The Mineshaft

In New York City, the meatpacking district of Greenwich Village is home to many LGBT communities and movements. The most notable is, of course, the Stonewall Inn that led to a series of riots in 1969. On the west side of Greenwich Village, however, is a lesser-known LGBT spot: an exclusive, members-only BDSM gay bar called the Mineshaft. Prominent for its strict regulations on dress code and distinct sexual practices, the Mineshaft, formed in October 1976, brought the gay BDSM community to light.

Managed by Walter Wallace, the Mineshaft was designed strictly for men to practice sexual activities out of the conventional norm. That said, not all men were allowed to participate. The Mineshaft was notorious for its strict regulations on dress code, which listed more of what one shouldn’t wear in opposition to 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. Though the Mineshaft was known as a predominantly male members-only club, membership was granted to those who showed up in compliance to the dress code. 1 There were, however, exceptions. According to Annie Sprinkle, three women, including herself, were permitted into the Mineshaft. Prejudice against these women was inevitable, but expected, since the place was considered home to gay men. The prejudice was usually prominent against women there, that is, the club welcomed diversity in race, occupations, and preferences. As Annie described 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 notions that there had to be a ‘masculine’ and a ‘feminine’ partner; a masculine man can 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, and a political sense.

During the time that Mineshaft was open, was also when the AIDS epidemic hit. When AIDS came into the scene Mineshaft became sour and a place where NYC officials could come in and shut the club down for health violations. Mineshaft was shut down 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, which surrounded the city.  These establishments however were not the main spread of HIV/AIDS, they were only a contributor but to NYC officials these clubs like Mineshaft and others were the reason that AIDS was being spread.6 According to Annie Sprinkle many of her friends/lovers that she met while Mineshaft was open passed away due to AIDS and “IT was the “great dying” and a huge wage of death”. 7

There are many reasons as to why we should care about this forgotten club.  Some of which is that the club was a very big part in NYC’s sex scene as it was mostly male and very uber-masculine.  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 how they feel as well as a place to just enjoy sex.


[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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The Mineshaft

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