Monday, September 12, 2011

Swing Rendezvous

117 Macdougal Street today
Swing Rendezvous

Location: 117 Macdougal Street, New York, New York, USA

Opened/Closed: 1940s

I have dug up very little information about Swing Rendezvous--and what little exists is mostly found in walking guides to Greenwich Village, and not in gay/lesbian histories.

New York Songlines: Macdougal Street simply states that Swing Rendezvous, "a 1940s lesbian bar," was formerly at 17 Macdougal Street. Nothing more.  

After that it became the Cock and Bull (!), and then, in 1969, the Olive Tree Cafe, which still exists today. The Olive Tree Cafe is described as a "Mediterranean joint where you can write on the tables with chalk." If you stop by, maybe you can leave a chalk message for any lesbian ghosts that still inhabit the place....

Speaking of ghosts, the Swing Rendezvous has come up in discussions of the Kitty Genovese homicide back in 1964. Most of us remember this murder as a lesson in urban apathy and indifference--it was reported at the time that up to 38 witnesses were aware of the murder taking place outside their windows, but did nothing to intervene. Subsequent research has called some of those assumptions into question, but that's not what we're exploring here.

What is still little known is what was hushed up at the time: that Kitty was a lesbian. Forty years later, her lover, Mary Ann Zielonko, referred to Swing Rendezvous in an interview with NPR. I haven't had a chance to listen to the recording yet--it won't play on my ancient computer--but it appears to bring up police raids and getting beaten up for wearing butch or femme clothing. The usual stuff associated with New York lesbian bars of the period.   

Swing Rendezvous (1955)
Like the Howdy Club (also featured here at Lost Womyn's Space), Swing Rendezvous also gets mentioned within the history of jazz. A random search of Variety cites scores of performers who appeared here during the 1940s and early 50s: the Harry Dial Orchestra (1946), jazz pianist George Hunter (1943), burlesque performer Winnie Garrett (1951), and many others.

As far as the basement at 117 Macdougal goes, we're told that this formerly housed the Underground back in 1967, which was "noted for its psychodelic light screen." Now its the Comedy Cellar, which "boasts talent like Colin Quinn, Jerry Seinfeld and Jon Stewart."

Photo of 117 Macdougal Street today, men outside the Swing Rendezvous, 1955.

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