Sunday, April 22, 2012

Los Angeles Women's Saloon and Parlor

Mary Yakutis of the Los Angeles Women's Saloon
and Parlour (1976)
Los Angeles Women's Saloon and Parlor

Location: Los Angeles, California, USA

Opened: 1974

Closed: ?

So far, the only information I have been able to find about this place is a single article by Sharon Johnson that was picked up by a couple of newspapers back in 1976.

Coleen McKay sat hunched over a glass of white wine and searched for the words to explain why she had abandoned a promising career in advertising and risked her life savings to launch a feminist restaurant that is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

"Take those two women," she said softly, pointing to two middle-aged housewives enjoying an omelette and conversing quietly. "Do you think they could get first-class treatment in any other restaurant? Why, no maitre d' or waiter would bother with them. They would get the worst table and would be whisked out the minute they put down their forks."

Now almost two years old, the Los Angeles Women's Saloon and Parlor has attracted hundreds of women who use it as a place to meet friends or entertain business clients. About 10 percent of the customers are men, many of whom are employed at a nearby hospital and like the hearty food and unpretentious decor.

"Many feminists have talked about changing their workplace but few have done so," explained Miss McKay. "By eliminating the hierarchy implicit in most businesses and by giving women employees the opportunity to be themselves, we think we have gone a long way toward making it possible for them to be feminists on the job."

All of the 14 employees participate in the major decisions, although those who are experts in cooking or marketing make day-to-day decisions in those areas. The dirty work is divided so nobody gets stuck scrubbing the floor everyday.

Another difference is wages. Unlike most other Los Angeles restaurants, which pay their waitresses next to nothing and encourage them to smile, flirt, and ingratiate themselves with customers in hopes of getting larger tips, the Los Angeles Women's Saloon and Parlor pays all its employees $3 an hour.

"I don't feel like I'm an automaton here," said Pody Molina who worked as a waitress at other restaurants in Los Angeles. "Other restaurants make you wear ridiculous costumes or walk with a silly grin on your face. Male managers permit and sometimes even encourage customers to insult or mistreat waitresses. Here no matter what job we do we are treated with respect."

Most customers are sympathetic to the needs of the staff. If the waitresses are busy, they will get their own silverware or help themselves to a second cup of coffee. One night a group of regular customers did all the cooking and cleaning so that the staff could have a night off.

"Eating dinner in a feminist restaurant is a consciousness-raising experience because it makes women realize that for years head waiters have treated the woman dining alone as a pariah to be shuffled off to the worst table or regarded as a seductress who has come to the restaurant in search of a man instead of a good dinner," said Barbara Clarchile, a frequent customer.

"Even in the best of restaurants, women are treated as inferiors who don't know their own minds," Miss Clarchile said. "They are never asked to order or select the wine. No matter what the woman's professional status or business connections, she never gets the check."

The menu reflects feminist positions. There are no diet drinks or low-calorie specials because the restaurant does not want to offend its overweight women clients. The restaurant serves crab quiche and vegetarian meatloaf, but avoids dishes with grapes or lettuce because it supports the farm workers in California.

Such positions make it difficult for the Los Angeles Women's Saloon and Parlor to compete economically with other restaurants.

"Nine out of 10 new restaurants in Los Angeles fail the first year," Miss McKay said, "but we have been lucky to survive."

Miss McKay and her partners spent $18,000 to convert the former artist's studio into a restaurant. With its worn Persian-style rugs, bamboo lounge chairs and posters on the wall, the Los Angeles Women's Saloon and Parlor looks like a college coffee house.

The owners had to employ a few men because there were not enough female carpenters and plumbers to go around.

"Men are very supportive of our restaurant," said Miss McKay. "The biggest challenge we faced was from a nearby church that tried to prevent us from getting a liquor license. The members claimed that we would be a bad moral influence on the community."

In case you're still wondering about that $3.00 an hour wage, minimum wage in the U.S. back in 1976 was $2.30 an hour, and $2.50 in California. As of 2010, the U.S. minimum wage had risen to $7.25, and $8.00 in California. (Of course, restaurant workers tend to make less than minimum because of deliberate loopholes in the legislation.)

Adjusted for inflation, workers at the Los Angeles Women's Saloon and Parlor were making the equivalent of $11.36 an hour in 2010 dollars.


  1. Awesome article. There's also a short profile of the space in "Gay L. A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, And Lipstick Lesbians," pages 188-9 and 206.

  2. This article is soooo nurturing and makes me want to go eat there, now!!


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