Wednesday, November 30, 2011


135 West 3rd Street today

Location: 135 West 3rd Street, New York, New York, USA

Opened/Closed: 1940s/1950s

Mona's must be one of New York's more obscure lesbian drinking establishments. I have found exactly ONE reference to it--and that's at New York Songlines: 3rd Street:

135: Was Mona's, a pioneering lesbian bar of the 1940s and '50s. Later known as the Purple Onion.

I could tell you all about the Purple Onion--a somewhat infamous "go-go" bar from the late 1960s--but that's kind of running off-topic. In fact, this particular location has a rather bizarre history overall. So bizarre, that the New York Times featured an article on the subject back in 1995. But without one single word about the "pioneering" Mona's. Once again, herstory erased....

This particular Mona's is not to be confused with the Mona's on Avenue B. The Avenue B Mona's is a punk-friendly dive bar dating back to the 1970s.

Photo: 135 West 3rd Street

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fairy Tale

Fairy Tale signage
Fairy Tale

Location: 25 Koleti Street, Athens, Greece

Opened: April 1994

Closed: Spring 2005

Fairy Tale is mentioned at two Greek travel sites.

In the Athens by Night Sapphites guide, Fairy Tale is listed among the "lesbian places that have been." It appears to have been Athen's first openly lesbian bar ("the first greek venue to have declared 'lesbian'"). In addition to being a "well-known lesbian bar," we're told that Fairy Tale was "the Sapphite's favorite." (Dang, I love that phrase!) We're also informed that it was small and warm, a "usual meeting place" that featured Greek music on Wednesdays. It is reported here that Fairy Tale closed in Spring 2005.

I'm not sure when Fairy Tale opened. However, a meeting was scheduled there in April 2003, so it was obviously open by that time:

Saturday, April 5th 2003, Athens, late evening - "the Antivirus magazine is expecting you to read it and to celebrate the first issue at the FairyTale bar, Koleti 25, in Echarcheia."

Hold that thought! We also see that Fairy Tale celebrated its 9th anniversary and farewell party on April 15, 2005, so we're able to establish a date of birth after all.

Fairy Tale is also mentioned at Harry's Greece Travel Guide. This appears to be an older website, as Fairy Tale is listed among the (then) existing "Lesbian Bars." (Note that the following warning is issued to would-be lesbian bar goers: "Some of these establishments are just gay-friendly or mixed so your discretion is appreciated.")
Exarchia Square, Athens

Fairy Tale 25 Koleti St., Exarhia, Tel: 210- 330-1763. Closed Mondays, Sundays opens after 2pm, serves lunch. Intimate with international and mainstream hits.

In case you were wondering, Exarhia (sometimes spelled Exarcheia, Exarheia, or Exarchia) is a downtown Athens neighborhood close to the National Technical University of Athens. The area features many bars and cafes, and has historically been associated with intellectuals, artists, and leftist/anarchist politics.

Trinity College

Our Lady of Mercy Chapel, Trinity College
Trinity College

Location: Burlington, Vermont, USA

Founded: September 1925

Closed: September 2000

From the Trinity College of Vermont Association of Alumni and Friends website:

In September of 1925, equipped with unshakable determination and inexhaustible energy but little else, the Sisters of Mercy opened what was then the second Catholic college for women in New England. Twenty young woman settled into a room in Burlington's Mount St. Mary's Academy on Mansfield Avenue to begin a rigorous academic regimen of Latin, Greek, Religion, English, French and Mathematics.
Trinity College yearbook (1964)

By the 1990's, 140 young woman and adult students of diverse backgrounds studied in undergraduate and graduate programs offered on-campus and in field sites in six states and Monterrey, Mexico. They studied abroad, served in challenging internships, worked in innovative community service programs and lived on- and off-campus with other students from as far away as Korea and Japan.

On July 7, 2000, it was announced that Trinity College would be closing, with most of the college's undergraduate programs to end as of September 1. The problem was largely one of financial sustainability, coupled with the difficulties of recruiting an adequate number of "traditional age residential students" to the campus:

“We hoped to be the exception to the prevailing trend of financial difficulty faced by most small, single-gender, liberal arts colleges without significant endowment,” said President Jacqueline Marie Kieslich, RSM, Ph.D. “Nevertheless,” she said, “our students, faculty, staff and alumni deserve special attention and special thanks for the uncertainty with which they have lived and the support that they have provided. Our Trinity community has given energy and commitment beyond all expectation. ”

At the time of its closing, around 5,000 students had been educated at Trinity. The facility is now the Trinity campus of the University of Vermont.

Photo: Trinity College, Yearbook

Monday, November 28, 2011

ChiQ Bar

Chiq Bar live performance

ChiQ Bar
Location: 4900 66 Street, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA

Opened: April 2006

Closed: January 2009

Going by the written descriptions, ChiQ Bar comes across (at least at first) as a pretty fancy place, a clear cut above your average beer-and-karaoke dyke dive.

But when I started looking at the photos, she started looking like a dyke dive to me--albeit a dyke dive with a lot of square footage. And with a few extra bells and whistles here and there to be sure. But it's still all good. Dyke dives are definitely okay with me. Even the kind with a couple of upgrades.

This was the scoop on ChiQ Bar from Lesbian Nightlife:

Come check out Tampa Bay's Premier and Florida's largest Lesbian Nightclub! 7,000 Sq. ft. of hot ladies! Open 6 days a week.. 4pm till 2am.. Happy Hour 2-for-1 EVERYTHING 4-7pm!
Go Go Dancers, Game room, Patio w/Fire pit, Shot Girls, Leather couches, V.

Chiq Bar signage
And from Metromix Tampa Bay:

Tampa Bay's Premiere Lesbian Nite Club. Very popular lesbian nite club featuring multi-level dance floor, DJ's, live bands, drag shows, go-go dancers, pool table, dart boards, beer pong, 2 patios. Open 6 days a week @ 6pm. Great drink specials. No cover during week.

Let's not leave out ClubFly:

Type: Lesbian Club

In a nutshell: Tampa Bay's newest hottest pumping music lesbian dance club with beautiful dancers, ladies galore & even a few kings. Game room, patio bar, V.I.P. room, plasma tv's, new sound & lights. Happy hour 4pm till 7pm...

Interestingly enough for a space this large, mygayweb tells us that ChiQ Bar was "Lesbian Only":

Come check out Tampa Bays Premier Lesbian Night Club. 2 Level dance floor, Go Go Dancers, shot girls. Hot bartenders, game room, V.I.P. room, patio bar, band room with full stage. State of the art sound and lighting. Membership cards. Happy Hour 2-for-1 EVERYTHING! THIS PLACE IS NOT TO BE MISSED!

ChiQ Bar dance floor
The best written description comes from St Petersburg Nightlife. That's where we find out that ChiQ Bar actually had a lot of cultural and entertainment offerings:

Dance Club/ Gay Bar: Without a doubt one of St. Pete's hottest lesbian nightclubs, ChiQ is a dream destination for anyone in the alternative lifestyle. At a stunning, elegantly decorated 7,000 square feet, ChiQ offers a little bit of something for everyone. The main room boasts a huge dance floor with staggeringly sexy go go dancers performing three nights out of the week, and the second full room is decked out with cushy couches and a full stage for live music performances. Outside, a fire pit sizzles all night long and offers a great place for chatting with friends over dynamite cocktails. Once you've been to this idyllic St. Petersburg lesbian club, you'll have a hard time leaving. ChiQ is home to some of the best live women's acts around, as well as burlesque shows, stand-up comedy performances, spoken poetry nights and fundraisers.

So when did she open? Let the digging begin! We know she was open as of June 2007, as there is a reference to a drag show being held at ChiQ Bar as part of the St. Pete Pride Festival. In fact, she was open at least as early as March 2007, as singer/songwriter Lexi Pierson appeared there on the 7th. And then there was that "lesbian speed dating" event held at ChiQ Bar on February 11, 2007. So it's clear that ChiQ was open by the beginning of 2007 at the latest.

Whoops. Hold the presses. We now have a date as early as September 2006, as that's when blues guitarist Chic Lisitano appeared.

Ha! Finally found it! An announcement dated April 9, 2006 that ChiQ bar would be "opening soon." So we'll say April 2006 was the opening date.

According to McFilmfest, ChiQ Bar closed in January 2009. She was replaced by Club Nautilus, a gay (male) dance club. But even that is gone now.

4900 66 Street today
Photo: 4900 66 Street

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Her Bar

Her Bar
Her Bar

Location: 629 East Colfax Avenue, Denver, Colorado, USA

Opened: May 15, 2009

Closed: October 2010?

Her Bar was one long-awaited baby. Here's the birth announcment from Gayette:

Alright my lesbian sisters. . . Jody B. and the girls of tHERe are opening another bar! HER bar (how cute) opens this Saturday. It gets better . . . guess what, it’s actually on the hill!
HER bar is located at 629 E. Colfax Ave.
See you there!

And here's the birth announcment from Babes Around Denver (BAD), which was headlined "Hot New Lesbian Bar in Denver - Grand Opening Party Friday":

Party Friday May 15th at “Her Bar” -Denver’s newest lesbian club – great space, great sound and great vibe.  We welcome the new bar and BAD looks forward to hosting some fun events at Her Bar. Watch for Pride weekend updates and make sure you watch the parade in front of Her Bar.

As her name implies, Her Bar was certainly not the shy and retiring type as lesbian bars go. The same was true in her self-description. From her facebook page:

Her Bar interior
When you visit HER BAR, you're in for a treat. Live Music, weekly drink specials, pool tables, girls that dress like boys, boys that dress like girls, top, bottom, you name it, we got it....

And check this out. On Thursday nights, there was "Free Poker and Free Karaoke with Cupcake." As in real cupcakes with frosting? Or is this a person?

By the time that Denver Pride rolled around a few weeks after her grand opening, Her Bar was still riding high as the New Girl on the Block. From Metromix Denver:

First Look: HER Bar

With Pride weekend among us, we wanted to feature the newest member in the GLBT bar scene—HER Bar (standing for Homosexual Equal Rights). Although lesbian-owned, they say they welcome people of all walks of life.

Jody B. is the owner of this fab lesbian installment to the scene. She also owns tHERe Coffee Bar and Lounge on Colfax. You can tell she has fun with her businesses—by having the bathroom signs read “Butch” and “Femme.”

In addition to the big circular bar located inside, HER Bar also has Wii Fit that partygoers can get down on (no pun intended). They have fun pinball games, a great jukebox and sassy bartenders to chat with. They offer live music, weekly drink specials, pool tables and more. Within five minutes, you'll feel like a regular thanks to their welcoming nature.

Denver Pride 2009 in front of Her Bar

Her Bar played hostess to many Pride 2009 events:
HER Bar (629 E. Colfax Ave.) is a short walk from Civic Center, at East Colfax Avenue and Washington Street. This lady- focused hangout had its grand opening in May, taking over the former Harry's Bar space.
Appropriately, HER Bar is a hotbed of Pride events, starting tonight with "Miss Dee's Country Pride," Wear your dancin' boots — and bring a fiver for the cover charge.
Then, on Saturday, it's time for a ball to mark the happy occasion. There's no need to get too fancy, though: It's a come-as-you-are dress code. Cover is $10.

Here's a youtube clip of Steff Mehan performing at Her Bar around August 2009. Gives you an extra sense of the space.

So what did the patrons think? The reactions seemed to be very polarized: there were those who adored the place, and, well, those who weren't so keen on it. Representative of the superfans was Alllie V. in November 2009:

Weekends here are lively and bustling with gorgeous and intelligent ladies dancing, playing pinball, pool, darts, having discussions about poetry, books, and art all the while sipping on a variety of drinks poured by fun and attentive bartenders.

Owners Jodi B. and Dee know what it takes to create and maintain a safe haven for women who love women and anyone else who feels like they are marginalized from the LoDo scene or the aggressive one-night stand crowds in some of the rest of the bars on Colfax.

They even have Him at Her night, where boys are welcome to come and express themselves with true freedom and just have as much fun as the girls with girls! Weekdays there's also poetry, karaoke, and poker nights. The interior is warm and inviting, with big turquoise and fuschia colored walls and art made by Jodi B. herself. There is also a food menu with pizza, hummus and sandwiches at cheap prices, a fun dance floor and tables to rest on and just chat after all the dancing.

I'm glad a place like this exists that lets women just be women and as a straight girl I'm glad there's a place that is diverse and bursting at the seams with intellectual minds who are accepting of who you are no matter what you may be into!

Then there were the usual nattering nabobs of negativity. Some of the complaints: too hot inside, no ventillation, staff too slow at closing the tab, not enough people, too much drama, place too "hyped" overall. Also seems owner Jodie B. rubbed some folks the wrong way. Which seems to be par for the course with most bar owners. (Did Jodi B. really hang a "No Men Allowed" sign inside?)

Whatever her faults, Her Bar did win an award from Out Front Colorado in 2010:

OUTstanding Women's Bar
629 E. Colfax Ave., Denver
When it's women you're wantin' (no, we didn't say "wanton women"), look no further than HER Bar, where OFC readers go for dancing, pool, football, poetry, plenty of fun - and, of course, women.

So when did Her Bar close down? She had a review dated as late as October 3, 2010 (Lauren K. declared that Her Bar was "Fun and friendly!"). Her Bar was seemingly still open as of October 13, 2010, as a Professional Women's networking event was scheduled at Her Bar for that date. 

But she was certainly gone by mid-November 2010 as X Bar, a self-declared GLBT (read: gay men's) bar, had taken over the space. As GayCities so astutely observed,

From her to him
In the place of Her Bar (the former lesbian hangout), X Bar has opened and leans much more towards the male end of the spectrum.

From her to him: the phrase perfectly encapsulates the fate of so many lesbian bars....

Photo: Her Bar exterior and interior, Denver Pride

Saturday, November 26, 2011


965 Massachusetts Avenue today

Location: 965 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Open/Closed: 1990s?

The History Project claims that there was once a lesbian bar at this location called Coco's. Guess I need to traipse up to Boston one of these days and check out this archive for myself. As I'm not finding any information corroborating this on-line.

For a time, there was a Latin afterhours club here called Coco's Lazy Lounge and Dance Club. Here's how clubplanet described it back when:

Cocos Lazy Lounge & Dance Club - If you’re planning on wearing sneakers, hoodies or any other casual apparel, you should probably go to another lounge. Cocos Lazy Lounge & Dance Club, located at 965 Massachusetts Ave prides itself on being selective at the door. So if you don’t look good, you probably aren’t getting in.

No mention here that this place was particularly popular with Latina lesbians--or any other lesbians. Though it might have been informally.

As to how exclusive Coco's was, I'm thinking this was a bit of an exaggeration.

The site is now occupied by Victory Services, which provides services to those affected by alcoholism, substance abuse, mental illness, and medical problems, especially HIV/AIDS. And when they purchased the property in 1999, they characterized it as a "graveyard of liquor bottles" with "40 bricked-in windows and no electricity." Not to mention the black walls, the blue and orange bar stools, and shiny disco balls.

Photo: 965 Massachusetts Avenue today

Somewhere: The Women's Bar

295 Franklin Street today
Somewhere: The Women's Bar

Location: 295 Franklin Street, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Opened/Closed: 1970s/1980s

Somewhere: The Women's Bar is listed, along with its address, in the (Boston) History Project Bar Collection. More information is to be found in Box 1, Series 1, Folder 27 (to be exact). And also in Series IV, Subseries A for all you serious scholars out there.

So when was it open? Basically in the 1970s/1980s is my guess. We see mention of Somewhere in a 2008 oral history interview with lesbian activist Jill Harris ("SS" is interviewer Sarah Schulman):

SS: What was your community involvement at that time? What was the name of that big famous lesbian bar in Boston? It was called like Our Place or –

JH: Somewhere.

SS: Somewhere. That’s right.

JH: Somewhere. I worked there.

SS: What?

JH: I worked there.

SS: You worked at Somewhere?

JH: I worked at Somewhere.

SS: So you were in Lesbian Central.

JH: Yeah, yeah. I was a waitress at Somewhere between college and law school.

We also see definitive evidence that Somewhere was certainly open in Winter 1985, as it was mentioned in the Cambridge Women's Center Newsletter. Specifically, that a Black History Month Celebration dance would be held at Somewhere on February 24.

Just a little aside information. The Women's Center was founded in 1971, when women seeking a "space for activism" seized an abandoned Harvard-owned building on Memorial Drive. Later, they purchased a building at 46 Pleasant Street in Cambridge...and they are still there! That's quite an accomplishment these days.
Today, Somewhere's former building is occupied by Umbria Prime, an upscale steakhouse with a (straight) nightclub on the upper three floors.

You were surprised? You shouldn't be. Any women's space located in the "heart of Boston's financial district, just steps away from the [now gentrified] waterfront" wasn't going to survive as a women's space for long. Not when developers had no doubt been salivating over the property's "highest and best use" (from a capitalist point of view) for a while.

Personal update: Turns out my dear girlfriend worked as a bouncer at Somewhere back in her college days. The girlfriend's claim to fame: Both she and Tracy Chapman were fired from this place. Tracy for singing songs that were "too depressing." As for the girlfriend? I'll have to inquire further....

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Saints

112 Broad Street today
The Saints

Location: 112 Broad Street, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Opened: 1972, 1974?

Closed: 1980, 1982?

In his discussion of Boston's queer past, Michael Bronski had this to say about the Saints:

One of the most successful lesbian bars from Boston’s past was the Saints (112 Broad St.), which operated from 1972–80. Located in Boston’s financial district, the Saints was run by a collective and only open in the evenings.

Boston Spirit Magazine assembled a slightly different timeline for their Great LGBT Freedom Trail:

Saints  (former home of), 112 Broad Street: After opening in 1974, this nightclub attracted a multi-racial, homosexual clientele. Lesbians, in particular, flocked to Saints for the atmosphere until its closing in 1982.

Then there is this brief reference to Saints in a 2010 Boston Globe article:

Straight by day, Saints was a lesbian bar by night during much of the '70s until it closed in 1980. "That was my favorite bar," says Libby Bouvier, 58, a cofounder of the History Project. "The comfort level there was great."

Confused yet?

Fortunately, there is a History Project Bar Collection in the History Project Archives and Records. And though the on-line version makes only passing reference to the Saints collective, they certainly have Saints archival material at their disposal (even a Saints denim jacket!). So it's possible that the timeline issues could be ironed out, along with other related research questions. Now if only I could get my hands on said material....

Nowadays, 112 Broad Street is home to The Times, an Irish pub.

That much I do know.

And also that the Athena Club, a "monthly dance party for women," was held at this address for some years afterwards (sometime between 1978 and 1999).

Glass Bar

The Glass Bar
Glass Bar

Location: West Lodge, Euston Garden, 190 Euston Road, Bloomsbury, London, England

Opened: November 2001 (at this location) as the Glass Bar. The group behind the Glass Bar, the London BiWomen's Group (LBWG), formerly met at Vespa Lounge (1999-2001), Drill Hall (1998-1999), and the London Women's Centre (1991-1998).

Closed: 2008

Here's a description of the old Glass Bar from spoonfed:

Very chic lesbian bar set over two floors in elegant premises. they have a full programme of events and welcome casual visitors - but not men. Closed at weekends except for private parties.


So how did the Glass Bar manage this feat? Quite simple, really. It was set up as a "private members" bar. From Yell:

The Glass Bar is a private members club frequented by gay women that can cater for private parties of up to 100 guests upon request. Serving a variety of beers, wines and spirits, they also provide Sky TV as additional entertainment. This venue is also available for hire. Doors close after 11pm.

But even then, it appeared that the Glass Bar was the only women-only establishment of its type in the whole of London. From RatesToGo:

The “sole women only bar in London” is a bold claim but such is the flag that Glass Bar waves. Improbable digs close to Euston station adds to the atmosphere.

Gotta love it. Only the Brits can turn a phrase like that.

Speaking of their "improbable digs," do check out the exterior in more detail. It seems that the Glass Bar was housed in one of the former gatehouses of the old Euston Station, which dates to the 1830s. (Find out more about the architectural history here.) As geolocations explains,

The Glass Bar, Euston

Technically known as the West Lodge, this [see photo above], and the mirror image East Lodge, is all that remains of the old Euston station which was demolished in the 1960s. The stonework includes a list of destinations once reachable from Euston. Although it is right on Euston Road even people who know the area well often don't realise that it contains a private members women-only club called the Glass Bar.

To a yank like myself who is used to sprawling cinder block entertainment center/bars in the American midwest, the Glass Bar strikes me as incredibly posh--though improbably small. How did a bar function in such a tiny--though utterly fantastic--space? Former patron Tracy T explains it for you:  

Just outside Euston station are 2 large monuments and inside one of them is the Glass Bar. It's a quirky and intimate space but know that it is a strictly women only venue.

There is a small bar area as you walk in and an even smaller first floor space which is used for private bookings, scrabble nights, comedy or music events.

Still, the management was aware of the fact that the "improbable digs" were rather difficult to locate. So difficult, in fact, that they actually had to venture out on occasion and rescue lost visitors! From londontown:

The Glass Bar is London's sole women-only bar. Having started out life as a travel guide and bookshop it is now a warm, friendly and welcoming bar for all types of women. The purpose of The Glass Bar is to support and encourage the artistic expression and cultural development of the London women's community.

Despite being located very close to Euston station, the bar is hard to find so staff offer to collect you from the station so that you don't get lost on the way.

The Rough Guide to London (2003) also alerted visitors to the potential pitfalls that await the unwary wayfarer. We also discover how one goes about joining this "private members" club. According to the Guide at least, one need only show up female:

Difficult to find (and hard to forget), this friendly and intimate late-opening women-only members bar (membership is automatic once you're inside) is housed in a listed building and features a wrought-iron spiral staircase which becomes increasingly perilous as the night goes on. Knock on the door to get in. Open from 5pm; no admission after 11:30pm. Closed Sun.

However, Frommer's (2008) says otherwise. They claimed it would set you back a pound (around $1.90) to join:

This is a classy, friendly lesbian bar near Euston Station, run by a tall Afro-Carribean woman named Elaine. You'll find good drinks with women of all types, plus live music, comedy, reading groups, films, and even a singles night. Technically, this is a private club, but women visitors are granted membership for L1 ($1.90) daily. Open only Monday to Friday from 5pm to 11:30pm, when a L1 ($1.90) cover is imposed.

After closing in 2008, the Glass Bar has continued to live on as a "variety of social events" held in "temporary spaces." According to the Glass Bar website,

The Glass Bar was founded in 1995 as home to a diverse, vibrant, exciting, powerful, beautiful community of women. Since the untimely closure of our building in 2008, we have relocated some of our activities in temporary spaces for now. When the economy picks up we will endeavour to find a permanent space in Central London. We have re-launched with a fresh new focus. The Glass Bar has taken up an exciting new role as an Arts & Social Club for the London women's LBTQH community - i.e. lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer and heterosexual women.

From sisterhood, girl power, yummy mummies, lipstick lesbians, feminists, career women to home providers, carers,  across cultures, class, creed, colour, religion, trans-gender and sexuality, existing to give a colourful, social mix that illuminates and enhances life experiences, through interaction, networking, discussions, debates, and a variety of entertainment in London.

The Glass Bar members meet in comfortable, friendly spaces located in Central London. Our aims are to encourage the social and economic progress of women. The Glass Bar promotes and facilitates groups and individuals whose core values mirrors our aims through networking, art, entertainment and a variety of social events.

As of 2010, the Euston Tap had been installed at the Glass Bar's former location.

This cheeky tribute to the Glass Bar has to be one of the wittiest bar obituaries ever. But it certainly captures a sentiment that I have shared for a long time. And that is that lesbians are truly the "Palestinians" of bar subcultures, with "only a few isolated pieces of land to call their own."

You’ve got to feel for lesbians. They get a rough deal. I may not be a lesbian, but the Sapphic sisters of London and I certainly have very similar feelings about one or two matters, and not all of them involve boobs. This is not a question of eroticism, human biology, dungarees, or grossly erroneous stereotypes. This empathy is purely based on the near non-existence of lesbian bars in London.

Everyone in London loves bars, but lesbians seem to be the Palestinians of the London sub-cultures. They’re granted only a few isolated pieces of land to call their own. London is rich with bars and pubs for sports fanatics, bars and pubs for goths, bars and pubs for yummy mummies, even bars and pubs for bad karaoke singers to inflict mass carnage. Lesbians, however, are the pariahs of the gay world, pressured into hanging out in gay (read: men’s) bars, or waiting for that one monthly night when a specific bar might turn girl-queer.

It’s bars like The Euston Tap that are to blame for this inequality. This peculiarly miniscule Grade II lodge, set discreetly between the hurtling northern edge of the congestion charge zone and the all-trains-north maelstrom of Euston Station, was once known as The Glass Bar. The Glass Bar was one of London’s few truly lesbian-only bars. That was before it closed down and The Euston Tap took its place. Out went the boobs, in came the beers and the Adam’s Apple.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pandora's Box (Detroit)

Pandora's Box
Pandora's Box

Location: 6221 East Davison Street, Detroit (or Hamtramck), Michigan, USA

Opened/Closed: Open c. 2005-2008

Here's the venue description of Pandora's Box from GayCities:

Popular dance spot with a mostly lesbian African-American crowd
You'll find gay men and women of all races here, but it's the ladies of color that keep the place hopping.

Gaypedia basically repeats the same:

The aptly-named Pandora’s Box attracts a mostly female, African-American crowd....

GayBarsInDetroit also reinforces the same points, but with a little more information:

Pandora's Box is a dance club in Hamtramck just outside of Detroit with a mixed crowd but mostly black lesbians who really make this club what it is. Less of a hot party spot and more of a cozy old school joint where you can chill with your girls and enjoy some good music. Pool tables, dancing, plenty of bathrooms. Free before eleven.

What our crew had to say about Pandora's Box:
  • Friendly
  • Sexy staff
  • Good music
  • Fun
So far, Pandora's Box definitely sounds like a womyn's space. Even cooler is that it was specifically recognized as a womyn of color space, which is fairly rare.

But not all reviews emphasized that point. Take this summation from OutTonight:

Mixed Crowd, Mostly African American, Drag Shows, Karaoke, HOT SPOT, Go-Go Dancers, Handicap Accessible

Hmm. No mention of lesbians at all. Are we talking about the same establishment? Unfortunately, these reviews are seldom dated, so we don't know the timeframe at all.

So what did the customers say?

Here's Shari J from October 2005:

Nice Gay Bar/Club
Is currently called Pandora's Box. Mostly black females. Average age around 25-30. Cheap cover and security guards are outside so you feel somewhat safe walking to/from your car. Pretty crowded on Saturdays. It's worth a visit.
CONS: The DJ sucks/...

And grownsexy30 from June 2007. Sounds like there are still problems with the music:

old school lookin for a groove
ok...sound system is in need of help... drinks ok... nice bar staff... lots of young girls and older chics... not really a hot spot... but cool if you take your own people. dont look for "THE" party spot here... you come here to avoid crowded bars and make YOUR OWN party.

Then there was yostuds1234, who didn't weigh in on the music situation either way. Seems the lady was, uh, distracted. This was in January 2008:

The Studs are Hot and Smelling Good
I had such a wonderful time there i met a really nice friend who is now a great lover........

Several websites mention that Pandora's Box is now closed, but no dates are given.

Annhurst College

Annhurst College (c. 1965)
Annhurst College

Location: Putnam (South Woodstock), Connecticut, USA

Opened: Founded in 1940, officially dedicated as Ker-Anna Junior College on September 23, 1941. Name changed to Annhurst College two years later.

Closed: Began admitting men in fall 1972, closed in 1980.

Ker-Anna Junior College was founded in 1940 by Mother Louis du Sacré-Coeur, D.H.S., the Provincial of the American Province of the Daughters of the Holy Spirit. As the name implies, it was a small Catholic college with a career focus. And it was for women only. The college was dedicated one year later, with the name being changed to Annhurst College two years after that. It was apparently around that time that it transitioned to a four-year Catholic women's liberal arts college. Annhurst was accredited in December 1956.
Interfaith service, Annhurst College (early 1970s)

Like many small Catholic women's liberal arts colleges in the late 1960s, it appears that Annhurst fell prey to declining enrollment. The decision to admit men in the fall of 1972, however, accomplished little in terms of reversing that trend. By the time Annhurst College was closed in 1980, only 25 of its approximately 400 students were male.

The 200-acre rural campus was eventually sold to Data General Corporation, one of the first minicomputer firms from the late 1960s. Data General was bought out by EMC Corporation in 1999.

The college still maintains an active alumnae base, with a reunion held as recently as September 2011.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sappho Islands

Sappho Islands (October 2011)
Sappho Islands

Location: Kampala, Uganda

Opened: August 2010

Closed: October 2, 2011

Uganda is a very conservative country with a horrifying record of human rights violations. Whenever human rights are under siege, attacks against women, lesbians, and anyone else identified as kuchu (a Swahili word that roughly translates as "queer" or "LGBTI") are sure to follow.

And so they have. This is a country where even the prime minister has called homosexuality "unnatural" and has demanded that if gay people be found, "the homosexuals should be arrested and taken to relevant authorities." This is a country where a tabloid newspaper published the names of gay people under the headline "Hang Them." This is a country where American evangelicals, in a cahoots with local politicians and clergy, tried to pass a "kill the gays" bill that would have criminalized gay and lesbian existence (not just "acts") with penalties that would have included capital punishment. 

But this is also a country of very brave resistance. One of those who spoke out against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 (the "kill the gays" bill) was lesbian activist Val Kalende. Kalende delivered an extraordinary and courageous speech against the bill called "Challenging Christian Supremacist Homophobia." And this speech wasn't delivered in the most supportive of settings either. It was given at the Human Rights and Sexual Orientation forum in Kampala in February 2010--the same forum where a member of Parliament claimed he would kill his son if he discovered he was gay. You can read her speech in full here.

Within this social and cultural context, starting up a bar that openly served kuchu people wasn't just a business decision: It was a profound act of political daring. So when Sappho Islands opened, Kalende devoted her very first blog entry to commemorating the event. (Kalende's blog is by invitation only, but her remarks are recorded at African Activist.)

I still get excited thinking about it. Sappho Islands. Yes, the great lesbian Greek poet has come to town. I last took a beer during the October of 2008. This is probably when I last went out to a bar to drink. Most of my friends are socialites and I respect that. Being a Born-Again Christian has made me look at my life differently but I am not the kind of conservative Christian who thinks what I do not do automatically becomes evil if other people are doing it. This is why I still hung out at bars with my friends if I have to. My reason for quitting beer was basically because I have never liked drinking. I don’t like the taste and I have never had a genuine reason to take alcohol.

The opening of Sappho Islands is to me a political statement. Looking how far we have come, I cannot ignore the fact that the Stonewall revolution in the U.S.A sparked off from a bar. When I first heard about Sappho Islands, I saw progress. I celebrated change.

Sappho was a Greek poet whose poems talked about emotions and love between women. She lived on an Island called Lesbos and it is said this is where the word Lesbian came from. Multitudes of lesbians visit Lesbos Island every year in celebration of their identity. Sappho Islands, the bar, may not attract hundreds of lesbians from all over the world but the decision to name it after Sappho gives us a reason to celebrate our identity.

I have lived among LGBT communities for the past eight years and I know how much having a social life means to LGBT folks. I have learned from listening to people’s stories that sometimes anti-gay laws are not what LGBT persons are most concerned with. They are concerned about being able to meet people like themselves, laughing and forgetting their daily struggles even for a single time. I have been to LGBT social evenings and seen how folks do not want to go back home after the party is over. They value the only time they can be happy and have a good time.

It is a beautiful way to end 2010. Three cheers to Sappho Islands.

Has a watering hole ever been honored with such eloquence before? But in this case the eloquence was totally deserved.

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera
Sappho Islands was started by lesbian activist Jacqueline Kasha (also known as Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera), the founder and director of Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG), a Uganda LGBT rights organization.

Here are a few selections from a recent interview with Radio Netherlands, where Kasha discusses what being a lesbian is like in Uganda, her early life, and how and why she founded FARUG:

What's it like being a lesbian in Uganda?

In Uganda people are often ignorant about homosexuality. When you go to Kampala and ask about gays they’ll say: ‘Kill them!’ And when you ask why, their answer is ‘Because my preacher in church says that it’s a sin against God. Because politicians say it’s a crime. So we should kill them.’
Being gay here means living in fear. You face a lot of problems. In Uganda, acts of homosexuality are illegal, but being gay is not a crime. But now that the gay community has raised its voice, politicians and religious people say we take advantage of the current law. That’s why they propose a tougher bill, so that being gay can be classified as a criminal offence.

How was life for you as a student?

I’ve been expelled from about five schools. Once it was just because I wrote some nice letters to fellow women. It’s strange, but it’s real. People can be expelled here for being dressed differently. At the last university I attended I almost got expelled because I didn’t dress ‘as a proper woman’.
They told me I had to show myself every evening to the school administration in skirts and not wearing baseball caps and sneakers. I refused, so I got suspended. It was my last year, and my mother really wanted me to finish school, so she told the board of my university I had a disease and there was no cure for it.

Was it then that you became an activist?

Yes. I thought: why is this following me from school to school? I did not undertand why me being a lesbian caused so many problems. So I went to an internet café and gathered information about homosexuality and Uganda. I saved up a lot of money because I spent days and days in the internet café. The internet was new and very expensive at that time.
So that’s when I found out it was illegal to be gay. I turned to my gay friends and told them we had a big problem. Everyone was in shock, because they didn’t know! I was openly living a gay life, and people thought I did that out of stubbornness. But actually, it was because I was naïve, I had no idea.
I contacted a South-African LGBT-organisation and started the organisation FARUG (Freedom and Roam Uganda) and later fused with LGBT-organisation SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda). Our strategy was simple: to raise awareness in our own community. We gave workshops, held meetings and tried to analyse the penal code and constitution.

"Raising awareness" sounds harmless enough in the west, but not so in Uganda. When it was announced in May 2011 that Kasha had been awarded the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, we find out that Kasha's life is far from ordinary or routine:

In issuing the announcement, the award organization noted that Nabagesera has had the courage to appear on national television and radio stations in Uganda and has issued news statements on behalf of the gay community. In 2007 she was harassed at the World Social Forum in Nairobi, and on many occasions afterward, was hackled, threatened, and even attacked. Since then she has moved from house to house, afraid to stay long in the same place. Her name was on a "gay list" published by the Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone on January 26, after which, another colleague on the list, David Kato, was murdered.

So how does somebody get a bar established when your life has basically been forced underground? I can't even begin to wrap my head around that kind of spirit.

And yet according to Anna Kavel, writing for the BBC, both Kasha and Sappho Islands managed to play a prominent public role in murdered gay activist David Kato's funeral, a proceeding which itself was marred by homophobic violence. This was in January 2011:

In August last year, the first openly gay bar, Sappho Islands, arrived in the capital.

It provides a focal point for the community and it was here that the eventual victory over Rolling Stone was celebrated.

This was also where David Kato's funeral party set out from. It is a place, I was told, where gay people feel safe, where they can be themselves.

As Kavel goes on to observe,

Friends and colleagues say otherwise, but no-one denies that homosexuals here are at risk of physical attack.

Talking to the media after the victory over Rolling Stone, Kasha, the owner of the Sappho Islands bar and herself a courageous activist said, "I'd like to thank all those who continue to walk the journey of freedom with us. You are the true heroes."

That is grace in action, ladies and gentlemen.

Under such horrific circumstances, Sappho Islands was essentially doomed. And so her life did come to a close just after her first birthday--with a padlock on her door. The best account is from Beyond the Mask, an African LGBTI blog:

Uganda’s first openly gay bar, Sappho Islands closed down last Sunday after just over a year in operation.

Jacqueline Kasha the Ugandan LGBTI activist who was instrumental in setting up Sappho Islands told behind the Mask in Kampala that she is determined to open another one soon.

The bar was reportedly closed down because the landlady complained about the appearance of revellers who frequented the venue. The seemingly spooked landlady was quoted as saying, “The bar brings people who look strange.”

The closure of the bar continues to highlight Uganda’s homophobic tendencies. Many people are denied rental accommodation because of their suspected or actual sexual orientation.

Kasha, the leader of human rights group Freedom and Roam Uganda, said on Wednesday in Kampala that the closure of Sappho Island arising from complaints by the landlady would not stop gays from having a social life in Uganda and promised a new bar would be opened.

Kasha said “The closure of Sappho doesn’t mean it’s the end of us having a social space. The way I managed to open Sappho in the first place is the way I will open it up elsewhere.”

She said she was not giving up on her dream of creating a social space for the LGBTI community.

A defiant Kasha said, “More than ever I am very determined. The next one will be bigger and even better. It’s one way of intimidating us but we shall overcome.”

Sappho Island was situated in Ntinda, a middle class Kampala neighbourhood. When BTM visited the place on Wednesday afternoon, there were sign posts advertising for new tenants to come and occupy the premises.

Once a lively and cordial welcoming hide out with immense ambience, Sappho now rests in ruins. The grass thatched hut has been pulled down to make way for new tenants. The entrance gate is closed.

But the Sappho Island rainbow coloured signpost continued to mark the entrance.

Until last Sunday the bar was one of the best known hang out spots for Uganda’s gay community and provided a focal point for the community. It was here for example murdered LGBTI activist David Kato’s funeral party set out from. According to a BBC report filed last year it was “where gay people feel safe, where they can be themselves.”

The closure of Sappho Island also highlights the fear among some Ugandans created by the Anti Homosexuality Bill 2009 in which every person is meant to report a suspected gay person within 24 hours.

Although the bill has stalled in Uganda’s Parliament, many Ugandans who are not keenly following the development of the bill, think the proposed bill is already law and enhances their earlier homophobic tendencies.

Addition 12/2/2011: Read this wonderful essay on the founding of FARUG by Jacqueline Kasha.  

Photo: Sappho Islands