The Barracks Bar in Palm Springs is one of the legendary leather bars in the country. One of its co-owners, Dave Murdoch, writes a leather column for TALK Magazine that I've long enjoyed. The current International Mr. Leather, Gary Iriza, won last year's Mr. Barracks title, which took him to Chicago for the IML competition. I hold both Gary Iriza and Dave Murdoch in considerable respect for their work in the community. So it was with great eagerness and anticipation that I finally took the opportunity to visit The Barracks for the first time this past weekend.
I had hoped to make it to the bar on Saturday evening, February 28th. The Barracks website announced that it would be "Gear Night." The previous night, Friday, had been "Uniform Night." Unfortunately, obligations in Palm Springs kept me away both Friday and Saturday. Local friends informed me, however, that the Sunday afternoon beer bust was the best time to visit, anyway. I had my doubts about that. My friends, not being deep in the leather community, were not Barracks regulars, and I couldn't really convince myself that I'd find a bar full of leather men in full fetish attire on a Sunday afternoon in the Palm Springs heat.
I was pretty much right.
I took a set of full leathers to Palm Springs: leather jeans, my favorite leather shirt from Northbound Leathers, boots, various accessories. I'd looked forward to showing some Kansas City leather style. In the end, however, I opted for just my bar vest over jeans and a tee shirt with the boots. My partner, Ron did the same.
The beer bust officially began at 5:3o. Ron and I arrived a little after 6:30 p.m. The Barracks, while not hidden by any means, isn't that easy to find for a visitor unfamiliar with the Palm Springs/Rancho Mirage area. The bar, however, was packed with men. Men in denim. Men in khaki shorts. Men in tee shirts. Some kids in twink-du-jour. The men in leather were at a minimum, although a few wore chaps or vests or a formal, well-polished lid here and there. I felt a small wave of disappointment, but plunged into the crowd. A good bourbon and water would make it better, I told myself.
The interior of the Barracks Bar is actually pretty small. Again I felt thrown off balance. The "legendary" Barracks Palm Springs could fit in my living room. A single pool table dominates the space. But then, this is Palm Springs after all, the desert where it almost never rains. I quickly discovered the vast ring of outdoor patios attached to that umimpressive interior space. The patios transform the Barracks into a much larger space. Likewise, I discovered the smokers. Throngs of them sucking cancer sticks like it had suddenly come back into fashion. Now tie me up and blow clouds of rich cigar smoke in my face - maybe - if you're butch enough to get me in ropes. But a general smog of cigarette smoke is about as erotic as wet newspaper.
I lingered outside, though, because the Barracks also hosted on this particular Sunday a hot dog concession at one corner of one of the patios, and the smell of those over-roasted meats outweighed the stench of cigarettes and proved irresistable. I'd eaten healthy all week, like a good body builder, but I had to have one of those. As I approached the table, one of the volunteer workers leaned across the table and gave me an unexpected pinch on my left nipple as he mumbled something very complimentary. Hey, I thought, so they're friendly here, after all. I hadn't seen much evidence of it until that moment. The hotdogs were free, or pay whatever you wanted into a glass jar. I gave him a couple of bucks and chatted with him for a short time. The hot dog was great, and shortly, I had a second one, but the gent was too busy for further conversation.
Ron and I stayed for about an hour. At this point, I still don't feel that I have a fair impression of the Barracks in Palm Springs. Where in this tiny space, I wondered as I looked around, do they hold the competition that creates IML winners? Why, I wondered, were the lines to the bath rooms so ridiculously long? Was there a show in the urinals I was missing? I never checked it out.
Mostly, I can't say that I found it a friendly place. Aside from the hot dog worker, I talked to no one, and no one talked to me or to Ron. But as I've already mentioned, this was Sunday afternoon. Perhaps on Friday night or Saturday night, the atmosphere might have been different. I couldn't help compare the Barracks, however, with Chaps II, the San Francisco leather bar I had visited a month before where everyone geared up and everyone was friendly as could be. Chaps II had a sense of brotherhood. The Barracks had ... well, it had the smell of hot dogs.
I hope for another chance to visit the Barracks, perhaps next year. Maybe one sip just isn't enough to appreciate its flavor. Maybe you need to drink the whole experience.