It was a typical Saturday night in the summer of the 70’s.
Myself and the guys would head down Rt. 7 to Westport and get there just as it was getting dark so when we pulled into the back parking area of The Brook our cars wouldn’t be seen even though we lived 20 or so minutes north of Westport.
These were the times we lived in, in the closet and the shadows. And that’s how paranoid we were, like someone from the greater Danbury area would actually be down in Westport for our cars to be seen.
We always drove separately as one never knew when one or all of us might hook up with someone, either for a quickie in the car, go to Sherwood Isle State Park or to an apartment for a night of “fun”.
These were pre-AIDS days, when it was macho and sexy to have a hairy chest, have a beard or mustache and only musclemen body shaved.
No one had tattoos or piercings for the most part and everyone looked like the guy next door, someone you’d like to bring home to Mom if you could. Oh there were the “sluts” but once you got that kind of reputation “the self-respecting fags” wrote you off their A-list and wouldn’t give you the time of day.
There were the queens and flamers, but most were “macho men” wearing their best tight fitting ”disco” bell bottoms or jeans, and I mean tight, so tight you could bounce a quarter off of them and of course no one was wearing undies so that the crack of ones butt and the bulge in the front were prominent.
Shirts would be open down to the navel and most, myself included, would be wearing an “Italian Horn” or a plain gold or silver chain around the neck.
Some fellas had hankies of different color either in the left or right rear pocket. I didn’t know what that was all about until I read an issue of The Advocate where they had a breakdown of the colors, which pocket the hanky was in and what it meant. I knew to stay away from the red, brown and black ones.
You could always tell who were the ”chicken hawks” as they were cruising the place looking for “twinkie virgins”. The Brook at the time had the dubious nickname of “the meat rack” and lived up to its reputation during the summer. The only place I saw more cars with steamed up windows was at the Danbury Drive-In movie theater.
The Brook had drop dead gorgeous male bartenders for the guys and sexy chick bartenders for the gals and on occasion go-go boys in short-short hot pants. Good grief talk about tight. Lord Have Mercy !
And it was also a time when “teabagger” wasn’t a political statement.
Sometimes for a change of scenery we’d drive all the way to Nyack, NY, but as that was such a long drive we only took one car and had a designated driver even before it was the popular thing to do. We made those excursions mostly to see what queer life there was on the other side of the Hudson River. And if we wanted to go have a quieter night we’d head across the state-line to Birds Of A Feather in Peach Lake, NY, again always parking behind the building up in the “woods”.
Besides going to P-Town some of us would go up to Lake George, NY and stay at the King Hendrick Motel which was then owned by gay guys and had a great reputation as “the place” in the Adirondacks where anything, and I mean anything goes particularly around and in the pool at night. I was up there about five years ago and it was owned by a nice gal from Switzerland and was very much a family-oriented place. It use to have a listing at Purple Roofs as being gay-friendly but is not listed at the website now. Who owns it today I don’t know but hopefully they are still gay-friendly.
While staying at King Hendricks our “pre-naughty” nights would be spent down the road at Mr. Chips another homey bar like The Brook where many a good time went on out in the parking lot, the outdoor patio area and of course the men’s room. The place was owned by some cops so you always felt safe and had not to worry about being harrassed by the locals or the “tourists” who may have stopped in not realizing what kind of joint they walked into. Of course the owners left their “badge” at home and turned a blind eye to all the “shenanigans” that was going on about the property. Heck they bought the place to sell booze (and other stuff if you get my meaning) and not morals. Sometimes, change that, most times the party-hearty and “if it feels good do it” stuff would continue on over to King Hendricks. It always seemed come sunup there were more people laying around or in the pool than actually “paid” to stay the night.
When we would go up for our week or long weekend of debauchery we would rent the cabins behind the pool as the driveway in front of the cabins was closed off at night to cars and became one big crusing zone for those staying and the locals and others who would come up from Mr. Chips. Alas on that last trip to Lake George, the property Mr. Chips was on had been reworked into a parking lot with a “gym”. No I didn’t go check it out, my gym days are long over thanks to playing racquetball in the 70’s & 80’s and now having arthritic knees from all the spills on the hardwood floor, plus my perky pecs which I had from working out and becoming a “brick shit-house” have changed to man boobs, which I may add are still admired. Seems for some, hairy chested men (today called “bears”) are still in these days.
One thing for sure it was a simpler time without all the labels except for macho man, queen, flamer or drag queen. There was no LGBT or GLBT or all the other alphabet soup concoctions we have today. You were just a fag, a dyke or as myself “sat on both sides of the fence”.
But most of the time it was The Brook which was our carefree Saturday night place to hookup and meet others who were just as much in the closet as the rest of us. No one put on any airs regardless of whether they came from lower Fairfield County and had money, or just regular guys like us from upper FC and lower Litchfield County. No, the important thing was to be among others at a time before “gaydar” was invented and you didn’t dare ask “are you ?”
It was funny how many times you’d bump into someone (literally bump as in dancing) and would look at each other, start laughing and say “no shit !”
Yes it was a different time than today, and a better time even with all the paranoia that went with being gay or bi. Because once you found other “birds of a feather” you became family. One of my all time favorite movies to give a look at what this time was like which I’m writing about, even though the point of the movie is to show how the early years of AIDS affected a group of gay friends, is “Longtime Companion“. As many times as I’ve seen it I still smile, laugh and have a tear or two in my eyes. It was my time in the great “gay revolution”.
We didn’t worry much about getting a disease except for the clap, remember this was before we all found out about the ”gay plague”. No one looked down at another because quite frankly it wasn’t tolerated at least at The Brook anyway. I can remember a number of times when real bitchy queens were told to leave The Brook and not come back. After all this was family some idiot was diss’in. We protected our own and kept an eye out for each other including those who worked at the bar who were protective of their patrons.
This stroll down memory lane is because it has been announced in the Westport News that as of June 26 The Brook, or The Cedar Brook Cafe as it is properly called, is closing after some 71 years in business. The reason is so typical of what happens to business owners, the property gets sold, new owners jack up the rent (as if to force the current leaseholders out) to the point the place can’t go on.
I’ve been in gay bars over the years in Chicago, NYC, Atlanta and of course Provincetown. Been out to Fire Island and Studio 54. But there was always The Brook to come home to, because for many of us, it was home. It was the first place where we could totally be ourselves, and where I got the nickname Maude because I had (and still do) the same sassy tongued sarcastic attitude of the TV character the late great actress Bea Arthur created.
So while it’s been many years since I’ve been to The Brook as friends either passed or moved on, it’s nice to know that new generations after the 70’s and 80’s found The Brook to be a home too. They say all good things must come to an end, but that doesn’t make it any easier to lose a part of ones own history and personal makeup.
Hopefully the current crowd will make its way up here to Danbury to make the Triangles Cafe their new home and place to find “birds of a feather”.
To be honest I’m feeling a little old and nostalgic today thus this extended writing.
Finding out about The Brook closing and moving on into LGBT history brings me to the realization how time does fly by, but I can enjoy the memories of the good times of days past, remembering when we were so, so bad and what it was like before the lights came up after last call, Donna Summer sang and The Brook had it’s last dance of the night.
It was for myself anyway, the best of times.