The Mineshaft was a prominent leather bar and private club in New York City. It was founded in 1976.
The Mineshaft opened as a private club on October 8th, 1976. It was located at 835 Washington Street, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Many gay bars, also leather and fetish, were in this area of New York, called Meatpacking District.
Originally the Mineshaft had a room for coprophilia, but it was soon abandoned as too extreme.
The Mineshaft was attended by numerous celebrities like the filmmakers Vincente Minnelli (An American in Paris), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Querelle), Rock Hudson (Giant), and the artists Tom of Finland and Keith Haring.
During weekends, only a few people came before 2am; the bar became full around 5 am. During the week, however, people arrived early and went home early too.
The men who frequented the Mineshaft were hyper-masculine in the body, in their type of sex, and in the dresscode. Usually the customers wore leather, cowboy clothing, motorcycle wear, workers gear or uniforms like those of the police. Transgender people were not allowed.
Quickly, it became the ‘temple’ of non-traditional sex. The costumers could do what what they wanted without fear of being judged.
Robert Mapplethorpe took many pictures of the Mineshaft and was at one point its official photographer. Jack Fritscher, who was his lover, had introduced him to it.
The Mineshaft had two floors, both without windows. The entry on street was marked by a simple white line and by the house number. The entrance led to a totally black stair at which people waited to enter.
The doorman and the chasier stood at the top of the stairs: they applied the dresscode, checked the identity papers of guests and collected the admission fees (reduced for the members). The non-members visitors were issued with a temporary pass with impressed the ‘house rules’.
A strict selection was made at the entrance: the dress code rule were explained in a poster near the main door:
The Mine Shaft dress code as adopted by the club on October 1, 1976 is to be followed during the year 1978. The Board of Directors approved dress includes the following: Cycle leather & Western gear, levis, jocks, action ready wear, uniforms, T shirts, plaid shirts, just plain shirts, club overlays, patches, & sweat. NO COLOGNES or PERFUMES – NO SUITS, TIES, DRESS PANTS – NO RUGBY SHIRTS, DESIGNER SWEATERS, or TUXEDOS – NO DISCO DRAG or DRESSES also NO HEAVY OUTTER WEAR IS TO BE WORN IN PLAYGROUND, BORN TO SERVE!
Immediately after the entrance there was a bright red toilet with urinals and sinks through which the water fell directly on the floor.
The first room was the so-called “front room”: a large hall with some pool tables and a long bar (the most lit area of the room), a wardrobe and some benches in the darker area. The walls were made with unpainted wood tables and sawdust was on the floor (as well as throughout the whole venue).
The bar area was the only one where you could speak loudly and “look around” (if you had just arrived) or relax after exiting from the upper floor. Even in the bar, however, there was some action.
A very dark tunnel led downstairs to the lower floor, the so-called playground. In this area, much more dark than the front-room, there were a small bar, a table and two small rooms with slings.
Closing and Legacy
The Mineshaft was closed by the Health Department of New York on November 7th, 1985 for violation of new anti-AIDS policies (in these years the AIDS epidemic was spreading), but also because it had operated without a liquor license. Today, where the Mineshaft was, there is a plumbing company.
Yet, after more than thirty years from its closure, many gay men in New York and around the world still speak about the Mineshaft and remember it fondly.
The Leather Archives & Museum holds the records of the Mineshaft.