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. 

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