Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lysistrata Restaurant

319 West Gorham Street today

Lysistrata Restaurant

Location: 319 West Gorham Street (corner of North Bloom & West Gorham), Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Founded: December 31, 1977

Closed: January 8, 1982

According to a Madison LGBT timeline, the birth of Lysistrata came to pass in this way:

Lysistrata logo
Lysistrata Restaurant opens its doors on December 31, 1977 as a women's restaurant and performance space. The board of the Lysistrata Cooperative includes Karla Dobinski, Kay Clarenbach, Ruth Bleier, Catherine Rouse, Andrea Mote Stelling, and Janet Brewer. By providing a multi-purpose space for socializing, entertainment, and meeting, Lysistrata becomes a central gathering place for the Madison feminist community.

In these 2008 recollections, lesbian activist Michele Besant had this to say about Lysistrata:

I was also trying to think of the other things that were here when I came to town.  You had very importantly, the women’s bar and restaurant was Lysistrata.  It’s now a parking lot on the corner of Broom and Gorham. It burned down in, I want to say ’83 [On January 8, 1982, a fire destroyed the Lysistrata Restaurant at the corner of North Broom and West Gorham Streets. The feminist restaurant cooperative operated in Madison, Wis. starting in 1977. Fire/arson investigators concluded the blaze was intentionally set].

All I know is I got to town and started going to the bar.  I fell in love with one of the bartenders.  We got involved.  She was trying to buy the bar but it burned down.  So we literally got a call at 2:00 a.m., “Your business just went up in smoke.” But that was a very interesting place and hugely important for organizing in the women’s community because it was this mix.  It was the women’s community.  It wasn’t just a lesbian place.  There was this huge mix.  It was a huge mix across class lines and age lines, which is something I don’t see as much in the town anymore.

See photo of Lysistrata bar employees (c. 1978) here.

Given that Lysistrata literally went up in smoke, it is something of an irony that Lysistrata was used as a location from which to recruit women for the Madison police and fire departments. Again, according to Besant:

Early recruiting of women for the Madison Police Department and Fire Department happened in Lysistrata.  Some of the women who have retired now, they got recruited at Lysistrata.  The, you know, fire chief and the police chief got people in there because they knew these were women who might be interested.  In the ‘80s all this stuff is going on.

Lysistrata's fiery demise was noteworthy enough to include in the historical archives of the Madison fire department:  

West Gorham Street Fire - On January 8, 1982, a fire destroyed the Lysistrata Restaurant, Flour Box Bakery and Confectionary, Jewels, The Living Room, and a sign painting shop at the corner of North Broom and West Gorham Streets. Firefighters were hampered by a collapsing roof and sub-zero temperatures which caused water to freeze as it poured into the streets creating a 4-inch coating of ice. Ice also slowed the efforts of fire/arson investigators who concluded the blaze was intentionally set. Losses were estimated at $500,000.

Lysistrata is also included on Madison's "Pink Plaque Tour" which had this to contribute:

Lysistrata Bar
The outdoor café space of 319 Gorham Street
This much-mourned womyn’s space was a very popular bar, restaurant and community space. An unfortunate fire took it away and caused much lamentation. The name derived from the Greek play of Aristophanes where women seek to control their destinies and shape a world dominated by men by withholding sex from men in the interests of peace.

Note that even today, there is a Friends of Lysistrata group on Facebook. That's loyalty. Especially for a place that ended nearly 30 years ago....

And this, I must say, is virtually unprecedented. There is even a salad named after the Lysistrata Restaurant that's served at Manna Cafe & Bakery. Wow. And the salad sounds pretty tasty too!

Photo: 319 West Gorham Street today (Quinton's Bar & Deli), Lysistrata logo


  1. I'm from Madison, and actually lived on Gorham St for a few years (Gorham, not Gorsham). You should write about "The Women's Room". It is a feminist bookstore run by all women.

    Anyway, sorry I am just excited to Madison on someone's blog :) :) LOL

  2. I think you mean to quote Michele _Besant_. Thanks for this post.

    Re: above comment
    The bookstore is "A Room of One's Own."


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