huge wave of death”. 7

There are many reasons why we should care about this forgotten club.  The Mineshaft club was a central part of NYC’s sex scene, as it was mostly male and very uber-masculine. The fact that this club was uber-masculine made it stand out from the other clubs during the time period, as it threw out the fact that there had to be a “feminine and masculine” partner.  It is important to LGBTQ history as Mineshaft gave many people a place to live out their deepest fantasies and expressions.  Mineshaft helped empower those who were into BDSM and gave them a place to express their desires as well as a place to just enjoy sex.  The club also created a sense of security, as the members didn’t have to feel like they were being judged based on their sexual preferences. Mineshaft also served as a social space as those who were allowed entry were able to share and interact with others who had the same love for BDSM. For nine years, the Mineshaft reigned as the “big daddy” of all gay sex clubs in New York, and through the national LGBT landmark registry people will no longer push the fact that there were BDSM clubs like Mineshaft aside but embrace them as a part of LGBTQ history.

 


[1] “Mineshaft.” Http://backinthegays.com/back2stonewall-nyc-the-mineshaft-1976-1985/. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Nov. 2014.

[2] Annie Sprinkle

[3] “LGBT History Month: Remembering The Mineshaft – 835 Washington St. NYC, NY (1976 – 1985).” Back2Stonewall. N.p., 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.

[4] Annie Sprinkle

[5] Annie Sprinkle

[6] “LGBT History Month: Remembering The Mineshaft – 835 Washington St. NYC, NY (1976 – 1985).” Back2Stonewall. N.p., 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.

[7] Annie Sprinkle

 

For a short bio and examples of his work, you can Check out Tom of Finland here.

You can also find out more about Annie Sprinkle on her website.

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