Thursday, October 31, 2013

Candy Bar

Candy Bar
Candy Bar

Candy Bar

Location: 4 Carlyle Street, London, England, United Kingdom

Opened: 1996

Closed: 2014

Yet ANOTHER lesbian bar goes out of business. From the Women's Blog at The Guardian:

Lesbians mourn as Soho's Candy Bar announces it will close

London's most famous lesbian bar is to shut next year, and the security and cosiness it offers gay women will be missed

"I cried a little bit," says Neus, originally from Barcelona, now behind the bar at Candy. Like a lot of London queer girls, she is sad to hear that, at the beginning of next year, the capital's most famous lesbian bar will shut its doors for ever. Since 1996, Candy Bar's buoyant, bubblegum-pink sign has lit up Soho. In 2011, the venue's regulars were the subject of a predictably voyeuristic, yet nonetheless affable, Channel 5 documentary series, Candy Bar Girls. The venue still attracts lesbian pilgrims from all over the world and was recently DJ-ed by the likes of Haim and Chvrches.

This month, owner Gary Henshaw announced that a 50% increase in rent meant Candy could no longer afford to exist. "We tried to pass it on into lesbian hands," says assistant manager Bex Smith, "but none of the lesbian investors could afford it."

Bex moved to London from Penrith, Cumbria, and Candy was her first real taste of the gay girl scene. "I came here in my first year of university," she says. "I drank at Candy permanently for a month, then got a job here."

Early on a Thursday evening, Candy is dotted with girls. I speak to some of them about the closure. Two regulars, Raven and Emma, have taken the news particularly badly. "It sucks," says Emma. "This is our spot." Another couple, Di and Enna, had their first date at Candy.

Bex and other staff are determined to keep the bar's "by girls, for girls" ethos alive. Then again, when British gays are freer than ever to be out and proud, how important are women-only venues? Very, says Bex: "What I've always prided Candy on is that it gives women somewhere to be comfortable." True - men have dominated the gay scene since Plato's day. Candy, in its creditable 17-year stand, has continually sought to challenge that. "You can't necessarily go into any straight pub and kiss your girlfriend, because you know you're going to get stares," says Bex. "Women can come here and be who they want to be."

"Lesbians are more relaxed about where they go out," says Sandra Davenport. She DJed and promoted Candy for two years, before leaving earlier this year. According to her, while weekend girls' nights thrive, lesbians aren't so bothered about where they go for a casual drink during the week. Ironically then, it is the gradual acceptance of queer women into the mainstream that has made the lesbian bar an unsustainable business model. Lesbian bars are a remnant of a sapphic subculture perhaps more relevant to Weimar Berlin than modern-day London.

Having said that, like Bex, Sandra is sure that the security and cosiness that Candy Bar offers gay women will be missed. Neus spent her first London New Year's Eve in Candy Bar, with her mum. And that's one of Candy's most wonderfully bizarre characteristics – it's a rare breed of mum-friendly gay bar. But it wasn't always so sweet. When Sandra started as the bar's promoter in 2011, she was overwhelmed by what she had taken on. "I remember looking at the bar staff – they were leaning over and snogging customers, and messing about behind the bar. I thought: 'Oh my God, I've taken over Coyote Ugly.' I was panicking, thinking: 'What have I done?' The walls were the most hideous shade of pink I'd ever seen.

"I think people were still scared of that pink for years," says Sandra. But, through Henshaw's new ownership and Sandra's promotion, Candy went from puce and underpopulated to black and bustling. Meanwhile, Channel 5's Candy Bar Girls boosted the bar's popularity. "It got people talking about Candy again, when no one had talked about it in a positive way for so, so long," says Sandra.

London lesbians certainly have a love-hate relationship with Candy. "A certain kind of girl won't come here," says Bex, "They see it as cheesy." But she and Sandra insist that its spirit will live on.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Polly's (1915)

Location: 137 MacDougal Street, New York, New York, USA from 1913 to 1915; then at 147 West 4th Street from 1915 to 1917


Closed: 1917

I first found out about Polly's in a brief history/timeline of New York's gay bars. It was published in New York Magazine back in January 2013.

1912-1919: Members of Heterodoxy, a feminist club “for unorthodox women,” meet regularly at Polly’s (137 MacDougal St.), a restaurant run by anarchist Polly Holladay. It becomes a hangout for notable lesbians, including Katherine Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Irwin.

Fortunately, Ephemeral New York tells us more about Polly's, though they don't really discuss the lesbian or feminist connection except in passing.

Polly’s MacDougal Street hangout

Looks like a jolly crowd inside Polly’s restaurant, at 137 MacDougal Street, around 1915. Polly Holladay was an anarchist who opened her eatery when Greenwich Village hit its bohemian heights in the teens.

The place was an instant hit. The artistically minded and politically active—such as Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, and Emma Goldman—were regulars. Polly’s moved around the block in 1919, closing for good not long after, about the time when the Village’s bohemian rep made it a favorite for tourists.
The building that housed Polly’s has attracted a lot of attention lately. New York University, which owns 133-139 MacDougal, wants to demolish most of it and put a new structure inside the old facade.

That’s not sitting well with local activists, who note that such a historic building—it formed the epicenter of an artistic movement that included Eugene O’Neill’s Provincetown Playhouse, the Liberal Club, and the Heterodoxy Club (a feminist group)—should be preserved.

Notice that this Greenwich Village walking tour guide also mentions the former Polly's, but says nothing about any women there other than the owner. Unfortunately, I find this is true of a lot of walking tours--the history of women as it interwines with a particular place is typically ignored.

Here's more about the Heterodoxy Club. This selection is from a longer piece on "The New Woman."

The Heterodoxy Club

One example of this new feminism was the Heterodoxy Club of Greenwich Village, a group of 25 women coming together in 1912. The club met at regular Saturday meetings, and was a consciousness-raising group before term was invented. The members of the club were inward-looking and individualistic despite their ideology of women's social awakening and concern with social tumult around them. Their purpose was individual psychic freedom. Said Marie Jenny Howe, leader of Heterodoxy Club and a middle-aged nonpracticing minister and wife of noted Progressive municipal reformer Frederic Howe, "We intend simply to be ourselves, not just our little female selves, but our whole big human selves." Feminism stood for self-development as contrasted with self-sacrifice or submergence in family. The feminists of Heterodoxy Club were all highly educated women, with either formal education in colleges and graduate school or informal education in labor or socialist movements. They were able to assert individuality in livelihood, personal relationships, habits of dress and living.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Women & Children First

Women & Children First
Women & Children First 

Location: 5233 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Opened: 1979

Closed: 2013

Women & Children First isn't officially lost yet, but it is certainly in danger, despite the owners' reassurances. 

From the Windy City Times

Longtime feminist bookstore for sale
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times 2013-10-07

There's a "For Sale" sign hanging at Women & Children First, the lesbian-owned bookstore that has been a Chicago fixture for about 34 years ago and in the Andersonville neighborhood since 1990.

The 3,400-square-foot store is "debt-free, and has a great staff, a committed manager, and a dedicated publicist," Women & Children First said in an ad in Bookselling This Week. The store is "in the heart of Andersonville, a thriving neighborhood of indie retailers and restaurants, just north of Wrigley Field. Great community support in a diverse neighborhood. Increased sales in the past two years."

Ann Christophersen and Linda Bubon
Linda Bubon, 62, said the decision to sell the bookstore, which she co-owns with Ann Christophersen, 64, has been gradual, something they have been considering for about a year.

"For a while, we were talking with an employee who was interested in taking over the store. Her situation has changed somewhat," thus that will not materialize, Bubon said.

Their for-sale announcement was done around the Heartland Fall Forum, Bubon said. The event was held Oct. 3-5 in Chicago, and is a venue for booksellers, publishers, and all those who work in the bookselling industry to get together to strengthen and celebrate independent bookselling throughout the Greater Midwest, according to the event's website.

"We don't see this as a fast transition," Bubon said. "We really would like to sell the store to like-minded feminists who want to keep it going as a feminist and children's bookstore, appreciate what we've created, the alliances we've made … someone, or multiple owners, who will continue with fresh ideas."

There is no timetable for when a sale has to be completed, Bubon said. "There's no emergency, no crisis. Both of us are just recognizing our limitations, and it's due to nothing but age.

"Both of us still care deeply about the store, and we'd even like to continue working part-time [after selling ownership]. But we'd like to see a younger owner, or owners, so they can take the store into the future."

Bubon said the store has had "small, but significant, increases in sales the last two years."

She did not state the asking-price for the store. 

Bubon confirmed that they will not simply close the bookstore if no new owners are finalized. "I just don't think that's a possibility," she said. "The store is thriving, loved in Andersonville, in the gay community. We have already had several interested parties come forward, and we are meeting with interested parties over the next few weeks.

"I don't think there's any chance that we'd close it."

Nor will they sell to someone not interested in continuing the bookstore.

"Ann and I have talked about this at length, and we're quite on the same page: Women & Children First needs to continue as Women & Children First," Bubon said.

Lynn Mooney has been the manager at Women & Children First since last January, and her role includes training employees, part of the ordering, publicity, and more.

"There isn't a ton of money to be made in book selling, but there is a satisfaction that one has an influence over the next generation. And that satisfaction is something you cannot buy," Bubon said. "There are plenty of people who still want to read physical books [as opposed to reading on a Kindle or similar device.]"

Bubon said, in retirement, she is considering expanding her work on the local theatre scene and maybe also involved in politics, perhaps to lobby for important issues that affect free speech, she said.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Black Watch

LA Downtown Rain 1940s
Downtown Los Angeles (1940s)
The Black Watch

Location: Los Angeles, California, USA

Opened/Closed: 1940s

Almost no information is readily available on the Black Watch. The only reference I have found to it is in Martin Turnbull's Hollywood Places:

The Black Watch – downtown L.A. (lesbian bar, listed in the 1949 Gay Girl’s Guide)

But it is certainly a very cool name. Very noirish. 



Location: 4121 Manchester Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Opened: 1996

Closed: June 30, 2013

More from the Great Lesbian Bar Die-Off. Although I have read in other sources that Novak's had pretty much ceased to function as a lesbian bar by the end. From the STL Beacon:

Reflection: Novak's bar steps out -- with DOMA and in history

In Nation
6:42 am on Thu, 06.27.13
When Novak’s lesbian bar opened in 1996, same-sex sex was illegal, marriage equality was unheard of and I was a suburban stay-at-home mom, married to a man.
Curiosity compelled me to drive my white Aerostar minivan from Town and Country to Manchester Avenue in the city to see it for myself. The shame around even being curious about lesbian relationships made me bear down on the gas pedal a little harder as I whizzed past what was then known as Novak’s Fox Hole.
It would be a year before Ellen DeGeneres came out. And around the time Ellen declared, "Yep, I’m Gay!" on the cover of "Time" magazine, I declared "Maybe, I’m Gay!" — to myself.
Soon after, I strolled through the lesbian-looking glass of Novak’s, at 4121 Manchester Ave., to actually experience this wondrous, scary place where women danced and drank together and even kissed.
On Sunday, June 30 — Pride weekend Sunday — we will kiss this fabled institution goodbye. St. Louis’ iconic lesbian gathering place is shutting its doors. “I’m retiring,” Nancy Novak posted on the bar and grill’s Facebook page. Closing the post, Novak declares, “Let’s celebrate!!”
The celebration, the fun, the games were always at Novak’s. Drag shows, washer tournaments, karaoke, Pride brunch, Valentine’s Day, beer pong, celebrity dunking-booth fundraisers — you name it, it happened there. The fun began to draw gay men, straight friends and eventually everyone.
Nancy Novak
Nancy Novak
Novak’s was also the scene of countless individual dramas. Many a "You-kissed-my-girlfriend!" fight broke out on Novak’s dance floor. Many a good cry was had in the bathroom. Many a "Who’s THAT girl?" turned into a romantic evening, perhaps a relationship.
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of photos of Novak’s regulars literally framed the good — and bad — times, recording Novak’s history on its walls. It’s a history that dovetails with the nation’s.

When Vermont became the first state to legalize civil unions in 2000, it was drinks all around at Novak’s. When the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 struck down the laws that criminalized same-sex relations, the beer flowed and the crowds cheered at Novak’s.
When Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2004, the clink-clink of glasses reverberated at the new across-the-street location of Novak’s. When Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell went down in 2010, it was bottoms up at Novak’s.
And Wednesday, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a portion of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), the liquor again flowed at Novak’s — in a kind of a circle. DOMA, enacted the year Novak’s opened in 1996, met its demise just days before Novak’s will.
Like a cultural bookend, DOMA defines the age of Novak’s. From the early days of this one-man/one-woman legislation to the legal recognition of same-sex marriage in 12 states and counting and the District of Columbia, Novak’s has borne witness to, and provided refuge from, the roller coaster of what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender in this country and in Missouri.
Now that Novak’s will be no more, it’s not clear where we’ll go to one day celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage in Missouri. Maybe a new owner will re-open it, maybe they’ll even keep the name. But it will be a different place. Nancy Novak, the heart of Novak’s, first opened the bar at the urging of friends who knew the party was always at Nancy’s.
So Novak’s is closing. Ellen’s California marriage to Portia will be legal at the federal level after Wednesday's high court ruling. My Canadian marriage to my partner still doesn’t mean anything in Missouri but it will someday. Progress marches forward, leaving behind the joy, the sorrow, the bittersweetness — and a whole lot of great memories. And photos.