Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Char Pei Lounge

Brenda Jean Grissom
Char Pei Lounge

Location: 400 Mascoutah, Belleville, Illinois, USA

Opened: Early 1980s

Closed: 2000

According to the St. Louis LGBT History Project, Char Pei Lounge was "the city's first lesbian bar."

Image result for 400 Mascoutah, Belleville, Illinois
400 Mascoutah Ave.
Actually as it turns out, that's not exactly true, as Char Pei apparently opened in the early 1980s, and there were numerous lesbian bars that predate that (check out the St. Louis tab below). In fact there is a wonderful project that a local lesbian undertook a few years ago to document the City's oldest bars, which I highly recommend. See the St. Louis Lesbian History blog.

Still, the Project have a clock from the Char Pei in their collection (it was on display last year), which is pretty neat. Unfortunately I don't see a photo of the clock anywhere. And, unfortunately, this particular article doesn't say anything else about Char Pei either.

Obviously, more digging was in order. Here we find out that that the Char Pei was not actually in the City of St. Louis, Missouri proper--but on the other side of the Mississippi River in Illinois. What is generally known as East St. Louis.

And at this site, we finally learn a little bit about the owners:

Brenda Grissom and Dixie Ruliffson
Brenda Grissom and Dixie Ruliffson were active Metro East LGBT advocates. (Grissom died on March 8, 2011 and Ruliffson in July 2007). The longtime partners were together in life and in business for over 30-years and founding members of the Metropolitan Community Church in St. Louis. In the early 1980s they bought and opened The Old Cow Street Inn in Belleville to serve the area’s growing LGBT community. The popular watering hole was soon named The Char Pei Lounge (after their beloved pets) and operated as part nightclub and part community center until its shuttering in 2000. The duo also headed the late night entertainment complex, Char Pei’s City Center in East St. Louis in the 1990s and was the proprietor of The Polish Shop auto detail in Belleville. Charitable and colorful, “the ladies” were omnipresent in their community and impacted a generation of LGBTers.

A community service award is named after both women.

Here is part of Brenda's obituary. She sounds like she was an amazing woman.
Brenda Jean Grissom
Gravestone for Dixie Lee Ruliffson and
Brenda J. Grissom, Mount Catholic Cemetery,
Belleville, Illinois

BRENDA JEAN GRISSOM, 60, of Belleville, Ill., born Saturday, Jan. 13, 1951, in St. Louis, Mo., died Tuesday, March 8, 2011, at Memorial Hospital in Belleville, Ill.
Miss Grissom was the owner of The Polish Shop in Belleville, Ill. She previously co-owned the Char-Pei Lounge in Belleville, Illinois and Char-Pei's City Center in E. St. Louis, Ill. Brenda was an active member of the St. Louis area LGBT community and a member of Metropolitan Community Church in St. Louis, Mo., and T.O.P.S. She was a greeter at Belleville Wal-Mart.
She was preceded in death by her father, James K. Grissom; life companion, Dixie Lee Ruliffson; and niece, Lauren Reeb.

I really got a lump in my throat when I saw their gravestone. Long after the words we have written have turned to dust or dissolved into the electronic Ethernet, that gravestone will still be there. Proof that two women once lived and loved each other.

Oh, and as for that aforementioned clock? Found it here.

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