Tuesday, February 14, 2012



Location: 4100 Manchester Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Opened: 1988

Closed: Early 2012?

Playing with a title here. The Life of a Lesbian Bar in Three Acts: As Illlustrated by the "Best Lesbian Bar" Awards She Wins.

All right, I know. The title's not catchy in the slightest. Definitely needs to be tinkered with. But I think you get the gist of the idea.

In looking at the "Best Lesbian Bar" awards that Attitudes won in 2006, 2008, and 2010--and the write-ups that came with them--there seems to be a strong narrative progression: from strongly lesbian identified to, eh, maybe not so much. It's a pattern we've seen with lesbian bars before, either in response to financial pressures, changing socializing patterns, or just out-and-out invasion by other groups. 

You know what I mean by invasion, right? Straight men looking for a place to party and hassle the queer girls. Or to pick up bi/straight girls, since the bi/straight girls migrated to the lesbian bar to find a place to dance without being groped. Or gay/bi men looking for a novel place to go, 'cause God knows, having 25 gay male bars for every lesbian bar is just not enough! And before you know it, the lesbians are squeezed out, and the place becomes a lesbian bar in name only. Worse than that, it becomes a bar that some young or inexperienced lesbians think is a lesbian bar, so they develop a false sense of security. That can lead to problems with violence that are even worse than the straight bars. Why? Because the claim that they are "lesbian" can attract predators like moths to a backporch light.

So let's look at those Three Acts, shall we?

Back in 2006, when Attitudes first won the "Best Lesbian Bar" award from Riverfront Times, she was seemingly a lesbian bar from the tips of her chipped fingernails right down to her grubby little toes:

Attitudes is the Sandra Bernhard of lesbian bars: A little bit dirty and a little bit crass. Untamed and wild-eyed, teeth smudged with lipstick. When legs curl around its go-go cage bars it exudes sexiness, but it can intimidate, too, what with its raised-seating perimeter, which allows patrons to judge the moves on the scuffed dance floor. It has a cult following and a sense of humor; it's comical in its abrasiveness. It owns its kitsch and smirks at those who take themselves too damn seriously. It probably made out with Madonna in the '80s. It makes a commentary on sexuality but then breaks into a Britney Spears medley before the crowd grows weary. It's an excuse for bad behavior. It's St. Louis' best lesbian bar.

When she won the same award in 2008, however, it sounds like she was veering towards the "mixed" end of the spectrum:

Drag shows. Free darts and pool on Wednesdays, $2 beers all night on Tuesdays. The go-to watering hole for generations of the St. Louis gay/lesbian/transgender community. Despite its longevity, Attitudes ain't no stuffy old museum of queer culture. The old girl still vibrates with hip-hop and a diverse spectrum of lesbian clientele, from the urban to the old-school Melissa Etheridge T-shirt-wearing crowd. And make no mistake: Attitudes welcomes all comers. Especially if you like to dance.

And as she passed her 20-year mark, and was picking up the 2010 "Best Lesbian Bar" award from the Riverfront Times, a certain irony is immediately evident: Attitudes was sounding less and less "lesbian" as such.

This old girl, which has been comfortably ensconced in the Manchester strip in the Grove for more than twenty years, is about as friendly as a place can be, even if it's got a cage hanging in the back of the room. That's for dancing, by the way, which is what you come to Attitudes to do — that, and drink. Here, it doesn't matter if you're young or old, straight or gay, a drag king or queen or someone who just likes sparkly shoes. Even on weeknights, the place is jumping, one of the best parties in town.

So what do other sources tell us? Basically we see the same range of responses. When GayCities reviewed her, Attitudes was unambiguously lesbian, though of course "open to everyone."

Lesbian pub, cafe, and club
This neighborhood bar and dance club has a great energy and a diverse crowd. It is open to everyone, and features themed nights including karaoke and country line dancing.

We see something similar at clubplanet, though it appears that the drag queens are starting to muscle in on the scene. And there's a special "themed" night for the boys, because lord knows, the poor dears are so underserved in the St. Louis community: 

Attitudes - That’s right, for you ladies who like the ladies, and even for some of their fans, here's where you can go to meet your fellows. There's a C&W-themed night for the boys but this place is primarily for the girls. Drink specials, a dance floor and drag queens abound.

Then there's this description from citysearch:

The Scene – Though Attitudes is primarily a lesbian bar, the boys are more than welcome and the crowd is usually mixed. Inside you'll find a pub, a cafe and a club, though the dance floor's not huge. – – What to Do – Tuesday features darts, Wednesday has karaoke and Thursday's pool tournament night. There's a happy hour on the weekends, plus more karaoke and country line dancing on Friday night. All this and food, too--the cafe's got a new menu and serves from 7pm-1am.

Pondering this now....Is there a subtle difference or shift between being 1) a "lesbian" bar but "open to everyone" and 2) a "primarily lesbian" bar where "the boys are more than welcome" and "the crowd is usually mixed"? The latter doesn't even make a lot of intuitive sense. How can your be "primarily" lesbian if you're "usually mixed"? Even if lesbians make up of a numerical majority of patrons most of the time--and that's a big if--that doesn't necessarily make the bar "primarily" lesbian. To me, "primarily" sets a tone, a mood, and an expectation--it's not just an arbitrary standard of arithmetic. In other words, I'm not sure that 51 - 55 percent lesbian would necessarily get the job done. It may not represent enough critical mass.

This review from napkinnights shows a similar ambivalence and confusion:

Geared mostly toward a lesbian clientele, gay and straights are also welcome to this St. Louis bar. The club is sectioned off for a café, bar and dance area which makes it convenient to wander around to scope out the crowd without anyone knowing. Each night features a different activity from darts and pool to karaoke and country line dancing. St. Louis gays and lesbians come every night to enjoy the live DJ spinning great dance music after all the events end in the early evening. The drinks taste good and are strong at the same time, plus there's a cage to dance in. Those two things might not seem to go together, but give the drinks a try and it will make sense.

But in this review, we don't even bother to go through the hair-splitting, and ultimately metaphysical definitions of a "lesbian" bar (i.e. if only two lesbians are left in a bar, can it still be called "lesbian"? What if they're dancing on the head of pin?) We just report that Attitudes is a LGBT bar or "Gay and Lesbian Night Club" and call it a day:

The Grove is host to many alternative night clubs, but none quite like Attitudes. As St. Louis' oldest LGBT nightclub, this veteran hotspot certainly knows how to throw a party. Wednesday nights feature karaoke and a $10 all-you-can-drink special, while hip-hop night is the best way to bounce 'til 3 a.m. on Thursdays; Friday night drag shows are followed by a non-stop all night dance party on Saturdays. Between rounds of cutting a rug in the cage or on the dance floor, try the "Dueling DJ" or the "Diamond," two of the wettest, wildest concoctions 'tudes has to offer. There's a reason why Attitude's has oft been voted "St. Louis' Best Gay and Lesbian Night Club" -- it's a consistently energetic place for party people of all ages and orientations. Any of the uber-friendly staff members can tell you that. Just make sure that you keep any drama under wraps, or you might see an even sassier side of them. After all, it is called "Attitudes" for a reason.

The yahoo (travel) review is very similar to the one above, except we just say "gay and lesbian" bar (i.e. mixed) with a "large" crowd of straights (well, at least we're truthful):

One of St. Louis' most popular gay and lesbian bars, Attitudes also attracts a large straight crowd. It's a great place to relax and is a favorite after-work stop. The bar hosts eight televisions for sports fans to watch while relaxing over a glass of frosty beer. The large dance floor invites everyone to unwind and move to the music played by the disc jockey. Surrounding the dance floor are raised seats, mirrors and many lights. There's music here for everyone, from country to rock to golden oldies. For those who are not into dancing, there are dart games, a jukebox and karaoke. A small kitchen serves a few light items and burgers until closing on the weekends. Entry is restricted to persons over the age of 21.

So let's go down to the grassroots and see what the patrons report. Who was really at this bar, and how many of them were there? Just what was this place? Apart from all the complicated syntax and qualifiers, did anybody in the trenches ever consider this place a plain old lesbian bar? This time, just to mix it up a bit, we'll do this in reverse chronological order:

From GayCities, December 2011:

Its a mixed crowd with equal guys and girls.

From GayCities, June 2011:


From GayCities, June 2011:

over the years slowly fallen down hill and is now a wee bit getto

From yelp, April 2010:

There were transvestites -- lots of them!  I saw a large cross-dresser wearing an bright orange halter top, in which his man-boobs served the place of female boobs.  It was pretty glorious.  People were very uninhibited and just doin all sorts of wild stuff on the dancefloor.

From yelp, February 2010:

Though I'm straight and this is a gay bar, I've spent numerous a drunken nights dancing with the transvestites, some of which who look better than me, an authentic woman... and drinking with my girlfriends and gay friends and dancing the night away.

From yahoo (local), February 2010:

The bar seems to cater now towards the hip hop ethnic crowd.

From Voice Places, May 2009:

go-to watering hole for generations of the St. Louis gay/lesbian/transgender community

From Voice Places, January 2009

very welcoming gay bar. lots of straight people go here

From yelp, September 2008:

The crowd is very eclectic

From yahoo (travel), February 2008:

the people are great weather you are straight or gay or bi like me

From GayCities, February 2008:

The crowd was a little bit of everything--men and women of all ages.

From yahoo (local), December 2007:

Go in drag or in all leather it doesn't matter

From yahoo (travel), April 2005:

awesome place for gays/lesbians

From Citysearch, March 2004:

Crowded, broad age and orientational diversity

Lots of changes over the years...seems that over time, Attitudes acquired more gay men, transgender folks, and straights, and became somewhat more popular with African Americans (note quasi-veiled, racist references to "getto" and "hip hop" crowd). 

What you DON'T much see is that this was a lesbian place of any ethnicity or race. In fact, about  the only grassroots acknowledgement I have found that this was once a lesbian place comes from hawkeyes. By her account, Attitudes was no longer a lesbian place by June 2008:

i used to love attitudes but it has gone down hill,it used to be mostly lesbians and now it is to much of a mix of straight people and are younger and clickish and they dont make new people very welcome,you are losing alot of buissness to novak's we need to keep the lesbian bars alive because they are to few and far between. they need to cater more to the lesbian crowd with lesbian shows and events

Of course, the management did not heed hawkeyes' advise, as I see no real evidence that they ever courted or catered to their lesbian clientele in subsequent years.

According to a couple of websites, Attitudes is now closed, but no closing date is provided.

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