It’s been an academic 14 years for Ben Kampler.
After graduating from Staples High School in 2001, he headed to Brandeis. He took his degree (English major, women’s studies minor), added a pair of master’s (queer theory/sexuality studies from NYU, sociology from Queens College), and embarked on a teaching career (Statistics, Introduction to Sociology Research, The Sociology of Sexuality) at Queens and Hunter College.
So of course, he’s also a bartender.
As a gay man, Kampler was happy to get a job at the Stonewall Inn. From outside on Christopher Street, it doesn’t look like much. But it’s considered the birth of the gay rights movement, because in 1969 the patrons fought back after one more in a long series of police raids. (“Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad” headlined the New York Daily News. A framed copy hangs inside the Stonewall today.)
But in the mid-2000s, the Stonewall Inn was barely hanging on. “We ran out of glasses, and bought our liquor from a store down the block,” Kampler recalls.
He moved to another bar. In 2007, though, it reopened under a new owner. Kampler returned.
He’s been there ever since.
Working at perhaps the most historic bar (gay or straight) in the world — last month, New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to give it landmark status — has its perks.
One of Kampler’s co-workers is a 75-year-old veteran of that famous June, 1969 night. (“He tells people, ‘I saw fighting and went the other way,'” Kampler says. Still…)
The Stonewall Inn is a bona fide tourist attraction. “People make pilgrimages,” Kampler notes. “They stand there in awe.”
Then they come in for a drink (or three). Sometimes, they engage the bartender in conversation. He’s happy to oblige — if he’s not too busy working.
After all, it is a bar. “We have our regulars,” Kampler says. “It’s very ‘Cheers’-like.”
Still, no one was prepared for the day last month when the US Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage constitutional in all 50 states.
Kampler’s regular Friday shift starts at 4 p.m. He heard the news at 10 a.m., and was called in immediately. It was all hands on deck.
Crowds swelled. News crews gathered. All of Greenwich Village was a party — and Stonewall was its epicenter.
“It was amazing,” Kampler reports. “Except we ran out of champagne and food.”
Two days later, New York celebrated Gay Pride. Once again, the place was crazy.
“As a staff, we appreciate what goes on,” Kampler says. “But it really was a marathon weekend.”
Working at the Stonewall Inn has given Kampler great friends. He likes his co-workers and boss.
“I’ve been there through history — the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, New York marriage, and now marriage everywhere in the country,” Kampler says.
“And Stonewall has supported me through 2 master’s degrees.”
But he won’t be there much longer. This fall, Kampler begins a Ph.D. program in sociology at Boston University.
His goal is to teach and do research in women’s, gender and queer studies. Of particular interest: examining the patterns of law enforcement in gay bars, and the social changes occurring in those bars.
Odds are good he’s the only person in that field with nearly a decade of bartending experience in the most famous gay bar in the world.