Here’s why Eagle NYC has a special place in the hearts of so many

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Eagle NYC
(Photo: EagleNYC/SkywritingMedia)

One of the most famous, and longest-running, gay clubs in New York City is Eagle NYC.

The original Eagle was a longshoreman’s pub called the Eagle Open Kitchen at 142 11th Avenue, at 21st Street, near NYC’s West Side Highway. It ran from the 1930s to 1970. In the latter year, it was bought by a man called Jack Modica, who painted the walls black and turned it into a leather and Levis bar.

One year after the Stonewall uprising, Modica noted the growing confidence and openness of the New York City LGBTQ scene. It was the perfect time to launch what was originally called the Eagle’s Nest.

(Photo: EagleNYC/SkywritingMedia)

Related: Gay bars in New York

It quickly established a following. Open seven days a week, it became a favored hangout for leather men and those simply seeking the company of other men.

So successful and well known did it become, it led to other Eagle bars to spring up around the world. Those businesses are unrelated to the Eagle NYC, but all offer a cruisy, men-oriented vibe with leather and fetish undertones.

(Photo: EagleNYC/SkywritingMedia)

Unsurprisingly, the arrival of AIDS in the 80s had an impact on the Eagle, as did escalating rents in this part of New York City.

The venue’s original lease came up for renewal in 2000, but Modica chose not to renew or relocate the business. Instead, he opted for retirement and the original Eagle closed its doors, to the dismay of its regulars.

(Photo: @marquitos_nyc/Instagram)

Eighteen months later, on October 5, 2001, a new Eagle opened up at its current home, 554 W 28th Street. The new owners bought the business from Modica, a friend of theirs, and also the original fixtures, to ensure some continuity.

It too proved an immediate hit, with men deprived of their Eagle fix for over a year queuing around the block to re-discover a bit of the old magic.

(Photo: @ozziesantana/Instagram)

Related: San Francisco Eagle finally reopens today – and could soon be making history

The current home is located across two floors of an old horse stable from the late 19th century. It also boasts a very popular roof terrace and bar. Many believe it’s a superior venue to the original.

(Photo: EagleNYC/SkywritingMedia)

The mood, as always, is dark, cruisy, and testosterone-fueled, with a popular pool table and acres of chain-link fencing. However, newcomers may also be surprised by how friendly and welcoming the crowd is.

(Photo: @jonofarabia/Instagram)

“Michael and I love the Eagle because it’s a very ‘come as you are’ type of place,” one regular, @jonofarabia, told GayCities. “On any given evening at the Eagle, you will be in the company of men of all ages, races, and body types. It’s also a safe and welcoming environment to learn about all of the various parts of the kink community. We are big fans.”

Another regular, Mike Bass (@mikeb.hk), told GayCities, “I appreciate its no-nonsense authenticity and lack of pretentiousness. Everybody and every body are welcome.”

(Photo: @proseccopapi11/Instagram)

London Miles (@proseccopapi11) said, “Besides the incredibly strong drinks and beautiful rooftop, what I love most about the EagleNYC is the diversity and acceptance of all types of men. It is a very welcoming and warm environment for everyone of various backgrounds seeking various things.”

Related: New York’s Stonewall Inn celebrates the family of LGBTQ Pride Flags

The venue is home to the long-running Mr. Eagle contest, which returns next in October (1-3) and is always one of the busiest weekends of the year. The venue is currently open from Wednesdays to Sundays.

The current Mr Eagle (Photo: EagleNYC/SkywritingMedia)

“Currently we are only permitting those that show proof of vaccination to enter,” a spokesperson confirmed to GayCities. “This allows us to have no restrictions in place.

“Initially, we were turning away around 30% of the patrons but now it’s near 0%. We did get some pushback about our policy from those who choose not to be vaccinated but we are resolved to protect our staff and our patrons from Covid.”

(Photo: @jerseyrugger10/Instagram)

The spokesperson said the past 16 months had been very challenging for the venue, but the team was now feeling confident about the future, having just renewed the lease for the next 15 years.

(Photo: @alainvasallo/Instagram)

What is it that makes Eagle NYC such a special place?

“What we consistently hear is that everyone feels welcome at the Eagle. They love our staff and they love the ambiance. It’s an edgy sexy vibe with great DJs spinning really cool music.

“I also think that when you step into the bar you can feel the legacy of this historic establishment. You feel connected to something really important. In an era of rapid change and instant gratification, something constant and consistent like the Eagle is comforting.”

(Photo: @mattyfurby/Instagram)
While nightlife venues have served as a safe haven for LGBTQ people for decades, their existence has been threatened by COVID-19, and they need our help to survive. Make a tax-deductible donation to the GayCities #SaveOurSpaces fund, and we’ll distribute it to LGBTQ bars and clubs struggling across the U.S.