Oh, if the walls of 185 Christopher Street could talk…!
That West Village address has continuously been both a famous and infamous landmark in the history of gay nightlife, undergoing many reincarnations throughout the decades but always remaining culturally relevant. When the iconic locale became “Rockbar” in 2009, the proudly unpretentious hotspot proved itself to be “the little bar that could”. While Rockbar is indeed a second home for many in the New York City Bear community–offering cold beer and some hot company to enjoy it with– the bar also strives to offer something for everyone. The owners and staff go through great efforts to give their patrons something fun and different every night of the week. This includes but is not limited to drag shows, live music, dance parties, game nights, RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing parties, burlesque, community fundraising events, and more. Of course, not every night has to have a theme to be a fun time. The arrival of the weekend alone is enough of an excuse for the bar to fill up, especially during Rockbar’s famous Sunday afternoon/evening “Bear Beer Blasts”. Rockbar boasts a fiercely loyal clientele, largely thanks to the laid-back vibe and their popular, friendly staff.
One of Rockbar’s most popular nights of the year is the annual Mr. RockBear Contest, an event where any number of woofy Contestants compete for the enviable chance to represent both the bar and the Bear community for an entire year. Co-produced by busy community activist John-John Punki (Mr. RockBear 2015/Mr. Eagle NYC 2017) and hardworking nightlife promoter Robert Valin (Mr. Eagle NYC 2005), the Mr. RockBear 2020 Contest was held on Sunday, January 26th. As predicted, the bar enjoyed wall-to-wall attendance. Four handsome men had the chance to compete for the envied sash, with opportunities to show off their personalities as well as… well, other things. In addition to the eye candy, attendees were treated to a mini-concert by New York City drag superstar and HIV/AIDS activist Candy Samples, who performed three songs as well as serving as Host. ASL interpretation was provided courtesy of Susan “Fingers” Weinstein.
After a provocative stepdown speech by Mr RockBear 2019, Kory Nieves-Harmon, which featured a fiercely delivered message of equality and of Rockbar’s welcoming of all people, the Winner of the contest was announced. The lucky guy was 28-year old New York City Bear Jaime Santiago, AKA Jay Saint, who had the distinction of bringing his own high-spirited fan club with him to cheer him on.
Jaime took the time to speak with me about his vision for 2020, what he’s passionate about, and what he finds sexy…!
JR: Congratulations on being named Mr. RockBear 2020. What made you want to compete and represent Rockbar?
JS: I’ve always wanted to compete in the RockBear competition, but I wasn’t really ready. Honestly, over the years I’ve struggled with so many insecurities. I was previously in a relationship that lasted four years and after he cheated on me, I started seeing myself in a different light. About a year ago, I looked in a mirror and I didn’t like what I saw looking back at me, so I decided to make some changes. Since last year, I have lost about 80 pounds, and with every passing day I grow a little more in love with myself. Self-love is important. I feel very different about myself since I started this journey, so this year felt like the year to do it. Rockbar is also home. It’s where I met my gay family. It’s where I was introduced to a community that welcomed me with open arms. Competing and representing Rockbar is an opportunity to give back to the Bear Community. I couldn’t be happier that I made this decision, and I hope to make our community proud.
JR: That’s great to hear! So, there are many worthy causes in the LGBTQ community. What cause do you feel most passionate about?
JS: I am extremely passionate about homelessness and social justice. Having experienced these issues myself, I’ve dedicated my life to fighting discrimination and homelessness amongst our community’s most vulnerable populations: LGBTQ+ youth and elders. I think it’s easy for many of us to forget about the older and the younger members of our community– especially given the fact that we all face our own struggles– but it’s important to remember that many of these individuals don’t have the support that many of us are privileged to have. As a community, we’re only as strong as our most vulnerable members– so it’s all of our responsibility to reach across and help those of us in need.
JR: Well said! On social media, you often speak about physical fitness and going to the gym. Are health and fitness among your personal goals this year?
JS: Well, I should start by noting that I love being a big guy. I find every curve on my sexy body. My belly, my love handles, my thick thighs, my hefty calves, all of it. I’ve always been a big guy. While I see beauty in myself, my health is important to me. I’m 28 years old, and I plan on being around for at least another 70 years (Ambitious, I know!). With that being said, last year I was at risk of diabetes and my blood pressure was high. My doctors were concerned, so I made a decision to put my health first. While I’ve lost some weight, I still find myself sexy. I’m just a little smaller and a lot healthier. Since I’ve lost weight, my blood pressure has decreased to a normal rate, and my blood sugar levels are normal. I’ve honestly never felt better. As long as I’m healthy, I’ll remain the Bear that I am.
JR: A healthy Bear is a happy Bear, so good for you! Now, many people look at titleholders as role models and also as sex symbols. What do you personally find sexy in a guy?
JS: Beyond any physical or sexual attractions, confidence and personality are the most important attributes in a man. There’s nothing more sexy than a confident man. I also love a guy that is willing to explore their sexuality. I’m adventurous, and I need someone that is willing to go on a wild ride. The destination will certainly be worth their while! (Winks) Lastly, I love a man in gear. Some leather or neoprene and I’m moist. I’m moist just talking about it right now. Gear is so sexy. Everything from a harness, to chaps, to boots. It’s just perfect. My mouth just watered!
JR: That makes two of us! (Laughs) Lastly, without giving too much away, what surprises do you have in store for us during your title year?
JS: I have big dreams for this title year. I’ve already started making a lot of the connections I’m going to need to hopefully make those dreams come true. My goal is to help bring the community a little closer, and to showcase how great Rockbar is. It’s hard to find a place as accepting and embracing as Rockbar. Rockbar is a staple in the community, and it deserves to be celebrated. I also really want to get the community more involved in the decisions. So I’ll be turning to the community to hear what Rockbar and the community can do to ensure that this institution remains a Bear world icon.
JR: I couldn’t agree more! Thank you for speaking with me, Jaime!
(NOTE: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Rockbar is temporarily closed, as are other nightlife venues. Stay posted for news about reopening and future events at http://www.RockbarNYC.com.)