The Smells of a Gay Bar

You’re greeted by the sweetest smelling urinal cake you’ve ever encountered. You’ve just walked into the bar, and it takes a moment to accept the smell. You could almost smile. It’s not offensive as much as it is curious, like “my condolences” balloons at a funeral, and for the rest of your visit at the gay bar, its presence is part of your evening, the very background in which all other smells permeate and disperse. It is the base of the bar’s olfactory presence.

Moving on from the entry, there is a grease den, a counter where a smattering of deep-fryables await drunken consumption. The smell of hot food is not noticeable because the counter is not busy; no one is drunk enough to order food from a gay bar yet. But the grease is still there, and it piques your interest. It is about as pleasant as the pee cake smell.

When you encounter a crowd of people, the smells have more nuance and depth. One man is steeped in the ambrosia of the straight single male world. Perhaps it is Stetson, or maybe some other scent that sounds as though it was named to sound like a particularly reproductive stallion, that makes your nose ache. You question what he’s doing at the gay bar, but then you know. You know.

There are many straight women at the bar, hanging about, feeling unthreatened and free. From these women, it is evident that the perfume marketers of the world have successfully done their job. Their smell is pleasant, but too present.

Nearly every person you encounter has booze in their stink. You no longer can smell the urinal cakes because more interesting things are happening. Drag queens populate the room, and their very presence makes you forget that smells exist. You could make something up, say that they smell like a cloying patch of vibrantly colored flowers, but you won’t do that. You remember their presence, but their smell is still a mystery.

You think, so what do gays smell like? You suppose that depends on the gay you’re smelling. And sure, this is true for any group of people. The smells change just as the people do. But if a single term were to describe the entire glut of homo-affected male people, it would be “rosy musk.” You’re sure of this. The rest of the night you can’t stop thinking about what that might mean. You’re sure that you also secrete this rosy musk, and that’s how other men know. Maybe it’s a smell that only other queers can grasp, like dogs hearing high-pitched whistles that fall silent on other ears.

You are drunk. You can smell the soda in your drink. It almost tingles your nostrils. It’s time to go home, but not before a trip to the bathroom, where you’re reintroduced to the strangely sweet stench that greeted you at the beginning of the night. You end where you begin, which makes a lot of sense, really. You leave the bar and you don’t have to worry about smells. You no longer have to think about what queer smells like.

-Jason Zabel