Saturday, October 31, 2015

Famous Door

From the Famous Door's later incarnation as a gay
male bar in the 1970s
Famous Door

Location: 1786 Madison, Memphis, Tennessee, USA

Opened: 1969

Closed: 1969

As far as I can tell, Famous Door was a (predominatly) lesbian bar for only a few months in 1969. However, even that history is buried in the location's subsequently more famous history as a gay male bar known as George's. 

From a book called Carryin On In the Lesbian and Gay South, specifically the chapter called "Softball and Alcohol: The Limits of Lesbian Community in Memphis from the 1940s through the 1960s" by Daneel Burring: 

Memphis's first primarily lesbian bars opened in the late 1960s. Nancy, one of the narrators, entered into the lesbian bar business in 1969 when she took over the lease for a bar named the Famous Door. She subleased the Famous Door from a lesbian couple who had previously owned the Raven and the Aristocrat [two mixed gay private clubs in Tipton County, Tennessee].The bar had originally opened as the Twilight Lounge Tavern. At the time, the Twilight Lounge catered to both gays and lesbians; however, when Nancy took it over lesbians predominated. After a short time Nancy gave up the lease on the Famous Door and opened the Psych-Out, which legally changed names several times throughout the 1970s but always referred to as the Psych-Out by patrons.

Later on, the article adds:

None of the butch narrators who participated in this study was ever prosecuted for cross-dressing, but several remember the anxiety they felt about going to the bars.

"If you pulled up in front of the Famous Door, and this was done many times, and you saw a police car there, you drove around and around and around. If you were in there when they came in and . . .you had your arm around somebody, you dropped it. If you sere sitting a little bit closer, you immediately tried to act straight. You wouldn't dare talk back."

This selection from an article at Memphis Vive Magazine adds a few more details. Notice that once again, we see a familiar theme: how gay men take over lesbian space and make it their own. And how the lesbian usage of that space is effectively erased from that history, so that only a few random individual women remain--even "Nancy,"the one who took over the lease for a time and made it into a lesbian bar, has disappeared. Also notice that this article on the history of George's and gay bars at that location (if you look it up) includes no photographs of women or lesbians--just drag queens and gay men. 

It was way back in 1960, a long time before gay acceptance by society was even a dream, that a woman remembered only as “Lou” opened a little, dumpy beer bar at 1786 Madison called The Twilight Lounge. In those days the term “closet” meant “dungeon.” Sharon Wray (an owner or partner in many gay and lesbian bars in Memphis) used the phrase, “Gays were allowed to come in.” Gathering places were rare and usually far from town such as Ben’s, near Lehigh, AR, and the Raven, across the Tipton county line. Lou discovered that the gay crowd was a well-behaved crowd and that they spent money and kept coming. Thus was the location established.

The name changed for the first time to Cookie and Blanche’s in a year of two; no one remembers whether the two women were actually lesbian or not but the crowd was still encouraged to come. Mike Rollins took over the ownership in 1965, took back the original name and it was a bartender who leaned over the bar to kiss a sailor which caused the bar to be busted and closed. The newspaper story read, “Twilight Kiss Closes Twilight Lounge.” In order to smooth things over, a lesbian was produced and the two people involved swore that they were a couple. The ruse worked and a much more discreet Twilight Lounge reopened.

George Wilson

The ownership passed to two women named Kay Thornton and Sarah Forbes in 1969 and the name changed to The Famous Door. Several times that year, the establishment changed hands, even once belonging to Sharon Wray and business partner Carolyn Marbury. In those days beer and setups were sold. The laws were very exacting: a bar could be cited for allowing a patron to stand up to drink; they had to be seated. Beer could be sold until 12 AM, then later up until 1 AM. Sharon remembers that water setups had to be poured from a pitcher, as there was no sink behind the bar.

George Wilson had moved to Memphis and opened an antique business. He was persuaded to become involved with the long-time gay hangout at the end of 1969. He finally obtained ownership and called it merely The Door. After the new year, an old acquaintance named Dennis Belski moved back to town and was hired to tend bar. George had also acquired a new lover/partner from Canada, Don Rossignol by name. The sun was about to rise in an explosion of glitter and sequins.

In a history written by and/or interviewing lesbians, somebody would know who "Lou" and "Cookie" and "Blanche" were, and whether they were lesbians. Here they are merely ciphers. Of course, lesbians would pay attention to such things. To gay men, they are merely background figures in the scenery. 

In addition, notice that this article on this history of the Memphis white gay male community makes no mention of this location's previous existence as an even a short-lived lesbian bar. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Beijing Lesbian Center

Beijing Chauyang District
Beijing Lesbian Center

Location: Beijing City Chaoyang district Sihui East Heng Shidai Building No. 3, 28th floor, Apartment no. 8

Opened/Closed: c. 2012

Perhaps the best description of the Beijing Lesbian Center is from a 2012 article at City Weekend. Notice that despite the name, the Beijing Lesbian Center wasn't exclusively lesbian at all, which is pretty typical of the confusing, co-opted times we live in. (How ironic that the gay men and/or trans people take over the women's restrooms in gay bars, so women can't use them. And then women can't even keep a "Lesbian Center" women-only.)

Here it is reported that the Beijing Lesbian Center is now closed.

La La Love: Hanging out at Beijing's Lesbian Center

    “This is gay night, are you gay” This comes from inside a stall at [Alfa) where men have taken over the ladies’ washroom and are refusing to give up the space to women who need to use the facilities. Instead, they partner up in the stalls, shouting at the women that “only gay people” should be at Alfa on a Friday. The bar is teeming with Chinese men and a few expat boys, while a small group of girls huddle together on the second floor in the smoky haze. Sometimes it seems the gay scene in Beijing is really just for men. But is it? Language barriers and financial struggles make the growth of lesbian life in Beijing slower than volunteers and staff members at Beijing’s many gay groups and organizations would like, but a closer look reveals a vibrant community.

Beijing's Vibrant Lesbian Scene

At the Lesbian Center in Sihui—formerly known as Lala Salon—is volunteer Carina Rother. While it mainly serves as a hang out place for lesbians, what is most amazing about it, Rother says, is its diversity, with monthly meetings for transgender persons, middle-aged lesbians, and a night for lesbian mothers and mothers of lesbian daughters. “The program is quickly evolving,” she says. “There are new volunteers, ideas and interest groups every week.”
Carina Rother
While there are still many challenges to the future of the center and the community it serves, “the worst problem is definitely the money,” she says. The center’s five board members pay the rent themselves, with some help from the ¥25 fee for activities. But financial burden makes an uncertain future. Networking is another problem. The center lacks foreign NGO contacts, and because they use Weibo and QQ, it’s difficult for non-Chinese speakers to find them. Language issues also present difficulties for expat women looking to join local lesbian culture. Tongyu, a lesbian group whose name translates as “common language,” put on a well-attended play in Beijing last month, but, as the performance was in Chinese, foreign faces in the audience were few. Tongyu is involved in a variety of activities, but most are solidly aimed at the Chinese-speaking set, such as co-hosted Saturday afternoon salon for Chinese-speaking lesbians at J Bar, with a discussion or lecture. Tongyu also runs a hotline (132-4038-4246) and teams with [Aibai] to provide legal and health information to the queer community and to increase support for gay rights among the general public. English-speakers can find support through [BGLAD] (Beijing Gay, Lesbian and Allies Discussion), a Yahoo group.

Bringing Expats and Locals Together

Messages for Meeting Up
In a quest to bring foreign and Chinese lalas together, a volunteer at the LGBT Center says they, in collaboration with the Lesbian Center, are planning an “international la la meeting” in the near future. She points out that on BGLAD, she will tag it as a “party” so people actually go. A number of lesbian-oriented groups have moved to the same building as the LGBT Center in Liufang, she says, and she believes it is a good idea to “pool resources, and, more importantly, to build a real physical sense of ‘community.’” Though there is a stereotype that lesbians are quick to settle down after meeting a new love, leading to a lack of a party crowd to support regular lesbian nights around the city, this isn’t necessarily the case, says Stephen Leonelli, program manager at the Beijing [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) Center. Chinese lesbian magazine Les Plus’s occasional fundraising events are a place for la las to let loose, he says. “And those girls really know how to party.”

Love, Marriage and a Supportive Community

The community also often gathers for non-party events, such as trips just for girls up to 798 or potluck dinners. Those interested in stepping out of the party scene to meet up can check out. While being gay in China is still not as socially accepted as it could be, those involved with the capital’s gay and lesbian centers say they don’t experience any organized or blatant opposition, an atmosphere that allows women to come to Beijing and feel free to be themselves. With several groups in operation and the drive to create a larger and stronger community, volunteers and members are optimistic about the future of Beijing’s la la scene.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Lesbian bars in Milwaukee

Bet-Z Boenning at Walker's Pint
Lesbian Bars in Milwaukee

We're down to one in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

Where have all the lesbian bars gone?

By Molly Snyder

Milwaukee was never a hotbed of lesbian bars, but from the '70s until recently there were always at least a few in operation at the same time, including the Beer Garden, Fannie's, Kathy's Nut Hut, Mona's, Barbie Dolls and Dish.

Now, Walker's Pint, 818 S. 2nd St., is believed to be the only women's bar left in the city – although there are unconfirmed rumors that there's one quietly operating on Milwaukee's North Side. Art Bar and Hybrid are "straight friendly," gay-ish bars that don't cater specifically to lesbians or gay men.

The disappearance of lesbian bars is not only happening in Milwaukee. Even cities with a high number of LGBTQ ladies like San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago and New York have closed the doors to most – if not all – of their women's bars due to lack of funds and low turnout.

The most recent impactful closing took place earlier this year when The Lex in San Francisco shut down after 18 years of business. In 2013, West Hollywood – where almost half of the residents are lesbians – shuttered its last women's bar, The Palms, after 43 years.

What's happening to the American lesbian bar? Do gay women not need girls-only entertainment spaces anymore? Has the country become so accepting of lesbians that they no longer need their own bars?

Bet-z Boenning, who worked as a bartender at Dish in the '90s, opened Walker's Pint in 2001. Although she agrees there is now more acceptance of gay women in Milwaukee, the city still has a long way to go.

"We don't have to go to dark bars and hide anymore, but that's not to say that women don't need safe spaces anymore, because we do. There is always the risk of getting picked on, made fun of or worse when you're a lesbian and it still happens a lot," she says.

Read the rest here

Monday, August 17, 2015

Club Tribute

Club Tribute's photo.
Club Tribute (March 2009)
Club Tribute

Location: 3200 North Arnoult Road (18th Street), Metairie, Louisiana, USA
Opened: March 2009
Closed: February 2013

From Gay Cities:

NOLA's #1 lesbian bar
Club Tribute is always having a good time in Phat City. With drink specials throughout the week and hot girls servin' them up, it's sure to be a fun girls night.

And here's a customer review from August 2012:

This bar not only had a dance floor but also 5 small pool tables (only 50 cents a game). There were booths for more intimate conversation. The drinks were well priced and despite having three drinks each our bill was under $30.00.

The Facebook page documents what a great old-school lesbian bar this was--hundreds (if not thousands!) of photos from birthday parties, benefits, fundraisers for breast cancer, animal rescue, etc. Unfortunately, it all came to an end when the owners of the building decided to sell.

Club Tribute's photo.
Club Tribute Farewell Party - February 22, 2013
Here's the farewell letter from the owner (dated February 21, 2013):

Just received verbal notice this week that the building where Club Tribute / Escapades are located in has been sold...The new owners (a Medical Service) wants us to vacate within 10 days so this weekend will be our last weekend opened forever (at this location). We will open Friday for Club Tribute (No cover)...Saturday for an event hosted by Dragon (cover) and Sunday for Escapades (Club Tribute family are welcomed but there will be a cover) .
I want to take this time and ...
thank our customers (family) for helping to put us on the map. My family has been operating at this location for 25+ plus years (4 years as Club Tribute) so it saddens me deeply to see it come to an end; but our journey will continue and I hope that Club Tribute’s family will go out and support the Beach House and all other “Alternative” businesses…We are a community and we need to do everything in our power to support each other.
Much love to you all,

Below are a variety of posters from Club Tribute's four years of existence:

Club Tribute's photo.
Kristy Lee at Club Tribute
(March 2009)

Club Tribute's photo.
Michigan Avenue at Club Tribute (April 2012)

Club Tribute's photo.
Tammy & Coleen Birthday Celebration at
Club Tribute (November 2011)

Club Tribute's photo.
God-des & She at Club Tribute (April 2011)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Lounging room for ladies, Louisville & Nashville Railroad

San Antonio Express, June 20, 1925

Lounging room for ladies, Louisville & Nashville Railroad

Location: Ran between New Orleans, Louisiana, Louisville, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

Open/Closed: 1920s

As a student of history, I know very well that access to a transportation service like this, especially in this location (the American South), was stringently regulated by race and social/economic class.

But there is a part of me that is easily seduced by the golden age of railroads--I freely admit it. Especially in the hot summer months, I can easily find myself fantasizing what this kind of journey by train could have been like.

And then under the description of the Pan-American, I see a reference to a "lounging room for ladies."

Now I'm really imagining good times!

I have seen references to ladies lounges in hotels of this era, but never one on a train. I have seen references to smoking cars, which were almost always reserved for men with few exceptions. (An earlier post on a smoking car for women--for some inexplicable reason--is one of our most popular posts.)

So as I swelter in front of my computer, I am drifting back to 1925 and shuttling off on a night-bound train out of New Orleans. I had just settled into a seat in the lounging room for ladies, when a mysterious woman in a black cloche hat strolls into the car and eases into the seat beside me....

Monday, July 27, 2015

India's first lesbian helpline

Workers at the Lesbian Helpline in Tamilnadu, India, posted by the Indian Community Welfare Organisation.
Workers at Lesbian Helpline, Tamilnadu, India
India's first lesbian helpline

Location: Chennai, India

Opened: February 2009

Closed: May still be technically in existent, but apparently not really functional

In the U.S., Canada, et. al, lesbian hotlines and helplines started popping up in the 1970s. With the rise of the Internet, loss of volunteer interest, apathy, other alternatives, etc., they gradually withered away.

In India, the first lesbian helpline just got started about six years ago. But just as we see with all sorts of womyn's spaces in the western countries, this particular "space" was quickly infiltrated and overrun by men. Basically destroyed before it could even get started.

From the New York Daily News, February 5, 2015:

India's first lesbian phone helpline is being swamped with calls by curious men.

More than 80% of people who dial in to the Chennai-based service are actually males, reports Gay Star News.

Volunteer Aksma said many try to get contact numbers for gay women while others just want to find out more about same-sex female relationships.

"Some call up and say they have a sister or wife or a relative who is attracted to women. Finally, they ask for contact numbers of lesbians," the 24-year-old boxing coach told the Times of India.

"When we ask them to pass the phone to the woman, they refuse. A few men ask questions like how women are attracted to other women and how it is to be in a relationship," she added.

The weekend helpline was launched by the Indian Community Welfare Organization in February 2009 after a lesbian couple committed suicide in Chennai.
It now handles around 25 calls per day from across the state of Tamil Nadu — and also from south Indians who have settled in cities across the world, including London.

Psychiatrist Dr. Vasantha Jeyaraman, who works at Global Hospital, said the callers' curiosity was "not abnormal."

"Some men would get pleasure out of making such calls or few would want to try their luck while some heterosexuals would want to ridicule the women," he told the Times of India.

"It could be anything but only irresponsible men would make such calls," he added.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Karangahape Road Girl's Club

women at the KG Club 1974
KG Club (1974)
Karangahape Road Girl's Club

Location: Auckland, New Zealand

Opened: 1971

Closed: 1979?

From a piece called Queen City: A Secret History of Auckland:

And who remembers the KG Club – the Karangahape Road Girl’s Club or the Kamp Girls Club? It was New Zealand’s first ever lesbian social club, founded by Raukura Te Aroha “Bubs” Hetet, in late 1971. It met in a variety of private homes before opening in Beach Road and then moving to the corner of Karangahape Road and Hereford Street, where it had a sterling reputation for boisterous parties.

And also from New Zealand or Bust:

Here’s what I’ve found out about the KG Club, or Kamp Girls Club, one of the first, if not the first, lesbian social clubs in New Zealand.

Queer people in New Zealand did not begin to regularly describe themselves as “gay” until the 1970s. Prior to that, queers used the word “kamp.“ The term comes from the acronym used by Australian police to label gay men “Known As Male Prostitute.” Despite its negative roots, "kamp” was embraced by gay men and lesbians in Australia and then in New Zealand. Usage continued into the 1970s.

By the late 1960s, lesbian social culture had the right ingredients to thrive. Kamp women recognized cities as the best places to meet other women and as more people moved to urban areas, public kamp communities formed. News of the fight for gay liberation and information about lesbian clubs abroad inspired New Zealand lesbians to organize. Sports such as hockey and softball became very popular among kamp women, bringing teams and fans together to socialize.

To meet the needs of this blossoming culture, the Kamp Girls Club was established in late 1971 as a social club meeting in private homes in Auckland. One of the women who hosted the club at her house tells her story in Alison J. Laurie’s doctoral thesis. Raukura (Bubs) Te Aroha Hetet’s group of kamp women got together to sing, play guitars, eat and drink. Bubs soon established the first rented location for the KG Club in 1972 on Karangahape Road.

Lesbians met at the Kamp Girls Club after sports games or to attend dances in this women-only space. There was even a newsletter for the patrons, named after the club, published in 1977 and 1978.

Documentary-style fine art photographer, Fiona Clark, who has photographed many points of queer cultural significance, snapped some shots in 1974 (including the above image).
women at the KG Club 1974

women at the KG Club 1974

During the 1970s, the KG Club moved locations, existing at venues on Beach Road, Hereford Street and Albert Street. In 1979, the KG club relocated from Beach Road to the corner of Karangahape Road & Hereford Street, which I believe is its last rented location.

This is the building today. The club existed on the second floor.
531-535 Karangahape Road

I’m looking forward to paying tribute to the Kamp Girls Club in person in a few months.