5 Reasons Why Hook Up Apps Aren’t Closing Down Gay Bars

Co-owners of Urge – Auckland’s longest running gay venue, Paul Heard and Alan Granville, were understandably upset at the recent closure of their business.

They attributed the demise of the bar (not solely, but in large part) to the rise and proliferation of hook up apps.

As a small business owner myself, I completely feel for the guys. It must be heartbreaking emotionally and crippling financially to be forced to close down your business. Urge is the ninth and latest gay venue that has closed down over the past three years in New Zealand, so something is clearly going on. However, the idea that gay bars are closing solely due to the popularity of the use of hook up apps is worth considering. Are hook up apps to blame for the demise of the social/nightlife scene, or is something else happening here?

Personally, I don’t think there’s only one single factor at play. It’s more likely to be a combination of things, with hook up apps playing a role, but by no means the only, or even the largest, role in all of it. Here are 5 other reasons why gay bars might be closing:

1 – The world is changing

Looking at closures of gay bars, or claims of a decline in the gay social scene in general, requires an examination of the world we’re living in. These days, gay rights have become mainstream. The majority of people support marriage equality. Heck, some are even fighting tooth and nail for it. The tide has turned and the hearts and minds have largely been won over. By and large, everyone is on our side of history now.

The oppressive environment that nurtured the birth of many bars has largely been replaced by an atmosphere of acceptance. People who sought gay bars and nightlife venues as a refuge from a cruel, uncaring and unaccepting world, in many cases at least, no longer need to hide. The role of the gay bar has changed in direct relation to the role gay people now have in society. It doesn’t mean that gay bars don’t have a role to play any longer. They do. It’s just that the world has changed. To be successful and keep their doors open (and patrons coming in through those doors), gay bars have to change too.

READ – A New LGBTI Identity


2 – What is ‘gay’ anyway?

Being LGBTI refers to only one aspect of ourselves – our sexuality. To say that one gay guy will want to go out to the kind of place that another gay guy will want to go out to – based purely on their common sexual orientation – may in itself be an outdated concept. While historically, we may have been lumped in together as one group, perhaps the truth is that group cohesion is really just a myth. Or at the very least, not as strong as we may have been led to believe that it is.

Being gay doesn’t mean we like the same music, have the same interests or want to have the same sort of nightlife experience when we go out. In these ways, we’re just as diverse as straight people. After all, a straight bar just doesn’t market itself as that. It goes for a particular angle or niche. It aims to become ‘the cool bar’, ‘the bar with the good drinks menu’, ‘the deep house club’ and so on.

Some gay bars aim to do this as well. They become ‘leather bars’, or ‘sports bars’ and try to define their appeal and ideal clientele in this way. Unfortunately, it seems that even this niche segmentation won’t always work. Urge was known as a bear and leather bar. Despite a clearly targeted and defined customer group, there just wasn’t enough support with the leather/bear communities in Auckland to keep the bar afloat.

3 – A numbers game

It could also be a simple matter of numbers. If the gay population is somewhere between 3-10% of the overall population, as a venue owner, you’re already targeting a relatively small demographic. Any type of business model that restricts itself to no more than 10% of the population may struggle in the long-term. You’re never going to get 100% of that 10% through the door. It’s an uphill battle.

This could explain the recent trend in some Australian cities which has seen the emergence of mixed bars. These are bars that are straight and gay friendly, or market themselves this way at least. My own recent experience at such a place (it used to be exclusively gay but now is decidedly mixed) wasn’t a great one. My partner got asked several times if he was gay, and the overall vibe from some of the straight guys felt a little uneasy. I didn’t feel unsafe as such, but it wasn’t the usual level of comfort I had experienced at that venue previously.

But from a business perspective, I can see why venue owners would do this. It’s only natural that they’re chasing the largest possible audience. It’s just a shame that it comes at somewhat of a cost.

READ – Dealing With Homophobia Online


4 – Pre-loading

There are also changes in the way people approach going out. It used to be that hitting the clubs was the highlight of the night, the point of the night that everything led up to. These days, more people (often younger people) tend to pre-load. This means they’ll meet at a friend’s house before going out and drink as much as they can before heading out. The thinking behind this is you’ll need to drink less, and therefore spend less, when you’re out.

Drinking less obviously impacts the bottom dollar of venues, but so do reduced hours spent at the bar. In many cases, a lot of people go out for much shorter periods of time and drink less when out. In some cases, they don’t even end up going out at all. When your business is based on having people drink for as long as possible, reducing these two key areas becomes an issue.

5 – Boring business reasons

The owners of Urge acknowledged a number of ‘boring’ business factors that led to the closure of their bar. These reasons ranged from a huge increase in rents, music licensing costs also escalating and rising insurance premiums. These factors on their own are hard enough to manage. Combined, they can be a force impossible to overcome.


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