Free Your Spirit at the New Eagle Creek Saloon

By JAN GARDEN CASTRO, January 2022

The Kitchen’s 2022 season opens with a new upbeat dance hall offering plenty of space to groove and celebrate three layers of black gay dance hall history. Programmed by Legacy Russell, its new executive director and chief curator, this New York version pays tribute to Sadie Barnette’s installation The New Eagle Creek Saloon, presented three years ago at The Lab in San Francisco. This, in turn, pays tribute to her father Rodney Barnette’s Bar—the first Black-owned Gay Bar, active 1990-1993, in San Francisco. 

Taking the chill off of winter in New York, cultural critic Madison Moore organizer of the nightlife residency set, chose the DJs—Shaun J. Wright on January 22, Nita Aviance on February 5, Juana on February 19, and Tygapaw on March 5. Moore is Assistant Professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric (Yale UP, 2018).

As a participant in the first DJ set on January 22, it was great to see both the safeguards and the freedoms at The Kitchen. Three vaccinations are required to enter the space, and tickets are a nominal fee. Then the party starts. The Kitchen’s tiers of seating are gone, and the huge dance floor offers ample space to move, to space out, or to get close with those you trust. As the dancers got creative, DJ Wright was busy spinning and keeping hot tracks coming. 

The installation was a U-shaped bar with the turntables in frontand bar stools around this area.  The turquoise neon sign for the New Eagle Creek Saloon was slightly more elaborate than Sadie Barnette’s version. When Rodney Barnette’s Bar opened in 1990, “Prince sang about falling in love and Grace Jones sang about cars and their bumpers, but everybody understood she was singing about something else.,” according to a San Francisco Chronicle account. The Chronicle also quotes Rodney Barnette’s commentary that there was no place in San Francisco where black men could dance with men, women with women, and where one could be oneself. “A lot of the gay people who migrated from other places brought their racism with them,” he noted. So the Eagle Creek Saloon was a place to celebrate black culture from Martin Luther King’s birthday to Gospel music to “a Friendly Place with a Funky Bass for Every Race.”

On a giant screen behind the bar, movies include the original club, black gay dance performances, troupes of dancers in colorful costumes, nude and semi-nude dancers, and crowds around and on the original dance floor. By turning The Kitchen into a performance space open to all races and featuring giant moving images of black gay dancers, it drives home—without saying a word—the degree to which the white and black gay scenes were somewhat segregated throughout the twentieth and earlier centuries except for exceptional individuals like James Baldwin. Even Baldwin got something from his black brothers that was missing in his other relationships, according to things I’ve read, such as his last interview in St. Paul de Vence with Quincy Troupe. By choosing to open up a black gay scene to all genders and races, The Kitchen is helping to reverse years—no, centuries—of racism. Somehow, this is about art but also about freeing the spirit. WM

 

Jan Garden Castro

Jan Garden Castro (www.jancastro.com) is author/editor of six books, including The Art & Life of Georgia O’Keeffe, Contributing Editor for Sculpture Magazine, and contributor for American Book Review.

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