Monday, February 9, 2015

Ernie's Restaurant/Three Ring Circus

Ernie's Restaurant/Three Ring Circus
76 West Third Street today


Location: 76 West Third Street, New York, New York, USA

Opened: 1940

Closed: 1962

Recently found a New York City Landmarks Commission document called 150 Years of LGBT History. There are lots of places of lesbian interest, including a whole page devoted to the "20th Century Lesbian Presence" in the South Village Historic District, Manhattan.

A good number of the places listed have been documented here before, such as Eve's Hangout, Tony Pastor's Downtown, Swing Rendezvous, Mona's, Pony Stable Inn, Bonnie & Clyde's, and Portofino.

But there were still a couple of establishments I had never heard of before, with Ernie's being one of them. Unfortunately, nothing is said about the place. The South Village Historic District Designation Report says a little, but not much more:

Ernie’s Restaurant/ Three Ring Circus, 76 West 3rd Street (c. 1940-62), mostly heterosexual but also attracting working-class lesbians

Same with the Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Culture, which merely states that "Ernie's Three Ring Circus" was an important gathering place for "working class lesbians in the 1940s."

Ernie's also gets a passing mention in the book Mafia Cop. Tess Esposito, who started dating Ralph Esposito as a na├»ve 17-year old, reports the following:


Ella Shields
We dated on and off for four years, one thing led to another, and eventually he proposed. He didn't sweep me off my feet or anything like that. But he was a good man, and with the war on, good men were getting scarce. We were married on October 23, 1943. The night we wed he took me to Ernie's Three Ring Circus, a club in the Village owned by one of his cousins. I think his brother Freddy may have had a piece of it, too. Vito Genovese was at the bar, and when he found out that we had just been married, he closed the bar and ordered champagne drinks for everybody. We had an all-night party.

Newspapers and magazines from the time give us an idea of some of the entertainment offered. For example, Billboard tells us that music hall singer and male impersonator Ella Shields (1879-1952) was there in April 1943. Here is a 1933 performance on film. Don't know what the straight folks thought, but I bet she was a big hit with the lesbians.

Ernie's is now a restaurant called the Half Pint-- a burger and beer joint.

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