Monday, September 26, 2011

Riverview Bar

Inner Loop by the South Avenue exit, Rochester
Riverview Bar

Location: South Avenue (by the Inner Loop), Rochester, New York, USA

Opened: early 1970s

Closed: early 1980s

In a longer essay on the history of Rochester, New York's lesbian community, we find this lone sentence:

Here in Rochester, the Riverview Bar on South Ave. by the inner loop was the hub of the lesbian bar culture in the ‘70s and into the ‘80s.

But nothing more than that.

An essay by Felise Eskel  talks about growing up in a working-class family, and the struggles that Eskel faced when she eventually attended the University of Rochester in the early 1970s. She worked hard, and after graduation, she got a job as a researcher at the University of Rochester Medical School. But as she concedes,

My real work was coming out of the closet, and I spent many nights in my car across the street from the Riverview, Rochester's lesbian bar. I stared at the door for many months before I ever walked through.

We also find out that a Rochester-based (male) punk/new wave band called the Cliches once recorded a song about the Riverside:

In 1982 the band was asked to contribute a track to WCMF’s Homegrown Album and Riverview Restaurant, a song about a night at Rochester’s infamous lesbian bar was the most requested song on the album.

Then there's this little factoid. Lou at the Riverside helped sponsor Rochester's First Annual Gay Community Picnic in 1975.

Fortunately, there's more information than these tantalizing tidbits.

That's where Kelly Hankin's The Girls in the Back Room; Looking at the Lesbian Bar (2002) comes into play. Seems that an amateur documentary was made about the the Riverside in the early 1990s, a documentary that is seemingly little known these days:

Like the interviewees telling of bar life in Forbidden Love and Last Call at Maud's, the participants The Riverview: A Lesbian Place, point to the Riverview, of Rochester, New York, fondly called "the Riv" by its unnamed regulars, as a multipurpose sanctuary. Many women regard the bar as a place to relax and socialize with other women; others see it as a daily or weekly respite from the straight world. More than one narrator defines the bar as home away from, or in lieu of, straight home life. Moreover, as a bar that emerged in the early 1970s, during the post-Stonewall era of second wave feminism and gay liberation, and which operated until the early 1980s, the Riv is also remembered as a location of political organization. One narrator, a founding member of Rochester's first gay and lesbian student group, which met at the Riv, recalls the integration of what she calls the Riv's "street dykes" and "old-style role-playing women" into this student organization. Thus, the bar space offered a common meeting ground for young college lesbians and bar dykes. And, as a home for newly politicized lesbian feminists, the Riv is also remembered as a rendezvous point following dangerous political actions in the public realm. One woman recalls that the Riv served as a meeting place for members of the organization Women against Violence against Women. After wheat-pasting flyers about battered women in public places, lesbian activists would congregate at the Riv to find out if any members had been arrested during the course of the evening. Of course, the Riv is also remembered as a general safe house for lesbians. One narrator remembers the owner's vigilance at turning away people whom she thought might be uncomfortable at the Riv or threatening to its customers, even to the point of assuming that the narrator herself was heterosexual on her first visit and denying her entrance.

Hankin goes on to examine the documentary itself in extensive detail, and it is certainly a fascinating analysis. She also includes photos, including the front of the building that once housed the Riv--unfortunately with no address. Do take a look.

As for other Rochester lesbian bars from the early 1980s, we have the following names: Rosie's, Colvin 212, and Phase. But little else.

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