THE MINE SHAFT was closed by the City of New York on this date, contending that it permitted ”high-risk sexual activity” linked to the spread of AIDS. It was the first such action taken by the city since New York State enacted new rules designed to curb the growing incidence of HIV-AIDS by empowering local governments to shut down bathhouses, bars and other places where dangerous sex takes place.
The bar was approximately 20 feet long. Near the bar in the center of the floor was a pool table covered with a sheet of plywood. To the rear of the bar was a coat room where a man was checking all coats that were not leather. Located on the floor, there were two horses which I would describe as the type used in a gymnasium. The interior of the premises was painted black.
In court papers signed by Justice Jawn A. Sandifer of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, the city asserted that the bar was not only in violation of the new anti-AIDS regulations but also was a public nuisance and has been operating without a liquor license.
The Mine Shaft was a ”notorious and well-known place,” in the words of Richard Dunne, then executive director of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. In graphic depositions written by city inspectors, a portrait emerged of a dark place with black walls, back rooms, open cubicles without doors and the accouterments of sadomasochism. They reported seeing many patrons engaging in anal intercourse and fellatio – the ”high risk” sexual practices cited in the state rules – and hearing sounds of whipping and moaning.
At a news conference with city lawyers, the very closeted Mayor Ed Koch replied to questions that by closing the place, the city was not trying to impose any restrictions on sexuality, but to save lives.
”Maybe it brings to the consciousness of those who have a predilection to engage in this suicidal behavior how ridiculous it is, how self-defeating it is and how lethal it is,” he said. ”Maybe it will deter them as well. We don’t know. But we’re going to do the best we can.’‘
Gay activists argued that closing the Mine Shaft and places like it would have no impact on sexual activity, and suggested that by closing the bar, the city had taken a step toward government regulation of private behavior.
Dunne, at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, said he did not believe that closing the bar would have a salutary effect on sexual behavior, or on the spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome. ”You don’t get AIDS from buildings, you get AIDS from a virus that is transmitted sexually,” he said. ”The only thing that is going to stop it is education and the adoption of behavior changes. I don’t just mean people going to the Mine Shaft and to the bathhouses. I’m talking about the whole gay male population, and I’m talking about all intravenous drug users and their contacts.”
The Mineshaft opened as private club on October 8th, 1976. It was at 835 Washington Street, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Many leather and fetish gay bars were in this area of New York, called Meatpacking District (because it had actually been the meat packing district.)
Among the most well-known were the Ramrod and the most hardcore was (as you can guess from the name) the The Toilet . Both of them can be seen in the movie Cruising.
The Mineshaft was also visited by many celebrities like filmmakers Vincente Minnelli (“An American in Paris”), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (“Querelle”), Rock Hudson (“Giant”), the artists Tom of Finland and Keith Haring, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and more.
On weekends only a few people came before 2am: they filled up 5 am. During the week, however, people arrived and left early.
The men who frequented the Mineshaft were hyper-masculine in body, in the type of sex, and dresscode. Usually, the customers wore leather, cowboy clothing, motorcycle wear, workers gear or uniforms like those of the police or military.
Mineshaft, fun facts:
- Near the wardrobe there was a sign which offered a discount of 5 cents to those who were not circumcised and that “could prove it.”
- Newcomers to the venue, were often frightened by the presence of so many police officers and sometimes ran away thinking there was a raid in progress! But they were just customers in police uniform drag.
- Freddie Mercury wore a T-shirt with the Mineshaft logo in the official video for the Queen’s song “Don’t Stop Me Now”.
- The Village People were inspired by the dress code of the Mineshaft for their “costumes”
- Celebrities such as Mick Jagger and Rudolf Nureyev, were “blocked” and not allowed to enter because they did not respected the dresscode
- For privacy purposes, only the nickname of the member would be printed on the membership cards of the Mineshaft, not his name
- In the movie Cruising, with Al Pacino the venue is rebuilt in a theatre and its house number is changed (837 instead of 835)