Saturday, April 16, 2011

Jo-Anna's and other lesbian bars in Washington, D.C.

Ad for Jo-Anna's
Location: 430 8th Street, Washington, D.C., USA

Founded: 1968

Closed: 1972

Mark Meinke in "The Social Geography of Washington, D.C.'s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Community" (2002) says the following about "Women's social spaces" in Washington:

For most of the Sixties there were few public social options for women.  Until mid-decade there was no equivalent of the old Showboat club [see entry below].  At 5828 Georgia, in upper Northwest, Zombies’ restaurant generally welcomed women.  And, at Spring Rd and 14th St. NW, the Spring Road Café, a purple building that was hard to miss, saw women’s gatherings on weekends.

JoAnna’s, which opened at 430 8th St. SE in 1968 represented a new social option for women, and a daring new dance floor.  Dr Franklin Kameny remembers, "JoAnna's arrived somewhat later, on the NE corner of 8th and E, directly across from Johnnie's [a men's club].  It was responsible for the initiation of dancing in DC gay bars on a regular basis.  It was a women's bar.  They put in a small dance floor, which immediately started to attract business including, (I think) some men. 

It is also noted that Jo-Anna's was one of the first of Washington's clubs to willingly identify with "gayness" and distribute the Mattachine Society newsletter.

While Washington's bars suffered from fewer police raids than New York's, there was still harrassment:

A member of Mattachine at JoAnna’s one summer evening in 1969 saw “a steady procession of uniformed police come in and out of the bar.”  Querying a policeman about the procession, she was told “there was no trouble at all, but that the precinct was just keeping an eye on things.”

The Rainbow History Project has done a superb job of cataloguing LGBT "places and spaces" from the 1920s to the present. Here are just a few of the lost lesbian bars they identify:

Between Friends
Location: 1115A U St NW
Opened: January 2, 2003
Closed: 2004
African-American-owned dance club, initially primarily a lesbian club. Offered use of its space to community groups such as SMYAL, Mautner Project, and others. Owners: Ibijinka Hicks, Addie Johnson, Tedara Lindsay, Vicki Harris. The club ultimately closed in 2004 following problems with clubgoers.

Club Madame
Location: 500 8th St SE
Opened: July 1, 1974
Closed: December 1978
Just Us: “A discotheque with an international atmosphere, the Club Madame has a varied program of seasonally oriented festivals, such as Mardi Gras, Oktoberfest, and so on, which require payment of an admission fee. Otherwise there is no charge. The crowd is very mixed, but mostly gay women…”

Hill Haven
Location: 516 8th St SE
Opened: November 30, 1989
Closed: 1993
Capitol Hill women's bar, opened a restaurant in August 1990. Two controversies erupted in 1991. The club was boycotted by black lesbians protesting perceived racism. It was then exposed as not being "lesbian-owned" or even woman-owned in 1991, contrary to its advertising. It came under new management January 1992. In August 1991 Hill Haven started men's night on Wednesdays.

Showboat 1
Location: 1310 H St NW
Opened: 1936
Closed: 1947
The Showboat was originally at 1303 H St. and moved to 1310. It was the main lesbian bar for most of the 30s and 40s. "More specially [gay], sporadically hustlerish… It was at the Showboat that the great horizontals of the [Thirties] flourished"--Havilland Ferris; " "Located in the basement of an all night cafeteria across from the New York Ave Presbyterian church…" "A lesbian couple, Chloe and 'Lover Boy' performed nightly in the mid-1930s. 75% of the taproom's clientele were queer and were placed together behind a dividing rail in the middle of the bar separating them from other patrons."--Brett Beemyn.

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