Monday, October 15, 2018

Stouffer's Ladies Restaurant

Stouffer's Ladies Restaurant

Location: 4 North Court Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA

Opened/Closed: c. 1916

Here's an ad for a ladies restaurant that appeared in the Harrisburg Daily Independent, June 16, 1916:

Stouffer's at least appeared to have a strict code about admitting men, even relative to other local restaurants: "It is the only one of its kind in the city where a Gentleman must be accompanied by a Lady to be admitted. It is, therefore, practically a private Ladies' Restaurant...." 

Wonder what was on the menu? 

And, most importantly, do you take reservations???

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Mr. M. M'Ginley's Ladies Restaurant

Mr. M. M'Ginley's Ladies' Restaurant

Location: Fifth Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Opened/Closed: c. 1858

I wasn't even trying to do research on ladies restaurants when I happened to stumble across this little item. It's from the Pittsburgh Daily Post, Oct. 29, 1858:

Ladies Restaurant.--Mr. M. M'Ginley's Ladies' Restaurant, on Fifth Street, opposite the Exchange Bank, is a great public convenience. He has fitted up his rooms in elegant style, and the ladies can enjoy a dish of "stewed, fried or roasted" in the most complete privacy. When at a distance from their residences at meal time, the ladies will find this establishment fully prepared to furnish them with good things.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Page Three

Buddy Kent and friends at Page Three
(Lesbian Herstory Archives)
Page Three

Location: Greenwich Village, New York

Opened: 1940s?

Closed: 1965

Martin Duberman identifies Page Three as "one of the few lesbian bars in the village" back in the 1940s and 50s. The others he mentions are The Seven Steps, Bagatelle, Swing Rendezvous, Pony Stable, and Laurel's "(famous for its free Chinese food on Sunday afternoons)." This was also an era in which Greenwich Village lesbian bars were still considered "white women's bars" where Black women were "ignored or treated like an oddity."

Buddy Kent (aka Bubbles Kent), a lesbian club entertainer from that era, shared memories of Page Three (and other gay and lesbian bars of her youth) with Lisa Davis back in 2006:

She turned to another photo. “Here’s Kicky with me and Jacquie Howe and a couple of kids. Everybody in the Village back then knew Jacquie Howe.”

She paused. “We owned this place in the photo called the Page Three. You can see it had a nice little intimate room where we had some good acts. Tiny Tim got his start at the Page Three.”

“Jacquie looks like FDR with that cigarette-holder,” I said.

“Oh, she was a real character.” Buddy smiled a loving smile. “If somebody had told me that Jacquie went to bed with Queen Elizabeth, I wouldn’t have been surprised! She’d been to bed with everybody else!”

“So you always felt safe in the Village?” I asked.

“It was home,” Buddy replied, “and we had the best protection in the world from the Mafia. They ran everything.”

Buddy is also reported as saying the following about Page Three in this article:

Then Kicky and Jackie decided to get this little place that was doing nothing, The Page Three. We struck a deal with the owners and bought into the place. So finally we were working for ourselves and getting a little bit of the gravy. A lot of very big people used to come down there, like Jimmy Donahue. And the crowd followed us, the hookers and the madams and the kinky guys with money. Our show was a success from the first week.

Regarding Tiny Tim, we're told the following: 

In 1962, calling himself Larry Love, he [Tiny Tim] landed his first paying jobs, on the Greenwich Village lesbian bar circuit, and shortly the big vampire scarecrow - a singularly striking figure even amid the emerging period weirdness - began to develop a cult following. At this point, a manager took hold of Larry Love and sought to rename him Sir Timothy Thames. Herbie didn't like that much. Eventually, the two settled on Tiny Tim. IN 1965, following the shutdown of his chief Village venue, a bar called Page Three, Tiny Tim wandered up to midtown and got himself installed as a house regular at a happening disco called The Scene, which is where Mo Ostin of Reprise Records heard him in late 1967 and, there at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, signed him to a recording contract on the spot.

Stage Three is also mentioned in Ruby, a novel by Cynthia Bond. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Bon Ton Cafe Ladies Cafe

Bon Ton Cafe Ladies Cafe

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, USA

Opened/Closed: c. 1917

Here's an ad for a ladies cafe in Jackson, Mississippi from October 1917. Needless to say, all the usual caveats about race and social/economic class apply. Still, what a menu!

Bon Ton Cafe 21 Oct 1917 - 50c -SPECIAL SUNDAY DINNER-50c ", . - AT BON...
Jackson Daily News (Jackson, Mississippi) - Oct. 21, 1917

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


The former Redz --2218 East First Street

Location: 2218 East First Street, Los Angeles, California, USA

Open: Late 1950s

Closed: 2015

From the Los Angeles Conservancy

Located in Boyle Heights, Redz is estimated to have first opened in the late 1950s and operated until 2015. For over fifty years, this popular lesbian bar catered to a predominantly Mexican and Mexican American clientele.

Over the course of its history, the bar's name evolved from Redheads to Reds to, most recently, Redz. It opened at a time when working-class lesbian bars were on the rise around Los Angeles, particularly in Westlake and North Hollywood. It represented an important intersection of race, class, gender, and sexual identity.

Though the bar closed its doors in 2015 and its appearance has been altered, it continues to represent an important story within Los Angeles' lesbian community.

Here's a great photo of the Redz from the LA Eastside blog. The blogger is clearly not a lesbian, as lesbian existence is clearly invisible to this individual: 

"I think someone said this was a gay paisa bar but I don’t know the picture of the hot girl is throwing me off." 

'Cause all "gays" are men, ya know. 

Photo of Redz Bar - Los Angeles, CA, United States. During your taco crawl stop for a beer with Chucky and the Grim Reaper.

And, of course, lesbian bars almost always have THAT yelp review. The one where some straight person decides to be intrusive, then gets bent out of shape about something or other. In this case, it was a straight girl using her boyfriend as "a shield" against, well, whatever it was that she needed shielding against. From Maggie in 2013:

[W]e come across Redz Bar which is a couple blocks down from Mariachi Plaza and I know it's open because there's some loud paisa music blasting from the shut door. I see a ferocious, heavy woman in a bright blue dress walk out with her music box and I realize I missed the cabaret show on Sundays that start at 8:30.

The bar is mysteriously yet cautiously dark, with Spanish music ranging from Reggaeton to Enrique Iglesias playing from a record player. I look up, and the ceiling is covered in records with glimmers of light shining from the tacky disco ball. I expect the usual looks from middle aged Mexican men staring down a gringa who so happens to love her Micheladas. I use my guy best friend as a shield to repel any sort of contact because I'm here for a drink, but a conversation with the best friend is out the door because the music is ear numbingly loud.

It turns out that Maggie is so unbelievably dense that she manages to convince herself that this is an "underground brothel." She just can't believe that the bartender was refusing to serve this man who was sitting next to (harassing) this "promiscuous, young woman wearing a very skimpy dress." This just doesn't make sense!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Martinique

The Martinique

Location: Salem Avenue, Dayton, Ohio, USA

Opened: Early 1970s

Closed: Early 1990s

From Daytonology:

This being Dayton building demolition rears its ugly head in any story, and it does here, as The Martinque, Dayton’s third oldest gay bar was torn down, perhaps twice!

The Martinique started out as a cocktail lounge on Salem Avenue, between the bridge and Grand Avenue, opening in 1967. Presumably it served the singles who were living in the new apartments buildings in Grafton Hill.

And perhaps those buildings attracted a gay population, too. There was an ownership change in 1970 or 71, and after that the place turned gay. Eventually it became Dayton’s lesbian bar (the first?) until being closed and torn down in the early 1990s. It was in a converted old house when I moved here, but I am not sure if that was the original location.

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.