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Trading the noisy gay bar scene for the knitting circle

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    From left: Jack O’Connor, Louis Boria and Woodie Howard during a men’s knitting night at String Thing Studio in Brooklyn on May 16. Fed up with awkward small talk and impersonal interactions at bars, some gay men in New York are looking for alternative ways to socialize.

NEW YORK >> The conversation had just turned to night life in the city when Louis Boria, an administrative assistant at Mount Sinai Hospital, groaned. He sat in the back of the yarn shop, String Thing Studio, in Park Slope, Brooklyn, knitting the beginnings of a yoke sweater.

“There’s no more clubs,” said Boria, organizer of a weekly guys’ knitting night, which welcomes men and teenagers no matter how they identify (as well as crocheters).

“So now we’re left with the bar scene and all those people are packed into the bar.” Boria tried to remember the name of a gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen and asked the seven men sitting at the table with him if they knew.

The other knitters, drinking rosé from disposable cups, stared blankly at Boria. He offered a few more details. “The guys get up on the bars,” he said. Then someone figured it out: “Flaming Saddles!”

“Yes!” Boria said.

“Clearly we’re not the clubby types,” said Jaime Andrade, who was diligently stitching a teal short-sleeved sweater fringed by lace, a birthday present for his sister.

The conversation shifted to industry gossip. Drew Ariana, a designer, divulged a yarn shop’s financial trouble. Felicia Eve, the owner of String Thing and an honorary female member that night, said a woman dissed someone’s swatch on Instagram. Eve wore a T-shirt that said, “I Knit Before It Was Cool.”

Soon, Jonathan Requillo, a store designer for Clinique, arrived with another bottle of rosé. And finally, toward the end of the night, Joe Major, a photographer, slipped in.

Major was having a rough week and wanted to be around people. Going out for drinks is too expensive and he’s sick of everyone glued to their phones, he said, so he decided to come to the guys’ knit night instead.

As Major stitched a black beanie, Cairo Romaguera, who works in HIV prevention, took out his cellphone and began taking pictures of Boria through a filter. The men laughed loudly at the resulting image, which transformed Boria into a woman. With all the excitement, Major dropped a stitch. His mistake didn’t matter though. “The social interaction is priceless,” he said.

Fed up with awkward small talk and impersonal interactions at bars, some gay men in New York are looking for alternative ways to connect. You couldn’t call it a knitting explosion, exactly, but in small pockets — at yarn shops, apartments and gay bars throughout the city — a new kind of knitting circle is emerging.

“I don’t feel like being in a bar or a club is conducive to getting to know people,” said Michael Richman, who has a business knitting jockstraps and harnesses and began a monthly nude knit night in an apartment in Harlem last year. Richman described the bar scene as “sensory deprivation,” meaning no one truly sees or hears one another.

Still, some groups do meet at bars in the city, like the bimonthly knit circle at the Holler, a queer bar in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. But the intention is to bond over a shared interest, not alcohol. After all, it can be challenging to stop for a sip when you’re casting on stitches with both hands.

This makes knitting circles especially appealing for those who don’t drink.

“The more anxious and uncomfortable you feel, the more you drink,” said Alan Montes, who attends Richman’s nude knit night and is in recovery. “At the knitting night, there’s no evidence or example of that excess.” Several men at Richman’s event said knitting in the nude fostered intimate conversation. The men have discussed their coming out stories and their childhood experiences being gay, topics that don’t tend to arise in bars. Richman said several men have even started dating.

“We’ve reached a tipping point,” Erik Heitz, one attendee, said about the bar scene. “You get dolled up and spend a ton of money and New York City is costly, and you’re like, ‘Gosh, I spent $100, and did I get what I wanted out of this? Could I spend $10 at Michael’s and bring a bottle of wine to this house party and get a more genuine experience?’ Maybe so.”

In a more clothed and public setting downtown, about 10 men and women waited for the doors to open at Club Cumming in the East Village. By the time Knit@Nite, the bar’s weekly knitting social, started at 6, all of the seats had been taken. Brini Maxwell, one of the event’s hosts, showed off her handmade 1970s-inspired suit and yellow blouse.

Alan Cumming, the bar’s co-owner and a knitter himself, came up with the idea for Knit@Nite. Sam Benedict, manager at Club Cumming, organized it. He tapped Josh Bennett, a knitwear designer whom he described as “the hunk of the knit world” and Maxwell, who is known as “the Martha Stewart of drag,” to be the hosts.

The evening consists of raffle prizes, a potluck dessert, and special guests, who tend to be celebrities of the fiber world like editors at “Vogue Knitting” and London Kaye, the Yarn Bomber, whose knitted street art has appeared on fences and water pipes all over the city.

On June 25, during Pride Week, the special guest will be Frank DeCaro, the actor and TV personality, to talk about his new book, “Drag: Combing Through the Big Wigs of Show Business.” Additionally, the knitted hearts that attendees made for Valentine’s Day and donated to the Peyton Heart Project, a nonprofit that raises awareness about suicide and bullying, will be given out during the NYC Pride March, on June 30.

Several of the men from Boria’s knit night at String Thing were also at Club Cumming. Richard Shen, who said he has been turned away from women’s knitting circles, wore a headlamp while he knit. Major took a selfie with Maxwell. And Romaguera arrived with a plastic bag full of projects.

Standing back near the DJ, Romaguera pulled out a pair of short shorts. They had a purple band, a knit drawstring, and a brightly colored body in orange, blue, green, and hot pink. “I told myself I wouldn’t knit this here,” he said, looping his needles through the yarn. He had a crochet piece he needed to finish.

Later, Romaguera walked over to a group of women sitting at a table to show them the shorts. “There’s a pouch for the butt,” he said. The women cooed. “Are you going to wear them without underwear?” asked Kalliopi Aronis, who had come that night just to hang out.

Romaguera noted that they were acrylic, and that he would be wearing underwear. He figured he would use the shorts for the gym.

But Aronis had another idea. “You should come pole dancing with me,” she said. “And wear those.”

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