Out and about
KEYSTONE – Paisano’s in Keystone is bustling on a Friday night. Families with lift tickets hanging from their jackets are waiting for tables, servers are weaving between tables to deliver steaming plates of pasta and bread, and about a dozen men are gathered around the restaurant’s bar laughing and talking. The men at the bar range from generation Xers to baby boomers, and most are dressed in jeans and sweaters, drinking red wine or draft beer. Some are there with significant others, some are solo and others are out-of-towners looking to find a ski buddy to ride with during their vacations.The nearby tables of marinara-faced children slurping spaghetti from the kids’ menu and couples mulling over the wine list would probably never guess that the men at the bar wearing bands on their left ring fingers don’t have wives waiting at home, or that the single fellows aren’t on the prowl for attractive ski bunnies. The men have been brought together through the Summit Scene, a Web site that posts events for gay people living in and visiting Summit County.”We’re not really flamboyant up here,” said Joe Weaver, a local gay man and bartender at Paisano’s. “We just blend in more.”‘More wholesome and healthy’Weaver, who has lived in Summit County for 13 years, said gay people definitely don’t move here for the social life. Weaver’s partner of three years, Greg DeEsch, said he believes the gay scene has grown in recent years, but only because the county has grown as a whole.”It’s not just that more gay people are moving here,” DeEsch said. “More people in general are coming here.”Weaver and DeEsch both said they think the Summit gay social scene is more wholesome and healthy than that of a larger city.”Most people are living here to be more active and outdoorsy,” Weaver said. “Gay people move here for the same reasons.”Through the Summit Scene Web site – created by local gays and lesbians – locals and visitors can find out about Summit County gay events, which include ski and ride days, camping and socials at restaurants and private homes.
But they don’t have much to choose from in the way of gay-specific venues where they can gather. The only one in Summit County is the Bunkhouse Lodge, a bed and breakfast near Breckenridge that attracts local and visiting gays.”It’s the only open environment for them where they can meet other (gay) locals and guests,” said owner Adam Rudziewicz. “Gay people who are passing through can connect here.”Weaver and DeEsch actually met at the Bunkhouse. And their meeting prompted DeEsch to move here.”I really wanted to live in the mountains,” DeEsch said. “And I was comfortable here right from the start.”Rudziewicz said visitors to his bed and breakfast get on the Internet to chat with other tourists and locals in Summit County and then meet up with them at the Bunkhouse. Rudziewicz also hosts an annual anniversary party at the cozy lodge, which promotes mingling among gay and straight locals and visitors. Rudziewicz said he’s been lucky to have a good relationship with both the straight and gay communities in Summit County.”It’s a great feeling to feel like you’re a part of the community,” he said.Sex and the cityA mere 24 hours after the Summit Scene gathering at Paisano’s, a gay bar in Denver called the Wrangler is already filling up. Men in leather chaps and harnesses are milling about the dimly lit bar, while guys in Levi’s and cowboy hats play pool and saddle up to tables. A couple of shirtless men stroll through the venue with their stomachs unapologetically hanging over their belts.Two blocks away, another gay bar, J.R.’s, is gearing up to begin a “Family Feud”-style competition amongst bar patrons. Britney Spears’ “Toxic” is playing over the speakers as a 20-something blonde in bootcut Diesel jeans and a fitted blue T-shirt mouths the lyrics at his table while his boyfriend rubs his shoulders. The place has a hip, young feel, and a handful of straight people are in the mix.”These are my hangouts,” said former Summit County resident Bill Mitchell, 36, who is gay. “I do want to try other places and see what the city has to offer. That’s why I moved here.”
Gay-themed urban haunts like the Wrangler and J.R.’s are regular watering holes for High Country gays searching for the social scene Summit County can’t provide. But for Mitchell, the 90-minute drive down Interstate 70 eventually became too much.”I’m looking for someone to settle down with, someone to hang out with, have fun with and start a life together,” Mitchell said. “I’m looking to meet someone who’s nice. I like smart guys, someone I can do the crossword with.”And he didn’t feel he’d find his wordsmith in the mountains. So, after nine years of living in Summit, Mitchell moved to Denver in December.”I was ready for city life again,” Mitchell said. “I needed a change. I needed more of a gay social scene.”Mitchell said that there’s a bar, club, sports league or organization for every type of gay person in Denver. The city’s population size and gay-friendly culture can support networks and resources that Summit County can’t provide.”To have gay-only things can be good, because it gives you an outlet to do things with other gay people,” Mitchell said. “People can be more themselves.”And many local gays doubt whether they’ll ever see social venues dedicated to a gay clientele.”There aren’t enough gay people (in Summit County) to keep a gay bar in business six nights a week,” said Frank Accosta, a leader in the local gay community.Sex and the SummitDating in Summit County can be difficult for nearly everyone because of the small community, large seasonal population and large male-to-female ratio; but it can be especially difficult for gays because of the even smaller number of gay locals. “Dating is just hard,” Accosta said. “Most of the guys I’ve encountered, you become friends, you don’t become love interests.”
So how do gay people meet in Summit County? “Online like everybody else,” Weaver said. But for Accosta, going to Denver or meeting via the Internet is not necessarily a shoo-in. “They find out I’m living in Breckenridge, and I may as well be in outer Mongolia,” Accosta said. “It does make it hard, because you can’t do a last minute ‘Hey, you want to have dinner tonight?'”Jimmy Unbehaun, a gay man who lives in Summit Cove, said gay people meet the same way straight people do – it’s just a smaller group of people. Unbehaun and others said the primary ways of meeting people are through friends and work.He said that when it comes to dating though, the small pool makes it tough.”If you haven’t dated them, one of your friends probably has,” he said.Nevertheless, he has had several boyfriends here, three of which he’s lived with.If Unbehaun is out at a bar and sees someone he wants to meet, he said he starts talking to him and can instantly tell if he’s interested in chatting. As the evening progresses, Unbehaun mentions he’s gay.”Ninety percent of the time, I won’t get any response,” he said. “About 5 percent of the time, they’ll say ‘Oh, me too.’ Others will walk away. If they’re enjoying the conversation, they’ll stay to get to know you.”Vail, Colorado