Saturday, March 10, 2012

Hudson Arms

Hudson Arms? Or random bar photo?
Hudson Arms

Location: Central Avenue (Corner of Lark Street), Albany, New York, USA

Opened/Closed: 1960s/1970s?

Back in June 2011, Slate did a series on the gay bar which included interviews with "eminent gay, lesbian and bisexual writers" on the first gay bar they had ever visited. That's where Len Barot introduces us to the Hudson Arms:

Len Barot, publisher of Bold Strokes Books, writes as radclyffe and L.L. Raand

When I came out at 18, I was a freshman in college. I had heard there was a gay bar for women on Albany's Central Avenue called the Hudson Arms. I walked past that bar half a dozen times before I had the courage to go inside. When I did, I found a working-class community of lesbians who were somewhat suspicious at first of those of us who braved the trip from the college campus on a Friday night. They weren't sure we were lesbians because we didn't know the rules and we didn't look the part. (Ki-ki they called us.) The bar patrons were very different from us in their appearance, their comportment, and their ideology. Over the course of my three years at SUNY-Albany, I became a frequent patron of the bar. These women were my community, despite our social and class differences. Ultimately, we came together around the quintessential lesbian activity—softball. I would not give up that experience, despite my fears and the challenges, for anything in the world. When I recently moved back to upstate New York, one of the first things I did was try to find the bar to show my partner. Sadly, it is gone, but the memories of my first lesbian home have not diminished in my heart.

Unfortunately, Len doesn't tell us when she was 18, so we don't have much of an idea as to when she visited the Hudson Arms. But elsewhere it is reported (i.e. Wickipedia) that she was born in 1950, so that must have been around 1968.

The good news is that we're able to determine that the Hudson Arms was still open (at the very least) in the mid 1970s. We know this because it's mentioned in an interview with two lesbians ("Joan" and "Martha") in ASPects, the Albany Student Press Magazine. The date of the issue is November 18, 1975.

The bad news is that the copy on the Internet is from a very poor quality microfilm, and some of the story is unreadable--particularly the part where "Martha" mentions the Hudson Arms. I can just make out something about "old-line women" going there, and something (I think) about it being the oldest women's bar in Albany. And also something about it being a "rough place" with role playing and butch/femme stuff, of which "Martha" disapproves. But that's about it.

An article called "Are Lesbian Bars Going Extinct?" appeared in AfterEllen about the same time as the Slate series, and author Trish Bendix quotes Len Barot's recollections of the Hudson Arms--but with the photo reproduced above. Whether it is in fact a picture from the Hudson Arms--or just some random photo from an old-time lesbian bar--is not made clear. But it's a wonderful photo, some I'm including it here anyway.

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