Have I finally found that gay pub I have been looking for, a place for conversation and the encouragement of the longterm complex intertwining social networks that I enjoy? Well, not entirely. There are very few women at the Eagle, which means it can never be a true social center for me, and in order to get in I have to wear a uniform of t-shirt, jeans, and boots that is somewhat artificial for me (no chinos, oxfords, and vintage ties = no Steven style). So there's always a vague underpinning of unease for me, no matter how much I am enjoying myself otherwise.
It's also true that even at the Eagle, like pretty much every other gay bar I've spent enough time in to notice, there are sometimes little packs of grown men (in this case middle-aged men) pretending to be adolescent girls, giggling loudly among themselves about the attractiveness and lack thereof of the others present. I am simply baffled by this, although I wouldn't say this characterizes the Eagle particularly and it is quite easy to ignore this entirely when surrounded by the more general feel of friendly party that I have come to associate with the place.
Not every visit to the Eagle feels like attending a nice party, but this matters little since getting to the Eagle is stress-free, logistically. From where I live now, I can zoom right up Park Street in five minutes, I can always park right next door for $1.50, and I can zoom back down Portland in less time than it takes to sing a Peter Bellamy song in the car. If my lifelong sense of gay-bar alienation starts to creep up on me, I can go home quite easily and curl up with a book, which means I'm going to enjoy myself whatever turn the evening might take.
What I should admit is that one thing that compels me to the Eagle is that it is increasingly becoming a flirtatious place for me. I have one friend in particular whom I often see there who breaks through all my barriers of propriety. He greets me by slowly rubbing his cheek against my beard (while smiling contentedly) and If I'm standing against the bar or a wall while engaged in conversation he'll come by and lean back against me to join in the discussion. This is all very light and silly, but it sets a mood. And then there are other men, not (yet?) such friends as this, who seem evidently pleased to see me and who behave flirtatiously as well, even physically (although none so dramatically as my mood-setting friend). This is flattering, of course, even invigorating.
The flirting is good, yes, and probably accounts for a large part of the sense of anticipation I mentioned, but I also have had many, many actual friendly get-to-know-folks conversations that are not subtextually flirtatious. I frequently leave the bar feeling stimulated and social and connected.
I don't know how long this will last. I have no doubt that I will come to tire of being a bar regular, or I will start to feel that the Eagle crowd is not really one from which I will develop the sort of deep friendships I have with, say, my Morris dance team or folks I worked with when I was on the Board of the Lesbian and Gay Bands of America. There is something inherently limited about friendships confined to a bar context. But maybe in time the friendships will expand outside the bar, and at least for the moment things feel full of potential.