Monday, March 28, 2011

Ace of Spades

Former Ace of Spades (2011)

Ace of Spades

Location: 193-199 Commercial Street, Provincetown, Massachusetts, USA

Founded: Building constructed in 1950

Closed: Turned into the Pied Piper (a/k/a the PiedBar), sometime in the 1980s(?)

Early gay activist Lilli Vincenz recalls finding Provincetown's Ace of Spades when she was first coming out as a young woman:

Then I heard about Provincetown and that there were gay people there. I had met some gay women at a bar I had heard about called The Ace of Spades. It was actually a very nice little bar with a piano and people would sing and it was very convivial.

But Aces of Spades was more than a pleasant beachfront bar. As Karen Christabel Krahulik notes in Provincetown: From Pilgrim Landing to Gay Resort (2007), the Ace of Spades was Provincetown's first lesbian bar, the first lesbian acquired space "they could call their own:"

The Ace of Spades, which catered to lesbians, but welcomed all residents during the 1950s and 1960s, was one such place [that lesbians could call their own]. Unlike the gay men's clubs, it had no dance floor--which was a moot point, since postwar regulations criminalized dancing between same-sex couples--no professional "female impressionists" or drag performers, who were also "illegal," and no regularly scheduled sing-alongs. Gay women fondly recall the Ace of Spades as a small and dark but cozy bar with wooden barrels standing in as stools, a stench of stale liquor, and a sign-in book by the door. "It was mostly about conversation," Lenore Ross noted [who opened up Provincetown's first openly gay restaurant, Plain and Fancy, in 1959]. "People talked. They talked and drank." Pat Schultz [who first came to Provincetown in 1954 and later founded a local real estate business] remembered it as a place with "very colorful people," such as "Clayton Snow. He would come in with a Great Dane and he would order a daquiri for himself and he would order a daquiri for the Great Dane."

The Ace of Spades encouraged women to congregate and socialize with other women, yet it also regulated women to the same degree that all night clubs and bars did at the same time. During the 1950s and 1960s, local officials insisted that all nightclubs in Provincetown abide by members-only regulations. The "club" method for such establishments was two-sided. On the one hand, lesbian and gay patrons were reluctant to become club members because they did not want their names on any potentially harmful lists. On the other hand, restricting access to members and their guests allowed bar owners to throw out unruly or unwanted patrons. The rules also stipulated that no women could tend bar and that all women had to be seated before they could buy a drink. But still, the Ace of Spades offered women a place to express their desires for other women freely.....Allegedly the longest continuously running lesbian bar in the United States, the Ace of Spades played a critical role in Provincetown's history as the first, and for many years, the only social institution that catered specifically to women.

I have been unable to determine the exact date, but the Ace of Spades appears to have turned into the Pied Piper (a/k/a the PiedBar) sometime in the 1980s. By the mid-1990s, at least according to Krahulik, the Pied Piper began to cater to a more mixed gay and lesbian crowd.

While searching for a photo of the establishment, I noticed that the Pied Piper (see photo above) is currently for sale--or was until comparatively recently. Apparently, the building has been heavily remodeled since the days when it housed the more working class Ace of Spades. But if you've got $1,985,000 in your pocket, you too can own your own little piece of lesbian herstory.

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