Editors' Note: Guest blogger Dan Woog, a lifelong Westporter and a graduate of Brown University, is a full-time freelance writer. He is the author of 16 books, and an award-winning columnist.
Once upon a time, Westport, Connecticut had both a gay bar and a strip club.
Right next to each other.
The gay bar was The Brook. It sat on the Post Road near the Exit 18 connector — directly across from the state police barracks.
The strip club — Crazy Vin’s – was next door, directly across Cedar Road.
Today the state police barracks is Walgreens. Crazy Vin’s is Starbucks.
The Brook — now called the Cedar Brook — is still there. The gay bar outlasted them all.
But it won’t last much longer. A closing party is set for June 26.
The building has been sold. The new rent is out of bar owner Clem Bellairs’ reach.
I’m sure whoever owns it will tear it down. It’s a ramshackle old building — scary, almost — and whatever is erected there will be much more profitable than a gay bar. (I don’t pray often, but please God, don’t let it be a bank.)
Before it goes, let’s pay our respects to a bit of Westport lore — and, believe it or not, a nationally historic place.
At 71 years old, the Cedar Brook has been called the oldest continually operating gay bar in the United States. (The former record holder, it’s said, was in New Orleans — and demolished by Katrina.)
For 7 decades, every gay boy growing up in Westport has told the same story. Knowing there was a gay bar right down the street created both tremendous excitement (there are people like me!) and abject fear (what if someone sees me looking at it?). Wondering who — and what — lurked behind those ramshackle walls consumed gay teenagers. (Straight kids wondered too.)
One summer in the 1970s, a college friend visited. To show off my town, I decided to take her to every bar from the Norwalk line to Fairfield.
(Note to young readers: Yes, Westport had many bars. Still, don’t try this today. The world was a different place then.)
By the time we made it to the Brook, it was 1 a.m. The place was packed. The music was loud; the dance floor looked amazing. This was my chance to finally get inside!
A bouncer blocked the way.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re fine” — he pointed at me — “but the lady can’t enter.”
“The lady cannot come in,” he replied. “This is a gay bar.”
So we went next door, to Krazy Vin’s.
Like an aging drag queen, the Cedar Brook is now past its prime. Crowds are down; even the traditionally huge Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving party — when newly out college guys discovered with glee who else had recently come out — lost its luster in recent years.
The crowd became mixed — lesbians “integrated” the Cedar Brook in the ’80s, and a few straight people (drawn by the powerful sound system and large dance floor) followed.
But it was hard to sustain a gay club in suburban Fairfield County in the 2000s.
Times change. Westport no longer has a police barracks — or a strip club.
Soon it will no longer have a gay bar, either.
The disco ball will spin for the last time.
The bartenders will put on their shirts.
And some other place, somewhere, will say with pride: “We’re the oldest continually operating gay bar in America.”