Monday, June 20, 2016

Tommy's Joint/Tommy's Place

Jeannie Sullivan & Tommy Vasu (far right) taken at Mona’s.
Tommy's Joint (Later known as Tommy's Place)

Location: 299 Broadway (1948-1952), 529 Broadway (1952-1954), San Francisco, California, USA

Opened: 1948

Closed: 1954

Tommy's, along with Mona's, was one of the classic lesbian bars of that era. For some reason, I just never got around to posting on Tommy's earlier. Remedying that now.

From Before the Castro: North Beach, a Gay Mecca by Dick Boyd:

Tommy’s Joint, 299 Broadway, 1948 to 1952, Tommy’s Place, 529 Broadway, 1952 to 1954 (Now the Garden of Eden)
Tommy Vasu was the first known lesbian to legally own a bar in San Francisco. When out on the town she dressed like a man in double-breasted suits, wide tie and a fedora hat. She used the men’s room, had a beautiful blond girlfriend and loved to gamble. In short, she was a risk taker. She often came into Pierre’s for high stakes prearranged liar’s dice games with artist/entrepreneur Walter Keane.
The 299 Broadway site was where businessmen from the nearby financial district could find a willing hooker out of sight of prying eyes at places like Paoli’s. Stevedores from the docks close by also partook of the hookers on paydays. The hookers were the girlfriends of the butches who hung out there.
Adjoining Tommy’s Place was 12 Adler (now Specs) accessible by a back staircase. It was a lesbian pick-up rendezvous. Upstairs was entertainment pretty much by whoever cared to perform. During a purge of gay bars in the early 50’s, 12 Adler lost its liquor license in what appeared to outsiders as a set-up. Drugs were found taped to the drain under the sink in the ladies room.
Tommy ran the Broadway Parking concession and was around Broadway until the mid 60’s. Tommy’s high maintenance blond was a heroin addict and Tommy became a dealer to supply her needs. She got busted and sent to Tehachapi where she was murdered shortly after her release.

From It's a Raid by Michael Flanagan:
Bartender Grace Miller (left) at
Tommy's Place before it was raided.
Tommy's Place & 12 Adler
Spec Twelve Adler Museum Cafe (12 Saroyan Place) is on the alleyway (formerly Adler Street) across from City Lights. A colorful North Beach bar with enough bric-a-brac and curios on the walls to keep you entertained for hours, it's also full of North Beach characters.

But in the 1950s it was a lesbian bar, owned by the openly lesbian Tommy Vasu (and attached to Tommy's Place on 529 Broadway, now the Garden of Eden strip club, by a back stairs). The bars were the site of a sensational raid that resulted in a trial and months of hysteria in San Francisco.
A newspaper clipping of the
Tommy's Place and 12 Adler Place busts.

Boyd's Wide Open Town puts it this way: "...when Tommy's Place was raided on 8 September 1954, it was part of a much larger police agenda. Because the arrests involved a handful of underage girls, the event escalated into a multifaceted investigation into juvenile delinquency that fleshed out the ostensible connection between organized 'sex deviates' and the corruption of minors." Two bartenders and a patron, Jessie Joseph Winston, were put on trial. Winston and bartender Grace Miller served jail time and both bars were shut down.

Dave Cullen provides even more details on the 1954 raid:

Sept. 8, 1954 - Tommy's Place (a lesbian bar in San Francisco) is raided after an article in the S.F. Examiner about the 'marked influx of homosexuals' into San Francisco.  Because the arrests involved a number of underage girls there was an investigation into connections between 'sex deviants' and the corruption of minors.  There were accusations of benzedrene and barbituate use and that the girls were 'taught to smoke marijuana.'  Two bar owners were arrested and charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.  Another bar owner was not arrested, but her name and address were printed in the paper.  The raid led to a Grand Jury investigation and a U.S. Senate sobcommittee hearing.  The young women involved were forced to publicly testify at the hearings and eventually the two owners were convicted of serving alcohol to a minor and served six months in prison.  Mr. Jesse Winston, an African-American man who was arrested for furnishing marijuana to a minor and possession of marijuana was sentenced to one to 20 years in San Quentin.

Wide-Open Town by Nan Alamilla Boyd also has several passages on Tommy's--too many to quote here.

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