Friday, May 20, 2011

Plush Pony

The former Plush Pony (2010)
Plush Pony

Location: 5261 Alhambra Aveue, Los  Angeles, California, USA

Opened: 1960s

Closed: Sometime between 2008-2010

The Plush Pony was an east LA "gay girl" bar, popular with "Chicana dykes" and "lesbian Latinas."

When did it exist? It looks like another guessing game is in order. It was apparently open as of 2006, because as of that time, we see it listed this way:

The Plush Pony, 5261 Alhambra Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 224-9488. Open daily 4 p.m. - 2 a.m. Rarely a cover. Beer and wine bar.

And it was apparently open as late as June 2008, according to this Internet commentator:

Don't forget about the mostly lesbian Plush Pony. It's not the fanciest place around, even in El Sereno, but the beer is cold and it's a funky relic of an old-school lesbian/gay bar. Going there will also be an excuse to rat your hair up really high!

But the Plush Pony was certainly gone by September 2010, by the time the photo of the former exterior was taken. (As the photographer admits, "I never got to go there but I heard it was a rough place where men weren’t received well.")

In Gay LA: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians (2006), Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons mention that the Plush Pony was one of the many working-class gay girl "beer-and-pool-table" bars that proliferated in Los Angeles during the 1960s. In the old days, when lesbian bars were largely limited to more-or-less discrete, upscale night clubs like the Laurel Club (which is featured here at Lost Womyn's Space), police harrassment was minimal. But with the increasing visibility of lesbians and lesbian bars through the 1950s and 60s, the harrassment increased exponentially:

Eileen Leaffer, a sociologist who studied L.A. lesbian bar society in 1967, observed that Los Angeles Vice Squad officers hung around gay girls' bars so often that bar regulars could distinguish them from tourists or "fish queens" (men whose preferred sex act was cunnilingus, and who hoped to meet lesbians in the bars who would be amenable). The regulars in the bars made sure to warn new patrons as soon as they befriended them about the plain-clothes officers in their midst ("He's not kosher. You know...Vice").

LAPD harassment of lesbians outside the bars increased as well. A woman's homosexual appearance alone seems to have been sufficient justification to flash the badge. Masculine looking lesbians, or those congregating around a lesbian bar, or a butch-femme couple simply walking down the street together, were slapped with charges that were often as false as those devised in bar raids.

In fact, acccording to one informant, it wasn't even safe for "gay girl" couples to walk the streets of Los Angeles back then:

"A cop car would drive up and the cops would say, 'Where are you going?' We'd say, 'We're going to da-dada, around the corner.' And they'd say, 'Let's see your ID.' We'd have to show ID. And if they somehow got the impression that we're queer, they'd book us. They'd book us on god knows what, but they'd book us."

Driving was no safer: Many patrons of gay-girls bars now recall that they did not dare even to park their car in the vicinity of a bar because "the police might see it and wait for you to come out. Then they'd follow you and arrest you for anything." Police officers seemed all to share the conviction that a woman's mere status as a lesbian was tantamount to her criminality.

Laura Aguillar, a Chicana lesbian artist who works in photography and video, has done extensive photographic work documenting the Los Angeles Latina lesbian community. One of her works, the "Plush Pony" series (1992), explicitly centers around the Plush Pony bar. The "Plush Pony" series is described this way in her biography:

Aguilar set up a makeshift studio in the back of Plush Pony and offered to photograph women alone, in couples, or in groups. The resulting series of photographs is an amazing document of working-class Chicana lesbian culture, a group whose existence is relegated to the margins of both Chicana and lesbian social formations. The “Plush Pony” series records the highly stylized bodies of the women—in particular, their Chicana configuration of butch/femme tattoos and hairstyles and their poses.

One of the photos from the "Plush Pony" series--especially stunning in my opinion--can be seen here.

Photo: From Beto's Bar Blog LA, September 24, 2010

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