The Urban Bear Weekend hits NYC beginning this Thursday, and it’s bigger, better and bearier than ever! Here to tell us all things Urban Bear is the brand’s founder and director, Robert Valin!
Thotyssey: Thanks so much for this interview Robert, I know this is a super busy time for you! So every interview you do, the first question is always “What is a bear?” But the answer does seem to evolve a little each time, doesn’t it?
Robert Valin: Yes, the idea of a “bear” has definitely evolved over time. Originally, it simply meant a larger-built man with a hairy chest and various amounts of hair in other places including a beard, and a Paul Bunyan-type presence. It was used to describe a certain subculture of gay men; but since then that subculture has wildly become mainstream. Bears are everywhere these days, in all shapes, colors and forms!
What traits do you think define a genuinely sexy bear, physical or otherwise?
In my opinion, a bear’s sexiest qualities come from their physical shape and style, but it also stems from the fact that they are comfortable in their own skin, despite not exactly fitting into society’s ideals of what “sexy” means. A combination of their masculinity and their irreverence makes them hot; and a great personality doesn’t hurt either.
What are the key ingredients to a successful bear party or event?
Bear events are tricky, just like any other focused audience party. There needs to be a combination of great music (bears have great taste in music), a unique location, a bit of subversion and debauchery promised, as well as plenty of beer and liquor on hand. A hot, beefy gogo bear or cub definitely helps set the tone as well
You’re the founder and Director of The Urban Bear, which hosts many events for the NYC bear community. What was the bear scene like back when you founded the company?
Bears certainly weren’t as mainstream as they are now when The Urban Bear first began. There was a need to focus on catering to the subculture of ‘bears’ that was often ignored for the supposed ‘body beautiful’ muscle boys of Chelsea in the late 90s and early 00’s.
Supply and demand led to being innovative, and creating a safer space where the bears, cubs, otters and admirers could run wild without fear of judgement. I like to think we played a part in that.
Why do you think the scene became more mainstreamed over time?
People have learned to appreciate the male form in all its possible shapes and sizes. Big boys have become more and more fetishized and admired, while the idea of what is ultimately masculine and feminine have also blurred… and being inclusive is the law of the land. That’s something that was really important to all of us behind Urban Bear. Inclusivity.
And are “bear chasers” becoming more common?
Bear chasers have been around since the dawn of time, but I definitely notice that a lot of the younger kids coming up in the scene are surprisingly the most bear hungry! It’s exciting and fun to watch.
Despite the growth of the bear movement, there’s still a lot of body-shaming going on in the gay community. Do you have a response to people, particularly young gays, who body shame?
We need to celebrating one another, not knocking each other down. There’s already too much of that going on in the world today and it’s just not cool. That’s why I love the bear community. As a general rule, we embrace each others differences. Diversity is the new black. Let’s keep it sexy.
Well said! So now, let’s break down the Urban Bear Weekend Events. Tell me a little about each one! Starting with:
The official opening night party now for a few years. Julius’ is the oldest gay bar in the city, so it feels right to start off the weekend, which features New Yorkers and tourists alike to a little slab of LGBTQ history. Plus the burgers are some of the best in the city. Bears love a good meal while hunting!
The newest party added to the lineup this year. Nowhere has always been the East Village’s bear den, so when they reached out that they were interested, we jumped on the chance to have one of our events there. Will Sheridan (#GIANT) and Lorant are going to turn it into something fantastic, and it might end up being a regular thing.
We first started this last year and it went really well. The High Line is one of the most interesting places in New York City, with it’s historical value and views. The Whitney just moved down to the Meatpacking District, so we wanted to add a little culture to the Urban Bear Weekend experience. This is NYC, after all!
DJ Dandylion is the music man behind our monthly Bears Night Out on the first Saturday of every month. So, we enlisted him this year as the sound selector for our most salacious party of the weekend at one of our favorite places, Rockbar. Rockbar is definitely the bear mecca of the West Village, and probably the entire city. It’s an underwear party with a clothes check and very low lighting to ensure a dark, sweaty time for all who attend.
Taking advantage of a hopefully beautiful Saturday afternoon in the city, what better way to celebrate than with a troop of hot men in tight shorts cruising down Hudson River Park? We’ll take in the sights, grab some grub, then head over to the grassy lawns of Battery Park for an impromptu picnic—Urban Bear style.
An afternoon of pre-gaming for the night at NYC’s original gay sports bar. Gym bar has always been the most bear friendly place in Chelsea, and has stood the test of time for a reason. We love it there, and wanted to add it to the places we invade this year for Urban Bear.
This is the official dance party for Urban Bear each year. We always move it around to different venues annually, and this year Space Ibiza will be filled nuts to butts with dancing bears and soundtracked by Urban Bear NYC staple DJ Billy Pfeiffer. It will be an amazing time, and huge celebration for sure. Get tix here!
5) Sunday May 21st (1pm): The 9th Annual Urban Bear Street Fair at Little West 12th Street (between Washington St. and 10th Ave)
This is the main event for sure! It’s basically an old-school style street party and open air Fur-Fest in the heart of the Meatpacking District, featuring The Brass Monkey’s Beer Garden, incredible food vendors, artists, dancing, community groups, entertainment and more! Hosted again this year by Ms. Ermine Muff, we have performances by Josh Schonewolf of Philly’s Bearlesque, burlesque’s “teddy bear with claws” Broody Valentino, drag queens Viva Vidalia and Florence D’Lee, Stilt Walkers, plus music by our very own DJ Chauncey D (who also spins at our Brass Monkey roof deck Pride Blowout on Sunday, June 25th, another massive Urban Bear event.) A portion of the proceeds go to benefit The National Equality Action Team.
6) Sunday, May 21st (4pm): Sunday Mega Bear Blast at Rockbar
This is our closing night event, where the bears can mix and mingle to the video and music selections of Bill Pfeiffer at Rockbar. It’s where everyone goes after the street fair to decompress after all the excitement, and say final farewell to everyone who’s come to town.
Sounds like an incredible lineup of events… I wanna do it all! Just curious, will The Urban Bear ever be reaching out to other cities?
I’m a native New Yorker, so this is where my heart is. But we’ve been asked to bring Urban Bear events to other cities, so that’s something we’re considering as well.
Do you think the hookup apps like Scruff and GROWLr are taking people away from nightlife and hurting the scene?
That’s a tough question. Scruff has been incredibly supportive of Urban Bear Weekend, and other events we hold throughout the year. I think they are enhancing our interactions with one another in the digital age.
Yes, there are a lot of people that think apps have changed nightlife, but how could they not? I think the technology is there for us to use; we just have to decide when and where it is appropriate to use it. Nothing will ever replace actually meeting someone in person for the first time, and not knowing anything about them other than your physical attraction. Apps can’t replicate that, but they can connect people that live across the world or across the street that wouldn’t normally have had the opportunity to meet. I know lots of couples who met on an app, and they are still going strong today.
So aside from The Urban Bear Weekend, there are other nights and events that The Urban Bear hosts throughout the year as well. We’ve already talked about Pride in June…
…and we also discussed Bears Night Out, the monthly first Saturdays party at Rockbar that Dandylion DJs…
What else is coming up?
We are teaming up with Shane Tate to produce a weekly Wednesday night happy hour, reviving our infamous Truck Stop party at the newly refashioned Rebar in Chelsea. It’s going to be fantastic, with a rotation of NYC’s hottest DJs and lots of fun surprises along the way (DJ Gustavo kicks us off at the launch party on Wednesday, May 24).
Final question: What should we all be doing to preserve gay nightlife culture in the city?
Go out and support your local establishments before they vanish. Take a minute to spread the word about how much fun you had somewhere. Get involved politically. Volunteer. Look out for one another, love each other and don’t knock something until you’ve tried it. (And if it feels good, try it again!)
Thank you, Robert!
Robert Valin’s The Urban Bear presents The Urban Bear Weekend, beginning this Thursday (May 18th). The Urban Bear also produces Bears Night Out, a monthly party first Saturdays at Rockbar (10pm), and Truck Stop, a weekly party co-sponsored by Shane Tate at Rebar (Wednesdays, 6pm). The Urban Bear can be followed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and their website.