A painting of the burly character Bluto appropriately adorns the wall of Robert Valin’s Chelsea apartment where his dog, Benny, sniffs and paws at my bag. “Do you have food in your bag?” Robert asks. “Benny gets into a zone when he smells food.”
“Just like a bear,” I smile and joke and then together we coax the pup to abandon the bag for a toy.
A third generation native New Yorker, Robert has deep roots in the city and has witnessed a lot of change over the decades. “New York City is always changing, it’s always evolving,” he says. “And I love New York—I’ll always love New York. I just don’t like what’s happening to the city now. It’s becoming a suburban strip mall with chain restaurants moving in. Anything with personality and character doesn’t seem to survive in New York unless it’s a chain because the rents have gotten so extreme.”
As the founder and CEO of The Urban Bear, Robert is in the process of building a brand that unifies and resonates with the expanding bear community. “It’s a group that’s become more mainstream and the term bear is more recognizable now than it’s been in the past.”
So what is a bear?
“A bear is—I can’t even define it anymore—it used to mean a fat guy, but it’s not that anymore, there are all different types of bears. There are muscle bears, polar bears who are older, cubs who are younger, wolves who are skinny and hairy, otters…I don’t even know what an otter is, but I call my husband my significant otter.”
“The term bear has evolved to encompass a lot of different types of men and it’s really more about having the ‘bear heart’ and it’s more self-defined now. A bear is a masculine guy who is comfortable with himself and his body and is open to the community around him.”
Do you identify as a bear?
“Ha, yes I do identify as a bear—I don’t know what kind of bear, but I’m a bear. I’ve always liked big, masculine guys who are proud of their size and who own who the fuck they are. My dad was a cop and a biker here in NYC so I grew up around these big burly hairy guys.”
What is The Urban Bear.com?
“The site is meant to highlight NYC for people into the bear lifestyle and either living in the city or coming to city and looking for where to go, what to see, and what to eat. I also want to showcase events and the talents of guys in the city who are writers and photographers—it’s a collective forum for NYC’s bear community.”
What is The Urban Bear Weekend?
“It’s four days of fun, fur, and friends. There’s a lot of beer and socializing and sex and a good time to make friends. The mission is to build community and give people some fun—and even kooky—events to enjoy. The weekend has been growing over the years and we get a lot of guys from all over. I really enjoy doing it and I love meeting and collaborating with everyone involved. Guys come up to me and tell me after how they met new friends or even their partner at the weekend.”
What’s the rundown of weekend events?
Thursday, May 2
- Stash Bash, a party for facial hair lovers at Julius, NYC’s oldest gay bar in the West Village
- Leather bear night at CODE at the Eagle
Friday, May 3
- Bear invasion of MoMA
- Hairy Happy Hour at Ty’s, the 40 year old gay landmark
- Funny Furry Five, bear comedy festival at the Cutting Room featuring NYC’s funniest bear comedians
- Underbear party at Rockbar
Saturday, May 4
- Piggy Bear at the Eagle with an all you can eat BBQ and “bearriere” contest
- Honey, fun dance party in BK
Sunday, May 5
- Street fair featuring NYC artists and craftsmen with their bear-focus wares. Performances by DJ Lady Bunny, bear rapper Big Dipper, and a sexy boylesque troupe.
Delicious food trucks and beer!
Getting to see that hot bear you’ve been crushing on all weekend one more time so you can finally woof hello!
*A portion of the proceeds go towards fighting for marriage equality*
To explore more about NYC and the bear scene, check out The Urban Bear and come out and meet the friend, furry guys at the weekend.