Monday, March 21, 2011

Mona's 440 Club

Mona's 440 Club (1945)

Mona's 440 Club

Location: 440 Broadway, San Francisco, California, USA

Founded: 1933 (at North Beach location); 1939 at Broadway location

Closed: Mid 1950s/early 1960s?

Mona's 440 Club is generally credited as being the first lesbian bar in the United States. (Although Chicago's Roselle Inn and Twelve-Thirty Club were very close in age and may in fact have been older. We're also assuming that various "ladies bars" that even preexisted these 1930s places did not function as lesbian gathering points.)

James R. Smith's San Francisco's Lost Landmarks (2004) says the following about Mona's:

Mona's 440 Club was another [club] that took advantage of the city's tolerance and tourism. Opening in a Columbus Street basement in North Beach in 1936, Mona Sargeant's tavern quickly hit the travelsheets as a place "where girls will be boys." The first openly lesbian club, Mona's female waiters and performers wore tuxedos and patrons dressed their roles. Within a couple of years, Mona's moved to 440 Broadway and took the address as part of the club's new name, Mona's 440 Club. Great entertainment, first local and later national talent, made a night at Mona's an event. Straights loved the opportunity to rub elbows with openly gay patrons, posing for pictures with them when possible. Gladys Bently, the great African-American cross dressing diva, sang the blues to an enthusiastic audience during the World War II years. Known alternatively as "America's Great Sepia Piano Artist" and the "Brown Bombshell of Sophisticated Song, " the 250-pound Bently exuded sexuality. Mona's introduced a generation to the lesbian lifestyle in a proud manner.

After 26 years, Mona's was closed and replaced by Ann's 440 Club at the same location

However, Dick Boyd has a slightly different chronology, with Mona's becoming Ann's in the mid 1950s:

Mona Sargent and then husband Jimmie started the biz right after the repeal of Prohibition at 451 Union Street (1933 to 1935), on the corner of Varennes, between Grant and Kearny (now the Diamond Nail Waxing). In 1936 they moved to 140 Columbus (now the Purple Onion). In 1939 they moved to 440 Broadway. It was actually opened by Charlie Murray as the “440” but he soon brought in Mona as a partner and it became “Mona’s 440.” Often men had to front for lesbians in bars and clubs in order to get the approval of the Board of Equalization for their liquor license. Mona’s flourished during WWII and the Korean War. It was a favorite with lesbians but even with servicemen as it was not “off-limits.” Tourist loved it for its entertainment but also knew they might be able to connect with someone of the same sex which could not happen back home.

It became Ann’s 440 Club in the mid fifties run by Ann Dee.

How to recreate Mona's at home: Why not invite your friends over for some classic cocktails from the 1930s and 40s? For background music, try the incomparable Gladys Bentley.

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