Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mary's First and Last Chance

2278 Telegraph Avenue today
The Rock Paper Scissors Collective
Mary's First and Last Chance

Location: 2278 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, California, USA

Opened/Closed: 1950s

In an article called "First and Last Chance: Looking for Lesbians in Fifties Bar Cases," Joan W. Howarth examines four California appellate cases from the 1950s that involved the shutting down of gay bars by revoking liquor licenses. The four bars discussed include Black Cat, located in San Francisco's North Beach (1951); Pearl's in downtown Oakland (1957); Hazel's in San Mateo County (1958); and First and Last Chance (1959). After reviewing the court records, it became evident that lesbians had at least a nominal presence at all these bars. The only one that could truly be called a lesbian bar, though, was First and Last Chance: 

Finally we arrive at the last stop, the First and Last Chance, a lesbian bar on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. This was the bar at issue in Vallerga v. Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the 1959 California Supreme Court case that closed out the fifties. The First and Last Chance gives us the most complete representation of lesbians, provides the most powerful critique of the false conduct/status dichotomy, and tells us the most about the racing and classing of lesbians.

Wiley Manuel, the California Deputy Attorney General who litigated on behalf of the ABC, chose a tone of ironic condescension for his description of the goings-on at the First and Last Chance:

Helen Davis,  a policewoman, was on the premises in May of 1956 with  another policewoman, Marge Gwinn. Buddy, a female waitress, greeted the policewomen who were later joined by the lesbian, Shirleen. Shirleen  told  Marge  "you're a cute little butch." Shirleen later grabbed Marge and kissed her. Buddy the waitress just said to watch it and if they continued to do that they should go to the restroom. The next night nothing apparently happened. The following night Buddy joined the group again with a trio of sexual  perverts.  Shirleen was not the only girl who took a liking to Marge for Buddy had grown quite fond  of Marge too. 
. . . .  On May  11, 1956  two  females  this  tune were observed  by Agent Sockyer holding hands affectionately. The only thing normal about this pair was that one of the couple used the women [sic] restroom.
Shirleen was rather fickle. Before she discovered policewoman Marge Gwinn she had kissed  another female patron.

The Deputy Attorney General went on to argue that the Business and Professions Code section was constitutional,  "[n]o matter how orderly the perverts are .... " He argued that the "evil to be prevented is clearly shown in the evidence" and that the statute was necessary  to "protect[]  innocent persons from being the object of unnatural advances, e.g., the policewoman who was kissed by the lesbian in this case." (That policewoman had gone undercover, in the words of the bar owner's attorneys, "disguised as a lesbian.")

The court of appeal issued a remarkable opinion that was staunchly skeptical of the Deputy Attorney General's impassioned arguments. The court found the pairing off and mannish attire relatively inconsequential:

If entitled to any legal significance, [it] merely emphasized the fact that the patrons were homosexuals or lesbians. Of  themselves, these acts did not amount to immoral, indecent, disgusting or improper acts. They merely tended to prove that the patrons were homosexuals, a fact the licensee admitted. That fact alone, for reasons already stated, did not justify revoking the license.

The court of appeal further emphasized that the paucity of evidence of wrongdoing was especially noteworthy given that "some officers [namely Helen Davis and Marge Gwinn] visited the First and Last Chance almost daily for nine months."

Read the rest here.

Other sources have clarified that this bar was called Mary's First and Last Chance, with the address listed above.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Empty Barrel

99 Broadway - Boston (August 2009)
Empty Barrel

Location: 99 1/2 Broadway, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Opened/Closed: 1930s?

The only reference I have found to the Empty Barrel being a former lesbian place is this short mention by Michael Bronski. This is part of an article outlining a LGBT walking tour of Boston:

Near Jacques (on Broadway) was the Empty Barrel (99 ½ Broadway)—for many years a speakeasy frequented by lesbians. Visitors can still see the stairs leading down to the entrance of the basement bar.

I'm sure more could be found out by hitting the paper archives. Yet another thing to add to that never ending "to do" list.....

Friday, September 28, 2012


Colette's marquee off
Speedway Avenue

Location: First at First Avenue till 1985, then at 3143 East Speedway Avenue, Tucson, Arizona, USA

Opened: 1983

Closed: 1991

Back in June of this year, Mari Herreras did a very nice article for the Tucson Weekly on the history of gay and lesbian bars in that city. Here's what she said about Colette's, a former lesbian bar:

When Colette Barajas opened her bar in 1983, straight men would come in and make a beeline for the phones.
Colette Barajas

"'Hey, I scored,' a guy would say on the phone. 'There are only women,'" Barajas recalls, laughing about the men who did not realize that the women surrounding them probably weren't interested.

She says the straight men probably did not see the tag line under the name of her bar, Colette's. She holds up a copy of the logo, and with her index finger, points out this sentence: "A women's bar where all are welcome." She also put up a sign near the entrance—as did most Tucson gay bars at the time—letting people know they were in a gay bar, and that if that fact made them uncomfortable, they should leave.

Barajas now runs a real estate business just down the street from IBT's. It's been more than 20 years since she ran a bar; she closed Colette's in 1991. Still, when she is out on the town—perhaps having brunch with her wife at Colors—people come up to her and tell her she should reopen Colette's.

"The times are different. The gay bar isn't as important as it used to be," she says. "But I have so many wonderful stories. ... People will tell me we were the location of their first kiss. I happened to be in the right place at the right time."

People who come up to Barajas to share memories also say they miss seeing her father, Sam, who worked at the door of the bar and helped her with maintenance. Everyone called him Pops.

Gay bars have long been a part of Barajas' life. When she was a youngster, her mother owned a gay bar in Chicago with another straight woman who was considered a strong advocate for gay rights. And when her dad moved to Tucson, he became part of the gay community in his own way.

"He even Jell-O-wrestled," Barajas says, smiling broadly and referring to the annual Reno Gannon Memorial Jell-O Wrestling fundraiser for the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation.

Red Garter Saloon (formerly Colette's)
In 1985, Barajas went into treatment and closed the first Colette's, which was on First Avenue. A year later, she reopened the bar at 3143 E. Speedway Blvd., where the Red Garter now stands.

Barajas says she had a large marquee placed in front of the bar that she used to announce patrons' anniversaries.

"We also had real dressing rooms with real lights. The drag queens loved it," she says.

Barajas remembers the bar hosting fundraisers for the first Tucson Pride festivals, when they were held at Himmel Park. She also started doing more fundraisers for AIDS projects.

"Many in the lesbian community came together to help and care for gay men," she notes.

When Barajas stopped drinking alcohol, she realized she had a large number of male patrons who were learning that they were HIV-positive.

"These guys didn't want to just sit and stay home. We needed to provide an alternative to alcoholic beverages," she says. "I was sober, and these guys couldn't drink alcohol with their meds. We started making sure we had nonalcoholic drinks and healthier alternatives (like juices).

"I look back at those years and feel like we were still invisible at times. I think that was part of the motivation of moving to Speedway and getting the marquee: We were not going to be invisible anymore."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Zgirl Club

Zgirl Club (formerly Misty's)
Zgirl Club

Location: 4301 North 7th Street, Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Opened: 2006?

Closed: 2011?

Like a lot of lesbian bars--especially in the southwest it seems--Zgirl Club started out with a lot of promise and sizzle. In both 2007 and 2009, she won the Best Lesbian Bar award from the Phoenix New Times. Here's what was said in 2007:

A lot has changed since zGirl Club was known as Misty's. Once a haven for butch-looking Phoenix Mercury fans and middle-aged, mullet-headed mamas, zGirl Club now packs its dance floor with some of the hottest honeys in Phoenix, from lipstick lesbians in carefully coordinated outfits to soft butches who are dressed to impress. And where the DJ used to bump old Janet Jackson songs, Sapphic spinners like DJ Domenica are now playing the hottest hip-hop and Top 40 tunes. zGirl's special events and wild weeklies are hard to beat, too, from amateur pole dancing and "Drag King Idol" competitions to "Bikini Top Martini" Mondays, where ladies who show up in a bikini top get $3 fruit-flavored 'tinis all night. And there's live music, too, as sexy sirens like Nels and Julie Lloyd frequently pop in to perform.

All this gets so irritating. Why are the hipsters so obsessed with dissing butches and women with certain hairstyles (mullets)? So much for community tolerance....

And this is what was said in 2009:

We're not saying all lesbians are lushes, but good drink specials can go a long way in attracting hordes of hot gay women. zGirl Club's got specials almost every night of the week, including two-for-one well and domestic bottles on Tuesdays and $2.50 pitchers on Thursdays. And despite its modest dance floor, the club always manages to get booties moving, with a little help from the turntable stylings of veteran DJ Domenica, who spins everything from hip-hop to electro-dance mash-ups. There's also karaoke on Thursdays and the occasional speed-dating event. The drink specials are good for those, too.

Zgirl Club pool table
But the patron reviews were generally not so good. Out of 13 reviews at yelp, Zgirl Club averaged just 2 stars out of 5--not a real impressive showing. And the negativity started early. The "thumbs down" ratings started in as early as March 2007, with this one-star review:

There were 2 pool tables.  And that room was pretty well ventilated.  Though it could have just been because there weren't any smokers in it.  They were at the bar.  It looks like the walls of the bar were recently re-done.  They look nice.  And... um..... There was a dance floor - not that anyone was on it.  And um....

Ok, screw the Ms. Nice review.  This place strove to be a dive bar but never made it that far.  There are two rooms and they look like 2 completely different bars.  And neither one is happening.  The bar is small and feels smoky - even w/ just 5 people in the place and only like 3 of them smoking.  NOT a good sign.   The drink was super strong - but didn't even taste good.  When even the alcohol doesn't taste good, you know you've got a problem.  

And despite a few outliers here and there, the same general opinion was evident in October 2011 (also a one-star review):

The owners of this bar need a serious reality check. This is a divey bar in Central Phoenix, not some swanky Scottsdale club. They took out the pool table and replaced it with a flat screen tv and couches that probably would do better in my mom's house...oh right, and the "art" they picked up at Big Lots (hung on the wall with caution tape around it hahahaha) is priceless.

The reaction over at GayCities was slightly more upbeat. Here's the official review:

Z Girl Club *
Formerly: Misty's, Desert Rose
Lesbian bar with DJ music and shot specials on Sundays
The girls can drink or catch a sports game here, especially on Sundays during Football season. Happy hour is daily until 9 p.m.

Here we see that the customer ratings were pretty positive between December 2006 and June 2008. Here's a sample of comments:

I love this place! After I moved to Phoenix, I was about to give up on going out, and was told about this place. I had tried all the other gay bars and was less than thrilled. This is the spot to be. Great people, great drinks!

fun, friendly and great specials plu very good DJ music to dance to. A must for the women.

Been to this club a few times when I'm in town, it's great! Great music, good dj's, hill atmosphere.

Every time I go I get friendly service and love to dance to a variety of DJ styles Tue, Thurs,Friday and Saturdays. Best drink specials in the Lesbian clubs. I love this place.

But then the haters started in. It was too small, too dirty. The women look like...Men! (the same old tired anti-butch screed). And the Real Menz aren't treated right!

not a good place at all..people were not friendly......the bar was small and dirty...bathrooms were nasty...most all the women look like men....

OMG, Nasty nasty dirtbag bar! Manly women ready to fight. Bartenders OVERWORKED, too damn small dance floor, bathroom filthy, no place to breathe, but the drinks were reasonable. And the ONLY HOT CHICS were the str8 ones coming in!!!! Go Figure. Hell NO in my book..

i went here with my best friend who is gay and i go ta many gay bars with her. this place was horrible the owner told me and my husband that we dont fit in and should leave since we are not gay.....

Makes me wonder if these were "swinger" types who were bothering lesbians for a threesome. Wouldn't be surprised....

A couple of websites report that his place is closed, but no date is provided.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bermuda Triangle

Bermuda Triangle

Bermuda Triangle

Location: 10127 Coachlight Street, San Antonio, Texas, USA (at some point also at 119 El Mio Drive?)

Opened: Spring 2006?

Closed: Late 2011?

Bermuda Triangle's website hasn't been updated since November 16, 2009, but the humble headline is still there, seemingly preserved into infinity: "San Antonio's Finest Lesbian Bar." A lack of confidence was clearly NOT among her defects. 

Happy customers at
Bermuda Triangle
Yelp reports that Bermuda Triangle is now closed, and yet the reviews run through 2011. So she apparently did not close in 2009. Notice that although the two reviews quoted below are separated by just a few months, they paint a very different picture. Did this place really change that fast?

A fairly positive review from lauren r. (7/14/2011):

Bermuda has the unique position of being (basically) the only place for lesbians in San Antonio to congregate without being harassed by straight men or judged by gay men. It's just.. nice. Like a little lesbian oasis, and they even have karaoke ever Wednesday! Drinks are (relatively) cheap, you don't have to wait 15 minutes to get served at the bar, they are finally a smoke free establishment, AND they have a shadowbox that hot girls dance in for your entertainment. How badass is that?
Of course if you are a smoker, they've built an outdoor patio where you can go talk to that cute girl you were eying inside. Don't lie, you know you want to.
More happy customers at Bermuda Triangle

And later, a fairly negative review From Fatima N. (11/13/2011): 

Friday night: 2 straight couples, various soft butches and chapstick lesbians and misc others. Hannah, the bartender was pretty cordial. 

She said it was better on Saturdays. 

It was totally dead on this particular Friday. Like... Maybe 10 people. It was so sad.

Yahoo local reports the following, in what appears to be an earlier review:

One of the city's best lesbian bars, Bermuda Triangle is buzzing with an event almost every night of the week. Wednesday karaoke nights the girls can try their skills at the mic, while Thursday night are college nights. It's perfect for an after-work drink or even to go out with the girls.

Yahoo local also quotes a web review dated 6/5/2006, so we know the place was open at least as early as the summer of 2006:

I had an excellent time here. Will definitely recommend this place to friends.

As it turns out, BooRah has a customer review dated 5/21/2006, so we can definitely push the opening at least as far back as the spring of 2006: 

This is an excellent bar if you are a woman.

GayCities gave it five stars:

Vibrant women's bar tucked away on a side street.
A friendly staff mixes inexpensive drinks for the mostly local lesbian crowd. The action is known to kick up and pick up on the weekends.

San Antonio Gay Bars was enthusiastic as well (though a bit snarky):

The Bermuda Triangle may be a place you will disappear into the great abyss. But first and foremost it is a charming local lesbian bar, at least in San Antonio. They offer a friendly vibe and a place for the ladies to let loose in good company. Wednesday is Karaoke night offering $2.50 premium beer and $1.00 puckers. Thursday is college night and supporting that is the $1 Tecate and free cover for your college budget. Friday is detox night and suprise suprise they serve a steal of a deal; Grey goose and Crown royal for $2.50. If you can't crack your nesting routine and bring you and your girl to the Bermuda Triangle for a drink then we need to have a serious talk. Bring on the leather couch. 

Here's a YouTube clip from August 2011, just so you can have a sense of the ambiance

It appears that the building is now vacant and for sale--or at least was vacant and for sale until comparatively recently. For $495,000, you can own your very own former lesbian bar. Such a deal!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Terrell's Cafe for the Ladies

Colony Street - Meriden, Connecticut
Terrell's Cafe for the Ladies

Location: 10 Colony Street, Meriden, Connecticut, USA

Opened: June 1913

Closed: ?

Notice that like nearly all ladies' cafes, this was located in a "marginal" commercial space (in this case the second floor). But then it was an afterthought after creating a restaurant for men.

From the Meriden Daily Journal, June 7, 1913:


Terrell's cafe on Colony street, which has long been noted about the state of the excellence of the cuisine and service, has inaugurated an innovation in opening a ladies' cafe on the second floor of the Silver City Realty company building, 10 Colony street.

For a long time there has been a demand by the ladies of Meriden for a place where they could go and secure the same excellent service that the men have been able to get and to meet this demand the upper floor of the building has been thoroughly refinished and refurnished and made as up to date and attractive as any dining room in the state.

There are large tables and small ones in the big well lighted room which faces Colony street and beyond that there are smaller rooms for parties. All the rooms are panelled in oak
and are lighted by chandeliers as well as soft table lamps.

10 Colony Street today
One of the best chefs in the state is employed at the Terrell cafe and he is an expert at serving novel dishes that appeal to discerning palates. Trained waiters give prompt service. All the delicacies of the market will be served and the cost will be found quite reasonable.

These dining rooms are reached by the main stairway to the block and are removed from the noise and bustle and yet with the outlook on Colony street are right in the heart of the city.

Special attention will be paid to private parties up to the number thirty, if arrangements are made in advance. Knowing the thorough manner in which this place has always been run, it can be safely
said that this innovation will be warmly welcomed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Castle Square Hotel Ladies' Cafe

Castle Square Hotel
Ladies' Cafe ad
Boston Daily Globe
(May 20, 1899)

Castle Square Hotel Ladies' Cafe

Location: 421 Tremont Street, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Opened: Hotel opened in 1894

Closed: Hotel closed and demolished from December 1932 - January 1933
Castle Square Hotel and Theatre (1894-1933)
The 500-room Castle Square Hotel was one of those grand "European Plan" hotels, the likes of which we shall never see again. It was designed by Winslow & Wetherell, and included a luxurious 1,800-seat theatre. It was centrally located--just three blocks from the New York, New Haven and Hartford and Boston and Albany rail station (the Back Bay Station).

Though the address for this hotel is usually listed as 421 Tremont Street, it had frontage on Tremont, Berkeley, and Chandler Streets, which may explain why the ad for the ladies cafe (see above) states that it is on Chandler Street. It's also likely, I suppose, that there was an entrance to the ladies' cafe off Chandler Street.

What is really fantastic about this ladies' cafe ad is that the "petit lunch" menu--"petit" is a misnomer if there ever was one--is listed in detail. For 25 cents you were STUFFED. Check this out:  cold boulllion in cups, mock turtle soup Baltimore, chicken croquettes with peas, lobster salad, along with Castle Square rolls and butter. For dessert, there was vanilla ice cream and strawberry shortcake. Now that's a classic ladies luncheon! If you and your lady luncheon guest had tickets for the theater later that evening, you were sure to snooze.

Speaking of the theater, we're told that the Castle Square Theatre included a vaudeville company and performance troupe. In 1917, a projection booth was added to the theater for films. By 1921, the theater became known as the Arlington Theatre. However, later in the 1920s, they returned to live theater performances and the name reverted back to the Castle Square Theatre.

So let's imagine that you and your lady companion have polished off your delectable "petit lunch." Perhaps you have strolled around the Back Bay for a bit, and now it is time to head for the Theatre. What might you have seen? Perhaps you might have seen the gorgeous Miss Izetta Jewel (1883-1978), a prominent and accomplished stage actress of the time who had a sixty-six week run with the Castle Square Stock Company beginning in May 1902. Here's a bit about her professional life:

Izetta Jewel received her education at the Henry C. de Mille School for Girls at Pompton Township, New Jersey, the East Greenwich Academy in East Greenwich, Rhode Island and a year's studies at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. She made her professional stage debut at Wilmington, North Carolina on May 14, 1900 in a summer stock production ofThomas Hardy’s Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

Within two weeks of her debut the sixteen year old actress was offered the opportunity to replace the troup's recently departed lead actress as Fanny Le Grande in the their production of the Jules Massenet opera, Sapho. Later that year she joined the Rowe-King Repertoire Company's tour of New England and the following year supported actress Katherine Rober in summer stock productions at Providence, Rhode Island before touring with the Bennett and Moulton Opera Company for the 1901–02 season.

On May 5, 1902, Jewel began a consecutive sixty-six week run with the Castle Square Stock Company in Boston, playing such roles as Marianne in The Two Orphans, Polly Fletcher in The Lost Paradise, Helen McFarland in The Greatest Thing in the World, and Caroline Murat in More Than Queen.

In terms of her acting career, we'll stop there in 1902. But notice that Jewel was also a women's rights activist who went into politics later in later life:

On April 3, 1921 Jewel was among a delegation of fifty members of the National Woman's Party(NWP) that met with President Harding urging his support to call a special session of congress to address discrimination against women. Three months later the NWP named Jewel as one their twenty-seven founding members in gratitude for her work and financial support. By 1922 Jewel was a leading figure behind the Women’s Committee of the American Farm Bureau Federation that lobbied for reforms to help improve the lot of rural farmers and their families. Two years later she became the first woman south of the Mason Dixon line to win her party’s nomination for national office in a failed bid to represent West Virginia in the U.S. Senate. At the 1924 Democratic National Convention Jewel’s seconding speech (the first by a woman in both national parties) for presidential candidate John W. Davis captivated the usually distracted delegates for its eight minute duration and was duly rewarded by a warm applause. In 1930 she was unable to unseat her incumbent Republican rival to represent New York's 30th congressional district and the following year she failed to win a seat in the New York Assembly. Jewel served as Commissioner of Public Welfare for Schenectady in 1932 and 1933. At one point she was jailed for ignoring a court order to reinstate a fired public employee. Ironically a judge later voided the contempt of court charge because he felt as a woman she did not fully comprehend the consequences of ignoring the court. In 1935 Jewel was appointed Regional Director of Women’s Activities of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) overseeing women's relief projects in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Kentucky and Ohio.

I just love it when all this random stuff just happens to pull together....

Monday, September 17, 2012

Women in Print

1070 Broadway West today
Women in Print

Location: 262-1070 Broadway West , Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; also for a time at 3566 4th Avenue West

Opened: 1993

Closed: September 2005

From a piece by Kim Snowden published in thirdspace: a journal of feminist theory & culture:

Until September 11th 2005, I had the pleasure of working at my local independent feminist bookstore in Vancouver, BC. I walked in to Women In Print fresh out of a job environment that was sexist and hostile to feminism to say the least. I immediately felt at home at Women In Print not just because the co-owners welcomed me and made me feel completely at ease, but because it was refreshing to be in a space where being myself was okay and encouraged. In the six years that I worked at Women In Print I made many great friends. I now count co-owners Louise Hager and Carol Dale as two of my closest friends. I could not imagine the last six years without their love, support, encouragement and friendship. I have also had the pleasure of a number of wonderful co-workers, most of whom have remained in my life as friends, even when they have moved on to other endeavours. The customers also became a part of my regular life, some of them visiting once a week for as long as I was there, sharing stories about their families, filling me in on their lives, asking for advice, sharing book suggestions and asking for my help to choose the next book that would fill their lives with joy. Women In Print had been my haven for six years while I struggled through graduate school, first completing an MA and now nearing the end of a Ph.D.. Despite the pressures of grad school life, courses, teaching assistantships, research work and, now, working as a lecturer, I never once thought about quitting the bookstore. I simply couldn't have survived without this wonderful, woman-centred, literary and feminist space to escape to.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I write that Women In Print closed her doors in September 2005 after 12 years. I am heartbroken that my favourite bookstore will no longer be there. I feel very sad that the last women's bookstore in British Columbia has closed. And, I feel angry that, while we had a large amount of regular and loyal supporters, most people don't feel the need to support a feminist bookstore and don't understand its purpose. As Louise and Carol said in their letter to our customers announcing our closing when Women In Print opened 12 years ago there was still a thriving feminist community in Vancouver. Now, supporters of feminist enterprises, and those still struggling with feminist organizations and businesses, are few and far between. Our resources are stretched to their fullest, our energy is sapped and our morale is low. While we still think it's worth it we simply can't make it work if the average person sees us but keeps walking on by. Feminism is becoming part of our culture's visible invisibility you know it's there but you don't really understand why so you choose to ignore it. The perception that feminism is no longer necessary or valuable is one that makes me angry and so disappointed it is part of the reason that Women In Print closed, it is part of the reason that there are only a few feminist publishers left, it is part of the reason that feminist jobs are hard to find and that my Ph.D. in Women's Studies may not be worth much in the long run, it is part of the reason that there are only a handful of women's bookstores in North America.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, September 16, 2012



Location: Buffalo, New York, USA

Opened: At least as early as 1953

Closed: 1959

Bingo's is one of the lesbian bars mentioned in Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold, the now iconic history of Buffalo's lesbian community by Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline D. Davis.

We're told that Bingo's was one of the more popular bars of the 1950s, and that its "principal patrons were the tough bar lesbians." The refreshment offerings were limited to beer and wine. Narrators often referred to it as "a dump." It was apparently NOT among the handful of gay and lesbian bars where same-sex dancing was permitted.

And yet despite all its seemingly negative qualities, the lesbians at Bingo's were apparently quite friendly and welcoming, especially to newcomers. I find this story (quoted in Kennedy and Davis) a totally charming example of that friendliness. It concerns a woman named Marla who worked as a dispatcher for a cab company. She had realized she was gay from being in the service, but she had yet to go to any gay or lesbian bars in Buffalo.

Buffalo lesbians (1950s)
"I was sitting at the switchboard one day, and the light lit up. It was coming from Bingo's, and they asked for a cab. . . .So, I don't know what made me get into conversation with them, oh, I know, they were surprised that it was a woman at the other end, 'cause men had always been dispatchers. . . .Then I turned around and [saw] the light [lit] up again, and I answered the thing again. And I started talking to them and found out that the woman on the phone and I had been in the same branch of the service. And then I'm trying to find out where the bar was 'cause I was going to go down and meet them, not knowing what kind of bar I was going into right away. Well, we figure we knew each other because we had been in the service together and we just started. . .'cause I didn't even know there were any bars. All I was doing was trying to get friends, you know. I need to find other people, meet people, so the next thing I know they were telling me how to get there."

Sandy, who spoke to her on the phone still remembers actively encouraging her to come to Bingo's.

"And we kept talking and talking. I said, 'Well this is a gay bar,' really come right [out]--I says, 'This is a gay bar, I dare you now to come down.' She says, 'Well, just what I've been looking for, I don't believe this.' . . .And she said, 'Will you be there when I get there?' And I said, 'I'll be here.' She was getting done maybe at midnight or whatever. And she says, 'How will I know you?' And I says, 'I'm tall and thin and have blonde hair.' I says, 'How will I know you?' She says, 'I'm Black with black curly hair.' And of course, if you've ever talked to anyone over the phone, it's never what you visualize they look like. So I'm picturing when I'm talking for two hours to this girl on the phone and I'm thinking, my God. . . .Then when she comes in, cause Blacks weren't around that much then you know, [she says,] 'You got to be Sandy with those golden curls.' I said, 'Yeah, come on have a drink.' Then we go to the bar and we--we've laughed about that ever since because she was looking for the place, but she was also a butch. It was so funny when she did come, she was not only Black but she was butch. But we ended up being all right. She says, 'If I had never took that call that night I'd have never found my way.'"

Later on, Sandy tells us more about that meeting. 

"It was so cute. And here she comes, she's bouncing and bubbly right today like she was then. And she was so happy. She looked around, you know, she couldn't believe it 'cause Bingo's, oh my god, the only ones that had the nerve to go in there were the queers. The place was infested. And she said, 'Oh, I'm home.' God what a homecoming that was."

And then there's this from Marla:

"After I found Bingo's, that was it. From the company [where I worked] I used to take my lunch break , get in my car, go down to Bingo's and have a drink . . .turn around and get back in my car and go right to work. And at one o'clock [a.m.] I'd go right back down there and stay there until the bar closed."

There are several more pages of interesting memories about Bingo's, too much to reproduce here. You'll just have to find the book and read it for yourself.

While Kennedy and Davis provide a rough pinpoint map showing where all the bars they discuss were located, very few of the streets are identified by name. And given that Buffalo's streets do not conform to a neat grid, it's hard to narrow in on a very precise location. Bingo's appears to have been in the block bordered by Clinton Street to the north, Ellicott Street to the west, Eagle Street to the south, and Oak Street on the west. But I'm not positive. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Seaside Boarding House for Working Women (Sea Rest)

Booardwalk and beach - Asbury Park, New Jersey (1905)
Seaside Boarding House for Working Women (Sea Rest)

Location: Heck Street between First and Second Avenues, Asbury Park, New Jersey, USA

Opened: 1874

Closed: Eventually lost in fire; not certain of date but probably in early 1900s?

Occasionally I find myself pining away for a lost womyn's space. This is one of them. The Seaside Boarding House for Working Women sounds so dreamy and romantic. If only I had a time machine....

From the New York Times, August 4, 1874:


Victorian ladies on a seaside holiday
A Philadelphia paper of yesterday says:  "About three months ago a lot of ground in Ausbury Park [sic], N. J., was donated by Mr. Bradley, of New-York, to the Women's Christian Association of this city for the purpose of erecting a boarding-house for the use of the numerous overworked female employees of our city stores and manufactories, whose slender means will not admit of a sojourn by the sea at the high rates usually charged. The lot comprises 125 feet of ocean front, extending in depth 75 feet. Upon this has been erected a handsome house, capable of accommodating from twenty-five to thirty inmates. A fine verandah extends around two sides, affording both a lake and ocean view. The rooms are furnished with the good taste to be expected from the ladies in whose hands the matter was placed. White Swiss curtains, with blue trimmings, drape the windows of the cozy little bed-rooms, iron bedsteads, hair mattresses, covered with white counterpanes, toilet tables, mirrors, chairs, and matting, complete the cool Summer furniture. Situated on the edge of a grove, it has the uncommon advantages of well shaded grounds with the cool sea breezes, while the lake within two minutes walk affords fine opportunities for rowing or sailing. The rate of board has been fixed at $3 per week, thus affording an opportunity to many a weary seamstress or saleswoman of spending her two weeks' vacation where renewed health and many happy hours may be attained period. The formal opening of the institution will take place to-morrow.


However, according to the Manual for visitors among the poor (1879), this place accommodated "about 100,"  so it seems there was the temptation to jam more bodies in here than originally intended.

But never mind all that. I'm going back to my fantasy, thank you very much.... 

At some point, this place later became known as Sea Rest. According to the National Women's History  Museum,

In 1874, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) started a camp for “ladies” in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Sea Rest, as it was called, was created specifically for “tired young women wearing out their lives in an almost endless drudgery for wages that admit no thought of rest or recreation.” This was marketed as a low-cost summer “resort” for a new class of women who worked outside the home. This camp predated the first Young Men’s Christian Associate (YMCA) camp by eleven years.

An extensive number of photographs can be seen of Sea Rest in the 2005 book Asbury Park. Here's one.

Sea Rest - Asbury Park, New Jersey (early 1900s)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stewart's Hotel for Working Women

Stewart's Hotel for Working Women (c. 1877)
Stewart's Hotel for Working Women

Location: Fourth Avenue and 32nd Street, New York, New York, USA

Opened: April 2, 1878

Closed: May 26, 1878

This is a prime example of a very short-lived womyn's space. The paint was hardly dry (actually it was less than two months!) before it became a "regular" (i.e male-oriented) hotel. But for a place that lasted only two months, it sure generated a lot of artwork! From the CUNY library site:

Stewart's Hotel for Working Women was commissioned by the wealthy merchant, A.T. Stewart. The hotel opened in 1877 to provide safe housing for the influx of working women into the city. It was soon reopened as a regular hotel in 1878 and renamed the Park Avenue Hotel. The building was demolished in 1927.

The 1877 is actually in error.

Bag of Bones: the Sensational Grave Robbery of the Merchant Prince of Manhattan gives us the inside story. It seems that the Hotel was a major philanthropic gesture by Alexander Stewart, who started construction in January 1869. It took nine years to complete at a cost of $3.7 million. Stewart spared no luxuries, as he was apparently really committed to the idea of providing unmarried working women with a low-cost but beautiful home. And the project was certainly eagerly anticipated by working women and their feminist allies. Here is Stewart's rather interesting (if curious) commentary on the project:

That hotel will make a 1,000 working women happy and independent. If it succeeds the example will be imitated. It will be a woman's kingdom, where those of them that wish to be alone can do so. It will prove whether or not the sexes can live apart, and whether or not it will be better for them to do so, whether or not they will choose too.

Unfortunately, Stewart died in 1876 before the hotel was completed. And then Henry Hilton got his claws into it, seeing a grand opportunity to cash in. It's a fascinating history, but difficult to summarize here. Needless to say, ending the hotel's brief function as a womyn's space was justified by all kinds of lies about how women didn't want a hotel just for women, how women didn't apply for the rooms, blah blah.

And none of it was true. For example, Hilton claimed that the hotel never had more than 50 registered residents, when in fact they received over a 1,000 applications with 75 women moving in the very first day. And then there were the smug misogynist statements issued to justify his decision:

A hotel on an extensive scale for women for women is an impossibility. Women want to associate with the other sex and the restrictions imposed upon them in this house were so severe that many who would have gladly have taken advantage of its benefits declined for that reason.

In reality, none of the restrictions at Stewart's Hotel were considered real "deal breakers" for the time. 

Then there was this outrageous blathering:

Women will not be kept from the other sex. You can run a hotel for men exclusively--but for women you can't. I am not greatly surprised at the failure. But I have done my full duty in the face of a conviction of inevitable failure.

Translation: Hilton NEEDED to present the Stewart's Hotel for Working Women as a financial "failure" so he could strip it of its status as a non-profit venture and turn it into highly profitable commercial property that would benefit HIM. It's a pattern that's frequently seen in places like New York where desirable real estate is highly coveted.

There were storms of protests when Hilton closed down the Hotel, but he did it anyway. By June, the place had reopened as the (for profit) Park Avenue Hotel.

Do read some of the book, because it provides many instructive lessons in how to destroy a womyn's space.

But while the Hotel lasted, it certainly appeared to be a lovely place, judging by the illustrations. The bedrooms (one is illustrated below) appeared rather nice and cozy. But not terribly practical for full-time residents, as many lacked closets (Hilton apparently had something to do with this).  The Reception Room (also illustrated below) is where women residents were allowed to meet male visitors. And notice all the men in the foreground of the print showing off the Grand Dining Room. By contrast, the Court appearts to be all women.

Grand Dining Room, Stewart's Hotel
for Working Women (1878)

The Court, Stewart's Hotel
for Working Women (1878)

Main Entrance, Stewart's Hotel
for Working Women (1878)

Reception Room, Stewart's Hotel
for Working Women (1878)

Bedroom, Stewart's Hotel
for Working Women (1878)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012



Location: William Street (near Nash Street), Buffalo, New York, USA

Opened: 1938

Closed: Sometime in 1940s?

Way back on Valentine's Day, my sweetie gave me a copy of Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold, the now classic history of the Buffalo, New York lesbian community by Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline D. Davis. It's a fantastic book that discusses many lost womyn's spaces, particularly the city's lost lesbian bars. I've been meaning to retrieve some of these places to share with all you Lost readers, and this seems as good a time as any.

Winters, we are told, was a popular lesbian bar of the 1940s. According to one of the narrators interviewed for the book, it was "discovered" by a lesbian around 1938. This woman apparently had something of a "big following," and eventually Winters came to be identified as a lesbian space. Like Buffalo's other gay bars of the period, it was believed that Winters was not protected by the Mafia, and that regular payoffs to the police were an accepted cost of doing business. Nobody seemed to recall that it was ever raided.

We're also informed that Winters was located in what was then a "Black section of the City" and that it was owned by two Black women. (Given that no narrators are identified by their real names in the book, we aren't told the women's identities.) Yet the Winters clientele was mostly white. During this time period (the 1940s), most Black lesbians socialized through a network of house parties, not bars. The reason given for this is that Buffalo's Black community was not large enough to provide Black lesbians with the anonymity required to socialize comfortably in a public setting, especially in a setting located within the Black community. It was also felt that a lesbian bar with a primarily Black clientele would be vulnerable to racist attacks.

Winters was characterized as a "small and intimate bar" that "felt like home to its steady clientele." However, even its fans conceded that it was "not particularly well kept," which was typical of gay and lesbian bars of the period. Here's how a woman named Arden described it:

It had a long narrow bar with a room on the side with booths, and then in the back was another room with a big table and couch. There was a bathroom off of it, and in the back was a kitchen. What a terrible kitchen, with rats running around up on the stove. Things can't be as bad as that today. They have to be more glamorous, though you still do see some dirty johns.

Winters also had rooms upstairs where "gay girls and show girls" could spend the night.

Some narrators felt that Winters was a bit cliquish, because a lot of the crowd had been together since the days when Galante's had still been open. (Galante's was a Prohibition-era mixed gay speakeasy behind City Hall on Wilkeson Street. It closed in the 1930s.) The clientele was regarded as somewhat older with a lot of married women. They had a reputation for being somewhat "far out" for the time with their "lively  parties" and experimental attitudes about sex.

As Kennedy and Davis conclude,

Winters was the closest thing to women-defined space that could be imagined for a public bar in the 1940s. Sometimes a few of the Black "racketeers" would come in, but they got along quite well with the lesbians. Leslie even recalls a friend leaving her fem in their care for a few hours. It wasn't that gay men weren't allowed or weren't wanted, they just did not come in any numbers. "They didn't like it too well. They wanted to cruise and Winters was predominantly women" (Arden). Thus in the 1940s lesbians and gay men, consciously or unconsciously, created some separate space from one another. This is curious, particularly given narrators' unanimous and emphatic statements that in the past, unlike today, gay men and lesbians always mixed easily. The difference they perceive might be that in the past there was no ideological commitment to separatism, and no overt hostility between the two groups. The separation might have been due as much to economic factors  as social preference. Perhaps Winters was not a large enough or high-class enough bar for men to want to frequent. Perhaps the owners discouraged men, given that at this point in history they were viewed as more troublesome; more likely to get into fights or to attract the attention of the law.

It is important to clarify that although Winters was primarily a woman's bar, it was not refined or discreet. Arden remembers, "There were quite a few rough butchy girls. . . they were older than me. . . . They swaggered around. They used foul language." Leslie confirms this, remembering how she used to be uncomfortable when many of the butches at Winters would make passes at her young girlfriend.
 Main Street - Buffalo, New York (1940s)

And yet Leslie could only recall two physical altercations involving the women.

One was in the middle of Michigan Avenue. It began at Winters. [My friend] was young and used to be bothered at Winters. Normally she wouldn't go there because women wouldn't leave her alone. She used to ask me to go to the bathroom with her because people would pester her. This night [Denny] yanked her up on the floor, and I took [her] home and told [Denny] I would come [back]. When I came back they [Denny and her sidekick, Jamie] followed me out, they thought it would be two on one, I suppose. And there we fought on Michigan Avenue. Soon some gay guys came by and they took us off two by two, two took me and two took Jamie. We got into their cars. It was a good thing because we would have run into trouble. Pretty soon we could hear the sirens coming, the police.

Today it appears that this section of William Street is nothing but a huge parking area for trucks. In fact, much of the old neighborhood has been torn down and destroyed, with nothing but empty lots and a few light industrial structures to take its place.