Any bear that has passed through or lived in New York City has heard of Ty’s. It’s the city’s first and longest running bear bar, now celebrating 50 years in business. In a city as big, diverse and everchanging as The Big Apple, Ty’s has been one of the few constants in Manhattan’s gay West Village at 114 Christopher Street.
Ty’s first opened its doors in 1972 and has been celebrating its 50th anniversary since last October. I, myself a native New Yorker, have spent many a night at Ty’s meeting friends for drinks and enjoying the nightlife on the infamous Christopher Street strip. What sets this NYC mainstay apart from others is the friendliness of the place. It’s the closest I’ve seen to a gay ‘Cheers’ and even better, it’s a place set aside for bears (though everyone is most certainly welcome).
In celebration of their golden anniversary, we had a chat with John Steadman, one of the owners of Ty’s. Here is our conversation.
BWM: Congratulations on Ty’s 50th anniversary! I know you guys will be celebrating throughout the year. What kind of things have you guys done to mark the occasion?
John Steadman (JS): In October of 2022, we had a party. We had a nice catered affair where we decorated the bar and everything. I was just out of the hospital, and everything was a little screwed up, so we just did an impromptu thing, that I couldn’t even attend! It was real quick, but it was very nice. We also had commemorative shirts and beer mugs printed up, stuff like that.
BWM: How long have you owned Tys?
JS: I’m actually not the principal owner. Everyone just equates me with being the owner because I’m always there but I’ve been involved with Ty’s since 1995.
BWM: Do you know who the original owners were?
JS: I can’t remember the original owners’ names right now, but I think they’re deceased. Then there was Eddie Ford, who owned it up until he died in 2011. He bought it in 1984 or 85. And when he passed away in 2011, that’s how I got to be part owner.
BWM: And was it always patronized by a bearish crowd since you’ve been involved?
JS: It was. In the beginning, when it opened in 1972, it was the first all-male gay bar to open up after the Stonewall riots. Julius’ was there way before us though. In the 70’s Ty’s was a very happening place, basically a leather and jeans and T-shirts type of a crowd. I don’t think that back then there was any such label as a bear.
BWM: No, not in the 70’s. Bears officially became a thing in the late 80’s.
JS: And that’s when we started with the bear crowd. A couple of our employees also equate themselves as being bears.
BWM: For those who haven’t visited, how would you describe Ty’s?
JS: It’s very much a neighborhood bar. We even get people from out of town tell us that they feel like Ty’s is their neighborhood bar when they’re visiting which is great. We get a lot of people from the UK, Ireland, Germany, even Australia that consider us their NYC homebase. We also get a lot of people that come in and say they met their boyfriends or husbands here. It’s all very sweet.
BWM: That’s a great legacy for it to have. The last time we were at Ty’s was last year, and I think it was around Valentine’s Day. The bar was really decked out. Who’s in charge of decorating the bar for the holidays?
JS: Yeah, we get a lot of compliments on that…it’s all our bartender Daniel. He’s been there for quite a number of years. A lot of staff, in fact, has been there for many, many years. But I think that’s one of the best things about it.
BWM: It sure is! Is Julian still there?
JS: Yeah. Julian packs the place! He does all his own music videos and playlists, he really does a bang up job. You know, Gary too, they’re all great! And that’s part of the charm of the place, the employees.
And you know… we closed down for 14 1/2 months because of the pandemic. And thanks to the grace of our good customers, we did a GoFundMe page, and they were very supportive of us and the bartenders. When we reopened, we were worried if the customers were going to come back. But they did! We even had a customer that was crying because he was so happy that we were back.
BWM: That’s so sweet. Do you guys have any special events or anything planned for Pride this year?
JS: We have planned the launch of our new T-shirt for Pride this year. And we recently launched our ‘Fursday’ event each Thursday which features bear gogo dancers. On June 25th we will have our big Pride bash but unlike other establishments we will have no door cover and we won’t be jacking up the drink prices. We never had a cover charge, and we never will. We’re very thankful to our customers and they mean a lot to us, especially seeing how they came back after the pandemic.
BWM: That is very good of you because those Pride Day cover charges are pretty ridiculous. You guys are in the prime location, in the middle of the West Village on Christopher Street. How has the gay scene in New York changed over the time that you’ve been involved with Ty’s?
JS: Well, mostly there’s been the gentrification of the Village. It’s not the Village that we knew in the 80s. All the little mom and pop stores are gone. A couple of things held on like the Leatherman, Stick, Stone and Bone, Pieces and the Monster are still there. There were so many talks about the Monster being closed down, but it never did thankfully.
BWM: What do you envision for the future of Ty’s?
JS: I see it continuing on strong. We have no intention of changing anything. We want to be that dependable, steady place for the community to go back to. People come in all the time and they tell us ‘this was my first gay bar that I ever went to’. They come in and they remember it as it was back in the day, and they love reliving their memories – and I love hearing the stories. A lot of that is part of Ty’s legacy and what makes it important.
BWM: I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for taking the time out to chat with me John. Happy Pride and once again congratulations on 50 years of Ty’s!