The cast of Macbeth drank in an 8th avenue dive called the Chelsea Bar, not to be confused with the bar of the same name in the nearby Chelsea Hotel where celebrities went to OD on heroin. No, our Chelsea Bar was a beer & shot joint that catered to longshoremen and merchant seamen. We liked the Chelsea because the beer was cheap and the ambiance earthy – our very own Mermaid Tavern. The toothless, one-thumbed bartender liked us because we bought a lot of his beer and caused no trouble. He was not the only person in the Chelsea missing a body part – all the regulars were minus a finger, arm, ear or eye. They were the guys who didn’t pay attention when the industrial safety film was shown.
Every so often a fight would break out at the bar between two lugs and the bartender would bring out his sawn-off baseball bat to restore order. He’d slam it on the bar a few times then brandish it above his head. Silence. Then there’d be a final shouted curse from one of the combatants followed by a sudden flood of tears and a flight to the men’s room. Eventually, it hit us. These were lovers’ spats. We were in the butchest gay bar in the world. And, I am talkin’ butch. These guys looked like the wrestling tag-team of Skull Murphy and Brute Bernard.
The Chelsea Bar is long gone along with all those toothless, tattooed, hard-drinkin’, hard-lovin’ men. Were they buried at sea? In Potter’s Field? Did they spend their last days in the “Home for Sissy Stevedores?” Or, did these old salts care for each other in their dotage? Care for each other through the nightmare of AIDS that was gaining on them and perhaps already a stowaway in their bodies?