Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Bagatelle

86 University Place today
The Bagatelle

Location: 86 University Place, New York, New York, USA

Opened/Closed: 1950s

Lisa E. Davis records the following about the Bagatelle:

The Bagatelle, now a Mexican restaurant called El Cantinero, was a lesbian bar and hangout well into the 1950s. Saturday night was the big night when dykes slicked back their hair, and Sunday afternoon sessions were an added treat. There was a backroom for dancing, and a warning light that flashed on as a signal to stop when somebody dangerous came in up front.

The black lesbian poet and activist Audre Lorde has also mentioned the Bagatelle on occasion. Here she describes the "mommies and daddies" that dominated the bar's social structure:

The breakdown into the mommies and daddies was an important part of lesbian relationships in the Bagatelle [a working-class lesbian bar in Greenwich Village, New York, during the 1950s]. If you asked the wrong woman to dance, you could get your nose broken in the alley down the street by her butch, who had followed you out of the Bag for exactly that purpose.... And you were never supposed to ask who was who, which is why there was such heavy emphasis upon correct garb. The well-dressed gay girl was supposed to give you enough cues for you to know.

And here she discusses how difficult it was for black lesbians to exist within such a place:

Black lesbians were closeted, correctly recognizing the Black community's lack of interest in our position, as well as the many more immediate threats to our survival as Black people in a racist society. It was hard enough to be Black, to be Black and female, to be Black female, and gay. To be Black, female, gay, and out of the closet in a white environment, even to the extent of dancing in the Bagatelle [a lesbian bar in Greenwich Village], was considered by many Black lesbians to be simply suicidal.

Photo of El Cantinero Mexican Restaurant, which occupies the Bagatelle's location today

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