Friday, June 8, 2018

Que Sera

Que Sera



Ellen Ward, (left) the first openly gay woman
to be elected to the Signal Hill City Council,
stands behind the bar at The Que Sera
with the establishment's current owner Ilse Benz.
Ward used to own the lesbian bar
and live-entertainment venue,
known as the place where Melissa Etheridge got her start.
However, she turned it over to Benz,
her former manager, in the mid-1990s.

Photo by Sean Belk/Signal Tribune (2013)
Location: 1923 E. 7th Street, Long Beach, California, USA

Opened: 1975

Closed: Sold in 1996 or 1999 (both dates are reported). When it ceased to be a lesbian bar is not clear, though it was still open as of 2015.

According to the Historical Society of Long Beach, Que Sera was founded by Ellen Ward, a lesbian who moved to Long Beach for college, and eventually ended up working in local government and the city recreational departments:

In 1975, Ward bought a bar called the Monarch Room, which she renamed Que Sera. Que Sera is still standing, though Ward sold the bar in 1999 to her longtime bartender and friend Benz. It is a dark bar with no windows located on Seventh Street and Cherry (just three blocks north of the present location of the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach). The lack of windows is a signal for those that were historic gay bars. Windows meant people could see what was going on from the outside, and patrons of gay bars were often afraid of their anonymity being broached. While many people placed the Gay Ghetto neighborhood on a map that marked Fourth Street as the north border of the neighborhood, a few pushed that boundary to Seventh Street simply because of Que Sera. The bar was Ward’s fall-back plan in case her employment opportunities in the field of recreation dried up. She wanted to make Que Sera a nice bar for lesbians, something she felt was lacking in Long Beach in the 1970s. Though it’s a darkened dive bar now, in its heyday it was, according to Ward, the nicest lesbian bar around. It had couches and a fireplace and attracted a lot of professional women. Melissa Etheridge credits the bar with helping to launch her career, something Ward remembers fondly. Etheridge lived in Long Beach from 1982 to “about 1985” and played Que Sera every Wednesday and Friday for several years. Etheridge explained, “I played at Que Sera year after year, and finally Chris Blackwell (founder of Island Records) came to see me play, and the rest is history.” Etheridge has written several songs about her time spent living and playing in Long Beach, including “Cherry Avenue” and “Breakdown.” In “Cherry Avenue,” she sings,
And so you meet me

Down at the bar

7th and Cherry

That’s where we are
And I promise not to take you down too far
Beetle takes a dollar
Benz will make a drink
Two will see you holler
No one wants to think
And it’s que sera sera in black and pink.


There is also this from a 2013 article in the Signal Tribune:

To the LGBT community, however, Ward was more known as the former owner of the Que Sera, a longtime lesbian bar she opened in 1975 that today is celebrated for helping launch the career of Grammy- and Oscar-winning musician and singer Melissa Etheridge in the 1980s. One of the first items collected for display was one of Etheridge’s gold records that the singer gave to the Que Sera.
Ilse Benz, who took over the black- and pink-colored bar located at 1923 E. 7th St., after first working as the manager, said it was at the venue where Chris Blackwell of Island Records discovered the now famous musician.

Although Etheridge first started by playing cover songs, she later snuck in her originals that became popular among both straight and gay crowds, Benz said, adding that Etheridge’s song “Cherry Avenue” was written about the Que Sera and her time living in Long Beach.

“Music brings people together to where you don’t care about whether you stand next to a lesbian and that a woman maybe has her arm around another woman,” Benz said. “They listen to the music, and it makes them happy, and we all have that in common so that sexual orientation thing went by the wayside.”

Que Sera also got a mention in the Los Angeles Times back in 1996:

Que Sera (as the sign out front abbreviates it) can lay claim to the title of "grandmama" of the Long Beach alternative music scene, having outlasted Bogart's, Fender's Ballroom and a myriad of smaller venues. Ever since a then-unknown Melissa Etheridge trod the small stage more than a decade ago (Que Sera is one of the longest-running predominately lesbian bars in the Southland), the club has booked live music two to three nights a week.

But as Club Planet documents, while the music lasted, the lesbians did not:

Que Sera - Melissa Etheridge got her start at Que Sera, playing acoustic sets to enthusiastic fans back in the '80s. Times have changed for this joint as this bar no longer specifically caters to the lesbian crowd--all people are welcome. DJ's spin techno, house, and even '80s tracks on the wheels of steel, and rock bands sometimes take the stage. The legend of Melissa still lives on here

Ellen Ward passed away in August 2015 at the age of 78. From her obituary:

Part of her impact in the gay community is the fact that Ward opened Que Sera bar in 1975, a business she owned and operated for 23 years. The establishment is also known as the place where musician Melissa Etheridge got her start.

However, Ward’s scope of influence surpassed simply being the owner of a gay bar before homosexuality was as acceptable as it is today, according to Ilse Benz, who now owns the bar and met Ward there in the late 1970s when Benz was a patron. Benz, who is from Stuttgart, Germany, said they bonded because Europeans like herself are very politically minded, and so was Ward.

As Benz described her relationship with Ward to the Signal Tribune, her voice cracked when she referred to Ward as the woman who helped her make a new home in the United States.

“I’m heartbroken to lose my mentor, my rock,” Benz said. “She had also created a home away from home for me, and I’m just so saddened by her leaving.”

Benz said Ward would keep Que Sera open on holidays to offer it as a safe haven for gay people who were not welcome to join their families.

“We could never be closed on holidays at the Que Sera,” Benz said. “People got put out by their families and would not be invited on Thanksgiving. So she wanted to make sure everybody knew there was a place they could come to and get a turkey dinner or, you know, a hot dog for Fourth of July— to prevent suicides. During the holidays, I had to work for 30-some-odd years, every holiday— never had a holiday off— because I truly believe that she is right. That it would maybe make a difference, even if it’s just one person. A door is open that they can walk in.”

Benz ended up serving as manager for 20 years before purchasing the bar from Ward in 1996.

Notice there is no explanation in any of these selections as to why Que Sera "no longer specifically caters to the lesbian crowd" or the process by which this happened. 


Saturday, May 5, 2018

G Spot

Image result for g spot wilton manors
G Spot
G Spot

Location: 2031 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors, Florida, USA

Open: 2017

Closed: 2018

Sadly, this place didn't last more than a year. 

From South Florida Gay News

Lesbian Bar Closes Down in Wilton Manors

Michael d'Oliveira 02/21/2018 11:33 am

A little over a year after opening, G Spot Bar is the latest Wilton Drive business to close its doors. Lisette Gomez, co-owner of G Spot, Wilton Manors’ only lesbian bar, announced the closing on social media on Feb. 16. G Spot closed Feb. 18.

“I would like to thank everyone who supported us from day one and never stopped supporting us. I appreciate you! Unfortunately, it was not enough. This was not my choice and it doesn’t come easy. I worked hard to build a place for the ladies to call their own, investing my retirement because I believed there would be support. My partners trusted me when I said the ladies would support us and that was not always the case,” Gomez wrote.

She went on to write that G Spot lost revenue because it was forced to close multiple weeks because of Hurricane Irma and another incident of fried air conditioning units.

“If I could save the bar I would, I just do not have the resources to buy out my partners . . . Also, if anyone knows me well, they know that I have something else in the works. I still believe that this community needs a space inclusive of everyone. Not just the boys or the girls but a place where there it doesn’t matter how you identify. That’s what I’ve been trying to create here and my Friday and Saturday nights were becoming more diverse. So STAY TUNED, this is not goodbye, this is see you real soon.”

Although G Spot is a lesbian bar, when she opened, Gomez told SFGN at the time, that it was a place where everyone is welcome. “We want to label ourselves as a bar for girls who like girls but there are a lot of gay boys who like to hang out with the lesbians. We’re not discriminatory. There will be Sunday football, drag king shows, as well as [a place for] our straight allies. We want it to be open to everybody.”

Although it’s a place where everyone is welcome, female patrons still expressed their disappointment in losing Wilton Manors’ only lesbian bar.

“This is a huge tragedy for my friends and our community and I'm really sad to see G Bar go but I fully support Lisette Gomez and I know that we will come back stronger and just work that much more harder to make a safe place for women and lesbians to be represented and enjoy ourselves in our neighborhood!” wrote Minnie Perez.

“G Bar was the first place where I felt included after coming out. Thank you for putting yourself on the line to create this wonderful space. I am grateful to know you, and I look forward to working with you to continue to create community and make waves,” wrote Darlene Hollander.

“Thank you for creating this and so sorry it has to end! My gf and I would drive down from West Palm sometimes on Saturday nights and it was so disappointing to see it empty week after week. Kudos to you for investing in spaces for us. It will be exciting to see what's next!” Stephanie B. wrote.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Serene Bar


Image result for Serene lesbian bar berlin

Serene Bar

Location: Schwiebusser Str. 2, 10965 Berlin, Germany

Opened: ?

Closed: 2015





According to DJ Ena Lind, in a 2017 article called "Berlin's Lesbian Party Scene is Changing":

The last lesbian bar in Berlin, Serene Bar, closed two years ago.

That's all she says about it. The rest of the article is all about "inclusive" queer women party crap that only gets dumped on women, and never on men. (If women like Lind had any historical knowledge, they would know that this is not "radical," edgy or new, but the way most so-called womyn's space has operated in a patriarchal context. Even in the nineteenth century, women's cafe's and the like were always pressured to include male escorts and the like, in a way that men's spaces were not.)

Anyway, here is the description of Serene Bar from ellgeeBe

A lesbian institution near Tempelhoferfeld, Serene has a laid back atmosphere (you can dress down or dress up) and draws a middle-aged crowd. It's also one of the last outposts of 80s, New-Wave-Berlin style Stammdisco ("regulars' disco"), where the chart-hits come all evening and everybody knows your name.

And from The Rough Guide to Berlin

Great lesbian hangout, particularly on Sat when the big dance floor gets packed. The bar is used by many special interest groups as a meeting point: table tennis, amateur photography and so on. The entrance is a little tucked away down an alley. Tues 6pm until late, Wed & Thurs 8pm until late, Sat 10pm until late. 

A little depressing that the city where lesbian bars were once so strong almost 100 years ago now (!) [i.e. the Weimar era] are extinct--just as they are nearly everywhere else.







Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Kimball Ladies Cafe

Kimball Ladies Cafe

Location: Perry Street, Davenport, Iowa, USA

Opened/Closed: c. July 1910

Not going to go into a big analysis here. Just a pleasant ad for a ladies cafe from the Quad City Times (Davenport, IA) from July 26, 1910. 

Kimball Ladies Cafe (1910)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Oxwood Inn

Oxwood Inn
Oxford Inn

Location: Oxnard Avenue, Van Nuys, California

Opened: 1972

Closed: 2017

Notice that this became a "queer catch-all bar" in its later years, so wasn't technically a lesbian bar at all any more. But even with that, it was the last lesbian bar in Los Angeles, even for all its "inclusivity." Which just goes to show that "inclusivity" as a drinking hole survival strategy doesn't work. 
And notice that no one identified as  lesbian is interviewed in this article. 

From Los Angeles Magazine


After 45 Years, L.A.’s Last Lesbian Bar Is Gone for Good

The Oxwood Inn shut its doors last weekend

The Oxwood Inn is missing its “O.” It’s hard to say how long it’s been gone, but no one bothered to replace it. The bar itself, a windowless dive sitting across from a Subway on a quiet stretch of Oxnard Avenue in Van Nuys, hasn’t had a facelift since it was purchased in 1972. Bought by Texas-born Betty “Tuck” Sutherland, it was the longest-running lesbian bar in the United States, as well as one of the only places transgender women could feel safe and welcome—until last weekend, when it closed its doors for good.

Dubbed “Menopause Manor” for its demographic—middle-aged women, many of who lived in the Valley—the Oxwood was Cheers for the lesbian working class. Two electronic darts games greeted visitors upon arrival, and a sparsely populated case offering “Bro Dart Accessories” was on the wall, looking like it hadn’t been opened since the 1980s. The place was a time warp—rarely was anyone preoccupied by their phones (at least not for noticeable lengths of time), and the old school décor included a framed portrait of Marlene Dietrich and a large art deco mirror hung on faux bois white walls. In short, it was a far cry from the purposefully decorated, dimly lit dive bars you’ll find in Los Feliz.

As products of a century where being homosexual has been both illegal and celebrated, the Oxwood’s early, original clientele saw the bar as a gathering place more than an opportunity to get drunk or meet a new potential partner. (Those were just an added bonus.) When Sutherland died in 2012, friends and family celebrated her legacy; since then, the bar had remained opened daily from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m., hosting karaoke on Thursdays, DJs on Fridays, and the trans-focused Club Shine on Saturdays. Sutherland’s former partner and longtime manager, Lynn Stadler, took over the lease after Sutherland’s death and kept its doors open despite the business costing her more than it was making her. As of last week, that cost was too high: In January of next year, the bar will be torn down and an apartment complex will going up in its place. But Stadler isn’t sad to see it go. “When something’s costing you that much money, you’re not nostalgic,” she says. “I’m glad. I’m putting over $400 a week of my own money into it, and all I have coming in is my social security.”
Stadler’s stance seems to be unique, as Oxwood regulars are already feeling the loss. “It was a different breed,” former Oxwood bartender Marianne Basford says. “It was more like a sanctuary. It wasn’t some kind of hip bar scene. It was more like a secret clubhouse for women.”

What once began as a lesbian bar turned into a queer catch-all—the opposite of the swanky, trendy clubs of WeHo with bathroom attendants and celebrity guests. And now that Club Shine is no more, transgender patrons are feeling particularly affected (though rumor has it the club night will be relocating in the future). The event was “a little bit hit-or-miss” at first, according to Laura Espinoza-Lunden, a trans promoter and musician, but it eventually grew into a full-blown movement. By the end of the first year, “it took off,” she says. “It became a home for the community.” In the end, Club Shine is what kept the Oxwood afloat for the last decade. “We would have been bankrupt long before,” Stadler says.

Zackary Drucker, a trans woman and consulting producer on Transparent, feels the Oxwood was unique in that it “created a space for queer trans women without the pressures of men entering the space as potential partners,” as she puts it. “It was the friendliest, most inclusive environment for trans women. I’m getting emotional thinking about it. The fact that there were queer cisgender woman in that space with cisgender women, queer butch women—there was such a range of people who felt comfortable there that it was truly the most inclusive trans nightlife space.”
“They’ve been wonderful to the LGBT community,” Espinoza-Lunden adds. “One of the most welcoming bars ever in L.A.”
In the Oxwood’s final week, groups gathered together on different nights to pay homage to Sutherland and the environment she helped create. “The Oxwood, which was the butt of so many jokes around the Valley, outlasted all the other bars,” Basford says. “[It’s the] end of an era.”


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Henry S. Jacob's Cafe

Henry S. Jacob's Café

Location: 25 Graeme Street (a/k/a West Diamond Street), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Open/Closed: c. 1914

As part of a fairly extensive research project, I have been looking into the history of the saloons and cafe's that used to exist around Pittsburgh's former Diamond Square (now Market Square). One of the best sources of information are the proceedings from License Court, which allowed citizens and other groups to contest the renewal of liquor licenses for various establishments. Imagine my surprise when I found the following complaints lodged against Henry S. Jacob's place. This report is from the Pittsburgh Daily Post, March 20, 1914:


Wow. Where to even start. During the same era, New York had its Café des Beaux Arts, a ladies drinking establishment opened in 1911. But the press emphasized that this was a genteel place. (Regular readers here will remember that saloons and bars of this era were nearly entirely identified as male-only spaces.)
Mr. Jacob's place apparently wasn't. It was somehow predominantly or primarily women, without appearing to be a genteel place for ladies. In fact, we're told that many of the women are of "bad repute" or "strange." But if they were "prostitutes" looking for customers, why go to a bar that's "primarily" women? After all, logically, you are not going to find many men there. And though detectives claimed that these "strange women" had "asked them to go out," you got to wonder what most of these women were up to....


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Some Ladies Cafes in New York (1895)

This illustration was accompanied by a syndicated article on Ladies Cafes in New York that appeared in several American newspapers in December 1895. I may transcribe the article later. Since there are few graphic depictions of the ladies café, an early pioneering example of a public socializing space for women (albeit for wealthy, white women only), I thought it would be fun to share. As we have noted before, many bars and restaurants of the time did not allow women to enter, or in some cases, only allowed them to enter if escorted by a man.