A Gay Oasis, With Beer and Barbecue

First published in The New York Times on August 11, 2011. Read the original here.

WALK past the low-ceilinged bar, the jukebox and the pool table. Keep going, beyond the stage where “Queeraoke” erupts every Tuesday, and right out the back door. Feel the sunshine on your face and inhale the relatively fresh air (this is New York, after all) that makes Metropolitan the most popular gay hangout in Brooklyn on summer Sunday afternoons.

For the past nine years, casual backyard cookouts every Sunday from Memorial Day to the end of September (this year, to early October) have drawn local and farther-flung devotees to this small oasis, at 559 Lorimer Street in Williamsburg, a few steps from the L and G trains at Lorimer Street and Metropolitan Avenue.

Here, buying a $2 Bud will get you a ticket for a free burger (or a veggie version), potato salad and a relaxed evening that is the antithesis of the high-priced, high-strung New York gay life celebrated on the reality show “The A List.”

“It reminds me of places I would go in Berkeley or San Francisco,” Damon L. Jacobs, a marriage and family therapist, said at one recent gathering. “More homey, cozy fun than the pristine, plastic scenes one might get in Manhattan.”

The patio does have a homespun feel, with unfinished wooden benches and a corrugated fiberglass roof shading one half. But with two levels of seating and room for dozens of people, it is a home far from the usual space constraints of Brooklyn.

Mr. Jacobs, 40, who lives a few blocks away, absentmindedly played with a yo-yo, one of many he was giving away to entice patrons to take part in a new H.I.V. vaccine trial. For nearly two years, Metropolitan has let him promote the clinical work of Project Achieve at its cookouts, part of a larger pattern of community involvement that gives the bar its welcoming feel.

“It’s like your surrogate family’s weekly barbecue,” Mr. Jacobs said.

Your surrogate family, that is, if you were adopted by a group of gay men in their late 20s to early 40s, wearing tight black cutoffs and bright, stylized T-shirts. But even those who prefer wide-legged jeans have a place here.

“I survive off of this barbecue,” said Jackie Carlson, 28, a dancer and acrobat who has come nearly every Sunday for four years. “It’s definitely the most diverse, I feel, of the bars I’ve been to.

“But I do like my gay-boy bars,” she admitted with a smile.

While women may be in the minority at Metropolitan, they are by no means unwelcome — lesbian or straight.

The bar creates special events for its various constituencies, said Troy Carson, the owner and manager of Metropolitan and Sugarland, another bar in Williamsburg. Ms. Carlson frequently attends Girls, Girls, Girls, Metropolitan’s Wednesday night lesbian party, whose patrons she described as “gays, whatevers, lesbians, everybody.” The bar also hosts craft-making workshops on Saturday afternoons and twice-monthly comedy nights.

“I don’t know any other bar that’s as much of a staple,” said Devon Hong, 31, an advertising art director, as he described Brooklyn’s gay nightlife to a friend visiting from Toronto. “It’s kind of the place you go before you go out anywhere else.”

Mr. Hong and his friend had been in a back booth waiting for the food to be served since 4 p.m., the cookout’s scheduled starting time. But the grill generally doesn’t get fired up until 5 or 5:30. By 7, the line for food can snake around the patio and back into the bar.

Luckily, “happy hour” starts at 3.