In the ‘60s through ‘80s, New Hope reached its apex as a gay resort destination, and the nightlife likewise flourished—unique for a town that thrives off country appeal. Clubs and resorts like the Raven, the New Prelude, and the Cartwheel formed the Golden Triangle of gay life in town, hosting weekly drag shows, costumed balls, parties, and discos lasting all night. Remembering the Prelude, a club in operation from ’76 through ’89, one visitor reminisces on the club’s Retro-Scope page, “It was a fantasy of totally energizing music, hot looking people, just a total blast. . . My friends and I often commented about the disconnect between this place and our ordinary weekday lives of work/school in between – was this place for real, where did these people come from? . . . It was a special moment in time, there was just something in the air that everyone felt.”
The quoted memories seem surreal, showing the potential New Hope held to lift one from the quagmire of the present. Vivid memories of nightlife circulate widely throughout Retro-Scope, and the exciting nightlife has long made New Hope queer.In “I Want to See All My Friends At Once”: Arthur Russel and the Queering of Gay Disco
, Tim Lawrence argues disco itself was queer: “the 1970s version of discotheque culture. . . broke with the long-established practice of partnered social dancing in favor of freeform movement in which participants danced solo-within-the-crowd. . .The highly affective environment of the dance floor—in which bodies were penetrated by sound, came into contact with other bodies, and experienced further disorientation thanks to lighting and drug effects—destabilized normative conceptions of sexuality and boundedness still further.”
With many visitors in New Hope coming from New York City and Philadelphia, major centers of disco, it’s no surprise this queerness followed, albeit to much different surroundings than the city. Lawrence continues, “although Manhattan’s dance floors of the early 1970s are regularly described as being uniformly gay, they were in fact fundamentally mixed in character”.
Gay men made up disco’s core constituency, but Lawrence explains many considered themselves bisexual, also mixing with straight men who identified with gay men— “strays”—as well as straight and lesbian women. Residents of New Hope claim the integration of the gay and straight communities on and off the dancefloor has always made the town special, adding to the utopic feeling. Daniel Brooks explains that New Hope differs from other gay resorts in that it never developed as homo-exclusive. The Fire Island Pines, for example, developed almost exclusively as gay, are geographically isolated, and barely interact with the rest of the island, including neighboring Cherry Grove, the Pines’ lesbian mirror. One resident described New Hope’s culture: “Everyone was friends. People were out to protect you,” even straight people.
Brooks says that even in designated gay clubs like the Raven, half the people there may be straight, there to dance and play pool in the same space.
While many find Fire Island’s gay exclusivity adds to its utopic appeal, the peaceful heterogeneity in New Hope has long been one of visitors’ favorite qualities.In addition, other gay villages on the east coast like the Pines, Provincetown, Rehoboth Beach, and Key West share something in common: the beach. While New Hope is situated on the Delaware River, the water is not its primary draw. New Hope allows gay urbanites an escape into the country where they maximize quotidian pleasures—lounging by the pool, spending time with friends, drinking, dining, shopping. Muñoz believes one can find utopia in the quotidian, which I will elaborate on later. Guernville, California may bare the closest resemblance as a gay town to New Hope with its liberal community and natural environment, but the West Coast serves a different market. The Poconos and Pine Barrens offer country appeal, but they don’t offer nightlife or a gay community.
“The New Prelude.” Retro-Scope. November 19, 2016. http://www.retro-scope.org/history/hangouts/the-new-prelude/.
Tim Lawrence, “”I Want to See All My Friends At Once”: Arthur Russell and the Queering of Gay Disco,” Journal of Popular Music Studies
18, no. 2 (August 7, 2006): 153, doi:10.1111/j.1533-1598.2006.00086.x.
“Film Synopsis.” Nowhere But Here.
Brooks, Daniel. Telephone interview by author. December 3, 2017.