NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 22: Pride flags hang outside a temporarily closed Flaming Saddles Saloon i...


The Beyhive's NYC Chapter Rang In 'Cowboy Carter' With Leather & Line Dancing

A night celebrating Beyoncé’s country at Hell’s Kitchen bar Flaming Saddles.

A little after 9:30 p.m. on March 29, seven hulking dancers, all dressed in blue jeans, Western boots, cowboy hats, and tank tops bearing cheeky slogans like “Yippy I’m Gay” climb on top of the bar at Flaming Saddles Saloon.

At this gay country hotspot, these men, who double as bartenders, are famed for their rowdy Western routines, which they perform from this same post periodically throughout the night, every night. But this isn’t any old Friday — it’s release day for Cowboy Carter, Beyoncé’s highly anticipated “country” album. And to celebrate, these strapping young cowboys are debuting a new dance set to the album’s chart-topping lead single “Texas Hold ‘Em.” A sexed-up version of a fancy-footwork-heavy line dance, the performance is basically Coyote Ugly if Tyra Banks and Bridget Moynahan were gay guys. After it’s over, the dancers receive rapturous cheers from the packed crowd, who hoot, holler, and stuff dollar bills into the pockets of their skin-tight denim. This ain’t Texas, but at least the patrons of Hell’s Kitchen are ready for this new era.

The Beyhive does seem to be out in full force as guests happily vibe to a playlist that floats between country classics and other Beyoncé tracks (like 4’s “Love On Top” and Renaissance’s “Pure/Honey”). It would be nearly impossible to separate the diehard fans who came just for the release from the regulars who would be here anyway: Everyone seems to know every word to “Bodyguard,” a song that has been out for less than 24 hours. Take Kaylan Graham, a tall man dressed in an all-leather look with a Prada bolo tie who “came here tonight specifically because Beyoncé dropped a country album.” (He says he doesn’t listen to country “beyond Carrie Underwood collaborating with John Legend.”) As an avid Beyoncé stan, he felt it was his duty to ring in the release of Cowboy Carter at an appropriately themed venue wearing a hat similar to one Beyoncé has worn. “The Beyhive has a job to do,” he says.

Inside the walls of this bar, it would be easy to forget that, in other parts of the world, some country fans have rejected Beyoncé’s genre pivot, an attitude Ben George has never understood. “I’m actually happy for her because I feel like no artist should be held to one genre,” says George, a lifelong country listener born and raised in El Paso, Texas, and a Flaming Saddles regular. “You should be able to tell whatever story you want using whatever genre you need to use.” He stayed up until midnight to listen to the album and says he was immediately blown away by how “she found the legends of each genre and worked with them. Like … Dolly Parton? I mean, what the hell!”

Shortly before we both head back into the warmth of the bar, Graham offers his own philosophy on the pop star, whom he calls a “student of life.” “Beyoncé is not making music for anybody other than the people who receive it,” he says. “People are always going to be resistant to certain changes and not be ready for certain growth, but her work is not meant for them. The people who receive her music understand her journey.”

And if there’s any crowd of people who are willing to understand Beyoncé’s latest sonic departure, it’s the one that’s gathered at Flaming Saddles. George says he felt lucky when he first discovered a queer country bar in New York City, a place he says is for anybody. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be improvements. A couple hours after arriving, Graham is still desperately waiting to hear “Ya Ya,” his early favorite from the album. “They have a jukebox here,” he says. “But it wasn’t on the jukebox, so I need to see the manager.”