Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mother's Brew

Mother's Brew

Location: Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Founded: 1975?

Closed: 1978

Mother's Brew was one of the rare lesbian bars founded by a collective, the Lesbian Feminist Union (1974-1979).  Mother's Brew has also been credited with being the first lesbian bar in Louisville. Two women are generally cited as being central to the organization and management of Mother's Brew: Jade River and Falcon River.

In an interview, Jade explains something of Mother's Brew's beginnings:

I was a member of the Lesbian Feminist Union. We opened the only women’s only bar in, like, I don’t know, there were some on the East Coast and some on the West Coast, and the one we had in Kentucky. We opened a bar called Mother’s Brew. Because my family had run their own businesses, I was like, “Well, if you want a business, you just incorporate and sell stock and open your business.” So I talked all these women into each buying a share of stock and we opened a lesbian bar. And that bar served as kind of. . . The Lesbian Feminist Union held their meetings there. And it was closed; we did not allow men in; this was part of the response by the lesbian feminist community at that time was to be separatists; to isolate so that we could really focus on how would it be if we weren’t responding to traditional male expectations for women. So this was a very separatist period. I didn’t know lesbians who hung out with men. There wasn’t a whole lot of trans--of crossover between the lesbian population then. And we were also, it was not okay to be out at this point. It was very closeted because we were in Kentucky, you could lose your job, you could lose your house, you could lose your kids, because you were a lesbian. So there was a lot of fear and a lot of safety by just being around other lesbians.

Both Jade and River continue to be active leaders in Goddess religion.

Mother's Brew was also homebase to the band River City Womin (1974-1978). In a chapter on Louisville's Lesbian Feminist Union, Kathie D. Williams quotes one anonymous woman on hearing the band for the first time:

I had heard of River City Womin and the bar [Mother's Brew] but I had never seen either. The first time I walked through the doors of the Brew and saw four strong, confident women performing love songs to other women, I cried. I had felt so alone, like I was the only one. I stood and listened to those songs as if I had never heard music before. I guess maybe I hadn't, at least not music for me. I returned everytime they played. The energy was incredible.

According to John E. Kleber, Mother's Brew functioned more like a lesbian cultural center than as a standard-issue bar:

In addition to featuring live music by a local female band, River City Womyn [sic], Mother's Brew hosted nationally known musicians, sponsored lectures by early lesbian leaders such as Rita Mae Brown and Kathie Sarachild, and housed a resource center that provided women with information about the development of lesbian activism. The Brew also influenced another signficant development of lesbian culture in Louisville--softball. Softball teams were often sponsored by local bars or women-owned businesses. Mother's Brew sponsored the city's only all-lesbian team, the Matriarchies.

Other functions housed at Mother's Brew were a feminist library, a "safe room" where battered women could shelter for a few days, and an art gallery.

Some of the nationally known musicians who appeared at Mother's Brew included Maxine Feldman, Alix Dobkin, Holly Near, Meg Christian, Cris Williamson, and the Reel World String Band--a veritable who's who of 1970s womyn's music. Here's a review of a 1977 Alix Dobkin concert by a Lesbian Feminist Union member:

The Alix Dobkin concert at Mother's Brew was a not-to-be-believed combination of high flying, full Moon light bathing, Dykenergy. Over 200 women attended the concert and were exposed to a woman who lives out the statement, "The Personal is the Political." Alix speaks and sings directly of her life and politics and makes no apologies for either. As an energetic woman-loving woman, she is a great spokesperson for our movement. The energy of her message will not soon be lost. The power of the evening continued with our River City Womin.

As Falcon River reflects, "We did our part to subvert the dominant paradigm in a very hostile environment, in very hostile times."

Try as I may, I have not been able to determine the exact address for Mother's Brew, nor find any photos or illustrations related to the place. So I have settled for the cover from Alix Dobkin's 1975 album, Living with Lesbians.

Update 1/25/2012: I was reading an article on the recent closing of Tink's Pub, a newer lesbian bar in Louisville, and it was mentioned in passing that Mother's Brew was located at the current location of the Kentucky Convention Center. The Convention Center address is 221 South 4th Street, near Market Street. 

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