Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ladies Cafe - East 119th Street and Lexington Avenue

Ladies Café

Location: East 119th Street and Lexington Avenue (East Harlem), New York, New York, USA

Opened/Closed: Photo taken in 1913

Happened to find this photo at Harlem World Magazine. The Ladies Café is to the right. I have briefly looked around, but can't find out what the name of this place might have been much less any advertisements for the place. Still, photos of ladies restaurants and cafes are comparatively rare, so this is a nice find. This is what was said about the photo:

The image was taken looking north on Lexington Avenue, the corner of 119th Street with construction underway to the left on top of that the photographers head and camera are in the right hand corner. Above that is the Ladies Cafe in the right side of the image. As we move to the middle of the photograph two gentlemen stand and talk as other Harlemites walk up Lexington Avenue towards 125th Street.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Coral Reef

Coral Reef
Coral Reef

Location: 30 Nicholas Street, Ottawa, Canada

Opened: 1967-1968

Closed: 2000

From Placing Memory and Remembering Place in Canada:

The Coral Reef, however, was a main lesbian bar in Ottawa in the 1970s. A Caribbean club located on Sparks Street from 1962 to 1968, the Coral Reef became a gay and lesbian bar in 1968 when one of the owners, a lesbian, was convinced by a friend to open its doors to the gay community. According to Homer, an owner of the Coral Reef, the bar was a "gay bar" on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and a black/Latin club on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. When people who went to the Coral Reef from Thursday to Saturday became aware of its "gay nights," they stopped coming to the Reef. At this point, the switch in 1968 to a gay/lesbian bar every day of the week was complete, with regular drag shows. The sheer number of women attending on Thursday nights prompted Homer to mark Friday night as lesbian nights too.

When asked whether civil servants were among the people who held membership cards to the club (obligatory in the 1970s), Homer responded that most of the women worked for the government in some capacity, making a point to mention that in the 1970s coming down to the Coral Reef (twenty-one steps to the basement) was a risky trip for these civil servants.

There's also this description in a 2006 Daily Xtra article:

When the bar [Coral Reef] opened in the late 1960s, times were changing. Canadian society was loosening its restrictions. Then-justice minister -- and soon to be prime minister -- Pierre Elliott Trudeau was moving to decriminalize homosexuality. Peace, love, granola and Joni Mitchell and Neil Young were "in" and traditional Bible-thumping morality was going "out."

But even though the idea of tolerance was in the air, the reality was different: The Coral Reef Club was Ottawa's only gay bar. And initially, it was gay on Wednes-days only.

The Reef opened up in 1967. Located at 30 Nicholas Street, under Rideau Centre, it started off as a Caribbean club. But when it changed its Wednesday line-up to target gays, it became a hit and soon became exclusively a gay bar until its 2000 closing.

But even when it opened as a gay bar, the Coral Reef still treated its customers as second-class citizens. When the club deigned to allow gays entry on Wednesday nights, rules were tightly enforced against the community. Especially the drag performers.

There's also this from a 2013 blog post:

Rideau Centre Parking Garage
Not long after, in 1967, Ottawa got its first gay bar, the Coral Reef. In keeping with the necessarily furtive nature of the queer community at this time, the Coral Reef was challenging for the uninitiated to find: it was in the basement of a parking garage, behind an unmarked door.  While photos show an unassuming space, it was tremendously important and popular in its time, hosting extravagant drag shows that brought the queer community together.

The Canadian War on Queers also has this brief description of the Coral Reef:

THE CORAL REEF: The Coral Reef opened its doors in 1968 and closed them in 2000. Primarily a mixed queer bar, on Friday nights it catered exclusively to lesbians. The Coral Reef (affectionately known as the Oral Grief) was also famous for its drag shows. The Reef was in the basement of the Rideau Centre's parking garage at 30 Nicholas Street.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Planter's House Ladies Restaurant

The Planter's House (1841-1887)
The Planter's House Ladies Restaurant

Location: Fourth and Pine, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Opened: Hotel opened in March 1841

Closed: Hotel severely damaged by fire in 1887 and closed. Demolished in 1891 and rebuilt on the same site.

In an 1885 publication including St. Louis business cards, we find the following advertisement:

Is undoubtedly the Planters' House Ladies Restaurant. The MESSRS. GERARDI, Proprietors of the Planters' House, have taken special pride in furnishing it. It is exclusively for ladies, or ladies and their escorts. Ladies when alone feel entirely "at home" here, as they, perhaps, do not at any other restaurant in the city, and when on shopping tours from the suburbs find this a most desirable place. Try our strawberry shortcake and other delicacies.

Here we see a lot of common themes with women's spaces that bear mentioning.

First, is that the space is under the proprietorship (control) of men, not women. Women's spaces that are under the ownership, control, and/or management of women are a comparative historical rarity.

Second, this is not "exclusively" a women's space but is basically "coed"--this despite the name and the (deliberately) confusing use of the word "exclusively." How often do we see similar gas lighting and obfuscation around so-called women's spaces to this day?

This is in contrast to the hotel bar and other dining areas which were most likely reserved exclusively for men.

As we see again and again, the "ladies restaurant" is not just for ladies. It is (presumably) for ladies and their escorts, though we have also seen many examples where men who were not in the company of ladies tried to crash the place (see this example from Boston). Or men who seemed to somehow manage to dominate the "ladies café" anyway despite the so-called restrictions (see this complaint from a New York City lady and this analysis of a Chicago hotel ladies café.) Again, we see echoes of this in customer reviews for "lesbian bars" where reviewers note more men than women present.

And third, notice the subtle acknowledgement of how women, especially women alone, are threatened by men in public spaces including eating and drinking establishments. Though the emphasis is shifted away from women's realistic perception of danger to one of psychology (i.e. of "feeling" comfortable or "at home" here--as if this were a familiar women's domestic space, and not the men's public realm.)

Still, I'd love to sample the strawberry shortcake....Just for fun, here is one of the first recorded recipes for what we would call strawberry shortcake today. It was published by "Miss Leslie" in 1847--one of history's many forgotten women cooks.

In this history of the Planter's House (or Planter's Hotel), we're told that the hotel built after the 1887 fire also included a ladies dining room:

The main restaurant was considered the most elegant room in the city. It had many Doric columns and was decorated in tones of Empire green and silver. The hotel offered other elegant public rooms — the ladies' dining room, a sumptuous Moorish room, and various meeting and banquet rooms were much admired.

This last hotel closed in 1922.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fayetteville Female Seminary

Fayetteville Female Seminary
Fayetteville Female Seminary

Location: Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA

Opened: 1841

Closed: 1862

Though the Fayetteville Female Seminary may not have been progressive in every way, it appears that Miss Sophia Sawyer was very principled when it came to equal opportunity for her students.  From the Fayetteville, Arkansas site:

Sophia Sawyer (1792-1854)
It [the Fayetteville Female Seminary] was founded by Miss Sophia Sawyer, a missionary teacher who had worked with the Cherokees in Georgia and then in the Indian Territory that would one day become Oklahoma. A private tutor for the Ridge family, she first came with them to Missouri and the Indian Territory, and then after John Ridge was killed, she came here with John's widow, Sarah.

David and Jane Walker gave the land for Miss Sawyer to open her new school. Miss Sawyer was very religious and apparently quite the taskmaster, but she adamantly insisted on teaching young girls regardless if they were white or Cherokee and by 1854 there were 103 students.

She was once confronted by the Georgia militia for teaching African-American slave children of the Cherokees to read. She told them in no uncertain terms to go away, saying she was not subject to Georgia law since she was in Indian Territory and that the Cherokees were too civilized to have such a law.

The school catered to young ladies of distinguished families from all over the region, and offered classes in music, literature, French, and embroidery. The seminary was one of the most influential institutions in early Arkansas, and is often mentioned as one of the factors leading to the location of the state's land-grant university, the University of Arkansas. One of the music teachers was Ferdinand Zellner, a Prussian violinist with P.T. Barnum's nationwide tour of the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind. In 1856 he composed and published "The Fayetteville Polka", and later went on to conduct the San Francisco Symphony.

In spite of their best efforts to save them, the school buildings were also burned in the Civil War and the school never recovered.

See more about the life of Sophia Sawyer here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Julie's Lounge

A recent photo of 303-305 E. 53rd Street
Julie's Lounge

Location: 305 E. 53rd Street, New York, New York, USA. Also earlier at 204 E. 58th Street.

Opened: Early 90s?

Closed: Mid 2000s?

Here's the description from Joonbug:

Upscale and apparently uptight lesbian bar in east Midtown. Expect power couples and lots of Prada suits. Don't expect piercings and overalls.

The exact same description appears in ClubPlanet and nochelatina.

There's this from a general list of NYC bars:

Julie's is for the upwardly mobile, well-tailored and out lesbian professional community.

It's on a June 1995 list of gay and lesbian bars in NYC, so we know it existed at least as early as the mid 90s. Notice the different address:

A more recent incarnation at
204 E. 58th Street
204 E 58th St.
New York, NY
Upscale lesbian bar

Also on a list of NYC gay bars from 1996 to 2012 at allny.

Julie's 204 E. 58th Street, New York (212) 688-1294

And this is what they say at a site called GoPlanIt:

Lesbian bars being few and far between in New York City, Julie's lounge can guarantee a pretty good crowd most nights. In fact it was successful enough to move to this larger location recently, not far from their original spot. This is not exactly white-hot as pick-up joints go, but it is a relax...

We know it was open as late as April 2004, as it was suggested to somebody looking for cafes/bars for women "around midtown or elsewhere" at a site called Chow:

The *only* lesbian bar in midtown (of which I'm aware) is Julie's - 305 E. 53rd at 2nd Ave. It's VERY bridge-and-tunnel, though . . . and not a young crowd. The average guest age, from what I hear, is late 30's/early 40's. It's not the hip place most would imagine.

A similar question at Yahoo Answers got this response:

When you think of Julie's, think pastels and suburban living. This diminutive bar, which could double for a Holiday Inn lounge near an airport, is where midtown office managers stop for a drink before the trek home to New Jersey. 204 E. 58th St. Tel: 212-688-1294.

More recently, 305 East 53rd Street has been Big Apple Karaoke and the Éclair Bakery.

204 East 58th Street has been Mia Dona and the Land of Plenty, a Chinese Restaurant.

Sunday, November 30, 2014


Blue Pride having press conference in front of
Cups (1995). A group of US LGBT police officers
were harassed here by Puerto Rican police officers.

Location: 1708 Calle San Mateo, Santurce
San Juan, Puerto Rico

Opened: 1980

Closed: Early 2011

The description from GayCities makes Cups sound pretty interesting:

Tropical bar for women
The only place in San Juan that caters exclusively to lesbians, Cups has offered great entertainment since 1980. Come on Wednesdays or Fridays for live music and cabaret, or on Thursdays for karaoke.

So does this one from Moon Travel Guide:

The local lesbian crowd gathers in the laid-back ambiance of Cups (1708 Calle San Mateo, 787/268-3570). DJs spin dance music on Wednesday night, karaoke is Thursday night, and live music is Friday night. There are pool tables, too.

As does this one from the Backpacker:

Old San Juan. For the a friendly low-key lesbian bar that attracts a mix of all nationalities.
And Fodor's:
This woman-oriented bar in the middle of Santurce has been a mainstay of San Juan's nightlife since 1980. Karaoke on Thursday is especially popular. It's open Wednesday to Saturday.
From Go Magazine (December 2008):
For a ladies-only atmosphere, check out Cups (1708 Calle San Mateo), San Juan’s only exclusively lesbian bar, which combines live music, dancing and billiards.
And from the same magazine a few months earlier (July 2008):
Further along Ponce De Leon, near the San Mateo Church, is Cups (1708 Calle San Mateo), a women’s bar and tavern. Spacious enough for live music, dancing and billiards, this hip lesbian haunt has something for both the pool shark and the party girl.

On the other hand, the description of Cups from ClubFly is a little less promising:

Type: Lesbian Bar
In a nutshell: Cups Bar and Lounge is a San Juan lesbian bar well frequented by gay boys. Wednesday and Friday features a 2 for 1 happy hour from 5pm ...

Trip Advisor doesn't sound so hot either:

Cups (gay/lesbian dancebar)

As for customer reviews, here's a yelp customer review from Jennie T. of Chicago ( December 2009):

This is the ONLY lesbian bar I know (so far). It seems as though everywhere I go, gay bars usually only consist of a lesbian night or a women's night, but there isn't a bar for women by women who love women. In other words, this bar/nightclub is absolutely awesome!

We went here last Friday night, and they had a live band playing. The music was pretty good.

There was also a cute curly-haired bartender who made us a chocolaty drink that I didn't expect to be delicious (because I don't really like chocolate).

Now, why isn't there a place like this in Chicago? Well, you know I'm definitely going back the next time I'm in San Juan!

A customer at GayCities also gave Cups a good review (September 2010):

Spent 7 days in puerto Rico and found this jewel. A def lesbian hangout but the staff is inviting and bilingual. It was a great way to relax and meet some new people. people drive from all over for there Thursday to Saturday happy hour from 7pm to 9 pm. Club closes at 2 am but more parties till 5am on the same street.

It did NOT a get a good review from an African-American woman, also at GayCities (January 2010):

Well all I can say is that my partner and I went to CUPS tonight and we felt like we were about to be lynched!!! The service was horrible and unwelcoming. The bartender assisted everyone else, including people who walked up after me, and then served me when she felt like it. My advice to all the African American people who are thinking about going to this club, DON'T!!!

But despite all the reviews good and bad, we also see that the owner of Cups, a woman by the name of Dr. Rosalinda Ramos, was considered a "longtime lesbian activist on the island." See here.

A 1995 incident involving a group of LGBT police officers meeting in Puerto Rico being harassed by local San Juan police at Cups was reported in the New York Times. This is also a good account by a gay officer from the NYPD about the incident.

A yelp commenter from November 2012 notes that Cups was closed. ClubFly and a number of other sites also report the same. Lonely Planet states that Cups closed down in "early 2011."

Also see this January 2014 piece called Reclaiming Lesbian Spaces in Puerto Rico that mentions Cups.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Shakespearean Inn Ladies Cafe

Shakespearean Inn Ladies Café
Beach Street today

Location: Beach Street, Boston, Massachusetts,USA

Opened/Closed: Early 1900s

Men showing disrespect for women's spaces is nothing new. Their urge to crash any space set aside for (or forcibly claimed by) women is seen in all times and all places.

Realize that the ladies cafes of the 19th century/early 20th century were largely in the former (i.e. set aside) category, as many eating and drinking establishments of the time were male-only either by law or by custom. In most cases, ladies cafes were an afterthought, a sop if you will. And in fact, ladies cafes did not typically exclude men per se (even though the men's ones excluded women), but they usually "preferred" that gentlemen be accompanied by ladies (sounds like the unofficial policy of a lot of lesbian bars, another example of a fragile and increasingly endangered women's space. And a policy that men complain about endlessly, despite the plethora of spaces catering to gay and straight males).

And yet even though there were (and are) male only/and or male-dominated establishments in abundance, they gentlemen couldn't help themselves from intruding on Shakespearean Inn Ladies Café. At least in this case, they got push-back from the management. From the Boston Post, March 19, 1901:

Landlord William Hennessy of the Shakespearean Inn in denying admission to teh [sic] Rev. Herbert S. Johnson and his party to the ladies' café because they were not accompanied by ladies followed a rule that has been in vogue at his hotel ever since he opened. It is known to the frequenters of the Inn that no hotel in the city is conducted more carefully, and that, too, in a neighborhood where every effort is made to break down rules of propriety and decorum. Mr. Hennessy has established the reputation of meeting all difficulties and conforming to the laws and police regulations as well, if not better, than any other hotel proprietor in the city.

Unfortunately, it appears that Mr. Hennessy's reputation for a well-run house ran into a bit of trouble less than a year later. A man shot another man through the head (killing him instantly), just outside the Shakespearean Inn. It seems it all started as a brawl while the two men were in "the barroom at the Shakespearean Inn." According to this article, the killer was "driven to desperation" by the victim's "insulting language"-- though the insult seems pretty mild by modern standards. We're informed that a "dozen men were standing about the bar" when the "trouble began," so this obviously took place in the men's bar. The killer later committed suicide.

So I can kind of see how the ladies preferred to do their imbibing without a lot of menfolk about.

The former Shakespearean Inn is now part of Boston's Chinatown, specifically within the tiny (six building) Beach-Knapp Historical district. I'm unable to identify the specific building.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lesbian Marriage in Columbus, Kansas (1935) - REVISITED

One of our most popular posts here at Lost Womyn's Space is the story of two women who got married in Columbus, Kansas in 1935. I have been working on a longer research article on them, and I have posted PART I in the page section. So in honor of Kansas finally recognizing same-sex marriage, meet Tiny and Margaret. Enjoy!

Ah, what the heck, let's throw in PART II as well. Will be posting more pieces as I get the footnotes fixed. (Memo to self: don't ever let your sources get so goofed up AGAIN.)

Update 11/16 - Finally done!

The Marquee

Phoenix Landing at 512 Massachusetts
Avenue, the former Marquee
The Marquee

Location: 512 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Opened/Closed: 1970s - mid 80s?

The Marquee shows up in a lot of random memories. This one is from QWIMB, in an interview with Marcia Deihl:

In Cambridge in the 1970s, there were Lesbian Feminist Music Collectives and women’s bars within which to showcase their talents. Bars like the Marquee in Cambridge, Sneakers in Somerville, and Somewhere Else in Boston. Imagine having a bar in the city exclusively dedicated to serving gay women? Boston has not had a women’s bar in over two decades.

Then there is mention in a 2008 interview done for Actup Oral History Project. (JH is Jill Harris, SS is Sarah Schulman):

SS: What was your community involvement at that time? What was the name of that big famous lesbian bar in Boston? It was called like Our Place or –

JH: Somewhere.

SS: Somewhere. That’s right.

JH: Somewhere. I worked there.

SS: What?

JH: I worked there.

SS: You worked at Somewhere?

JH: I worked at Somewhere.

SS: So you were in Lesbian Central.

JH: Yeah, yeah. I was a waitress at Somewhere between college and law school. I stayed in the Boston area for a couple years after I got out of college, and I worked at – the Marquee in Cambridge was a big bar, I was a bartender there, and I was a waitress at Somewhere. It must have been like ’80. It was fun. It was a blast.

Here's a recollection from Elizabeth Stephens:

My next significant relationship was sealed when this hot woman who I had last seen at the skuzzy lesbian bar called the Marquee caught my eye at the AA meeting Crossroads on Tuesday nights. After the meeting Fredericka invited me to go apple picking with her. It was when we were both up the same apple tree that she revealed her gift of being able to pick apples with her toes. Being the latent ecosexual that I was, I was hooked. She picked apple after apple, as I got more and more turned on. After neither one of us could take it any more we climbed down the tree and took a roll in the hay that turned into a three-year relationship. Fredericka was fun when we weren’t in some fucked up power struggle. She too had ecosexual tendencies and must have sensed that we could explore them together.

Then there is this 1983 yahoo discussion where a lot of dudebro's are pontificating on whether a lesbian bar is "discriminatory," with specific mention of the Marquee. But I find it so annoying I can't bring myself to quote any of it. Do so at your own risk.

Today the site houses Phoenix Landing, an "alternative Irish bar."

Monday, November 10, 2014

Navarre Hotel Ladies Restaurant

Ad from the Bath [Maine] Independent,
March 5, 1910
Navarre Hotel Ladies Restaurant

Location: 7th Avenue at 38th Street, New York, New York, USA

Opened: Hotel opened in 1900, ladies restaurant probably didn't open till after 1907

Closed: Hotel demolished in 1930

The 1910 ad for the Navarre Hotel (to the right) appeared in Maine, but I imagine something similar appeared in newspapers all over the east coast.

Notice that a "Ladies Restaurant" is listed under the "Dutch Grill Rooms."

As we have pointed out in previous ladies restaurant posts, restaurants specifically designated for ladies were not unusual in turn-of-the century hotels. Chances are the "Dutch Grill Rooms" were designated as male-only, as cooking meat over an open flame is generally associated with men, masculinity, and men's space, and still is to some extent.

That is not to say that the "Ladies Restaurant" was female-only. Typically male escorts were not only allowed, they could even outnumber the ladies on occasion based on our analysis of other ladies restaurants from the period.

In many cases, the ladies restaurant was an after thought by the management. That also appears to be the case here. In this newspaper ad from 1907, there is mention of the "New Dutch Grill Rooms Largest in City," but no mention of a ladies restaurant.

As for the rest of the Beyond the Guided Age, we're told that the building was designed by Barney & Chapman around 1900 and demolished in 1930.

We get a little more background from this contemporary description:

On the corner of Seventh Ave., at 38th St., is the NAVARRE HOTEL, most conveniently located. 300 ft. from Broadway. Constructed in the French Renaissance style of architecture, it is one of the handsomest structures of its kind, not only in this country. but in the world. It is built and maintained strictly fire-proof throughout, with its ten stately stories of steel construction, stone and brick walls, red-tiled roof and marble mosaic and terrazzo floors. Among many hostelries of a great city, the Navarre stands unique in this respect. It truly offers the maximum of comfort and luxury at minimum cost. Its richness and high-class appointments, while affording all that is attainable as to the substantial and elegant in hotel service, are to be enjoyed at rates reasonable beyond ordinary expectations.

Navarre Hotel Main Lobby
The colored postcard above accompanied this description. And in this postcard, which appears to be from the 1920s, there is mention of the "Most Artistic Grill Rooms and Restaurants in the City," but no specific mention of a ladies restaurant, so I suspect it was gone by then.

Judging by the few images we have of the interior, this hotel was as beautiful on the inside as it was on the outside. Unfortunately, we have no images of the ladies restaurant. And I don't find any images from the time of the (men's) grill room either. However, you can see an artist's rendition of what the Navarre Hotel "Gentleman's Café and Bar" looked like here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Mama Bears Bookstore

Writer Deb Cooperman and friend Ruth at reading they
did at Mama Bears
Mama Bears Bookstore

Location: 6536 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, California, USA

Opened: 1983

Closed: March 2003

Here is how they described themselves in 1999:

Mama Bears Women's Bookstore is one of the oldest feminist bookstores in the world. We feature a wide selection of books and gift items of interest to women.

Certainly that's modest and straightforward enough. Fortunately we have more to go by. Here is the write-up from when Mama Bears won the Best Independent Bookstore honor from Best of the East Bay 2001:

Leaflet for Max Dashu event at
Mama Bears
The bookstore is nice and small and people look up at you when you walk in the door -- usually a trait with which we feel uncomfortable, but it's somehow rendered OK in Mama Bears. The women behind the counter have been there forever and can point you in all the cardinal directions for books on women and relationships and pirates and school and food. While you peruse the stacks, you can always gaze up at the posters of famous women on the wall to inspire you to do things, or if not that, then at least read about it. A café's in back for tea and snacks, and free literature abounds at the front. But be sure to visit soon. The store's lease is up in two years, and where they'll go, nobody knows.

As it turned out, that last sentence turned out to be highly prophetic. The following announcement appeared in SFGate in March 2003:

Mama Bears, the sweet, little women's bookstore on Telegraph Avenue, is calling it quits after 20 years, but don't despair -- a new sweet, little women's bookstore is opening up in its stead.

Initially, Sarah Cohen, 26, was planning on buying Mama Bears from Alice Molloy and Carol Wilson, whose feminist bookstore roots go back a good 30 years. But the deal fell through when the two parties couldn't agree on a price, and Molloy and Wilson began liquidating their stock of books for, by and about women. They have temporarily moved across the street to a rental space at 6434 Telegraph Ave., and that's where they they plan to sell off all their books at a 40 percent discount.

A lot of forlorn women have been dropping in, e-mailing or telephoning to express their disappointment that the store is going out of business, but Molloy won't have it: "Hey, we're excited," she said. "We're retiring!"

Molloy is thinking about turning the Mama Bears Web site into a political forum. Wilson has plans to volunteer.

A beautiful tribute to the store was posted on Facebook under Remembering Our Feminist Sisters:

6536 Telegraph Avenue today
The 3 Dyke Crones: Alice Molloy, Carol and Natalie who ran Mama Bears bookstore on the Oakland/Berkeley border for YEARS. It was so sad to me when they could no longer make a go of it or were just ready to retire.

They sold Lesbian, Feminist and Goddess/Women's spirituality books and it there I have amassed my huge collection. They also sold Lesbian and women's artwork, magazines, Lesbian/Pride jewelry, had author lectures and signings and small intimate women only concerts there as well as rituals.

At night we could have strictly women only events and during the day open to all.

Every Thanksgiving and sometimes on Christmas Day too tgey cooked up a big turkey or on Xmas Day a ham..for Dykes in the community who had no family or no place else to go. Everyone else poylicked the side dishes and it was a wonderful sense of community and bonding and service they did for the community.

There were also sodas and snacks and tabes so anytime during the day womyn could come in and socialize with each other or with them if they weren't too busy. I always amassed a stack of books and while snacking would peruse through them to see which ones of the bunch I really wanted.

Indeed Mama Bears was a Lesbian and women's community institution. Alice and I had many a political discussion. She considered herself to be an anarchist Feminist. I considered it my home away from home....the 3 were very sad when the end came and I missed them. Especially Alice and Carol. I don't know if they are all still alive or not...they pretty much disappeared after the bookstore closed....

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Club Savoy

Club Savoy

Location: 3546 Flora Vista Avenue,
Santa Clara, California, USA

Opened: 1969 in San Francisco, moved in the early 1970s to Sunnyvale, and finally to Santa Clara in 1976

Closed: 2011?

Clubfly is always brief and to the point:

In a nutshell: One of the nation's first women's nightclubs with karaoke and dancing...

Here is a 2007 description of the Club Savoy (also called the Savoy) from

One of the nation's first lesbian nightclubs, the Savoy has been holding down the fort for South Bay girls for over 30 years. Hot bartenders, pool tables and an age-diverse crowd of women seeking women make this a hot hangout for dancing, jumping in on Wednesday night karaoke or just throwing back a few beers most nights of the week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the doors sadly close at 9pm - but don't worry, ladies, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays rock the 2am closing schedule.

And then there is this (undated) description from CollegeBarScene:

Women rock at Club Savoy, which justifiably calls itself "the hottest women's night club in Silicon Valley." With Wednesday karaoke night, sponsorship of the eponymous Savoy Women's Softball League and social activities organized by the Bay Area Community of Women, the Savoy functions as the South Bay's own lesbian clubhouse. Beer is the beverage of choice, with the occasional Thirsty "super-size it" special and the "all you can drink" for $5 a person draft beer nights (the Club also has a full bar—sometimes two full bars). The dance floor heats up with DJs spinning at least four days a week and there is never a cover charge.

A very nice, detailed history of Club Savoy is provided in this 2008 article from Bay Area Reporter:

Now that things have settled down at Oakland's Velvet [Note: Velvet is another lost womy's space], those dancing Oakland ladies can follow the example of Club Savoy, 3546 Flora Vista Avenue, Santa Clara. We talked to owner Barb Hecker, in her eighth year as owner. It was the beginning of a Friday night, and patrons were starting to filter in. They looked like members of a friendly old club, chatting with each other and the bartender. The semi-circular bar extended back on the left. To the right were two pool tables. If anyone wanted a smoke, she could lounge outside on the swing and light up.

Two women swinging to salsa at Club Savoy (2008)
Club Savoy opened in 1969 in San Francisco. It offered a nightclub, saloon, 40s and "Savoy Style" dancing. It was also one of the nation's first women's nightclubs. The Savoy discreetly catered to female clientele who frequented the club to dance and socialize with other women.

Club Savoy takes its name from a style of dancing that originated in the nation's largest dance hall, the Savoy Ballroom, in New York. (Remember the monster jazz hit, "Stompin' at the Savoy?") According to legendary Savoy dancers, if you want to dance Savoy style, you shouldn't be concerned about correctness. Savoy Style is the constant personal creation of new moves. The dance style is more accurately thought of as glorious, creative, free-swinging freedom!

When Club Savoy opened in San Francisco, it offered a dance hall that featured a huge dance floor where its patrons could dance "Savoy Style" in a nightclub atmosphere. Although Savoy Style dancing has little to do with homosexuality, Club Savoy provided a venue where freedom of expression was accepted. Women often went out dancing with their female companions, and it was not uncommon in those days to see a dance hall where women danced with each other.

In the early 1970s, Savoy moved to the city of Sunnyvale, 45 minutes away from SF. In 1976, the Savoy moved to its current location in Santa Clara, where it has remained for the last 29 years.

Although Club Savoy has experienced different owners in different locations over the last 30+ years, it has maintained its original heritage and is one of the oldest lesbian nightclubs in the US.

By the time this column sees the light, the Savoy will have celebrated San Jose Pride. On June 14, the club kicked it off with their "Sexie Pride Party," with live music, food and fun. June 15 was the big event — late in the afternoon, everyone flocked to the parking lot outside the club. There was a barbecue and a wet T-shirt contest, dancers and disc jockeys. On the Pride Stage, Savoy and Lavender Liaisons co-presented a Women's Music Festival.

During the rest of the year, things are a bit more laid back. The club is open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. There's karaoke Wednesday and Friday, with $1 off everything. You can select among gourmet beers like Fat Tire, Stella Artois, Newcastle and more. Try some pear cider for a change.

The club participates in a pool league and a softball league. Savoy has the only gay club in a predominantly straight league.

Charity is important. Both patrons and staff took part in the AIDS bike ride, which stretched from one part of California to the other. They had a fundraiser to support breast cancer research, where a number of women bands played for free.

There's holiday fun, too. A New Year's party had champagne at Midnight, and there was a costume party for Halloween. You could also celebrate St. Patrick's Day, Valentine's Day and Thanksgiving.

So visit the very friendly ladies and their friends at Savoy. They're near El Camino and Lawrence Expressway, carrying on a fine tradition of lesbian freedom and fun for many years.

So far so good.

But then we also have this fairly long description from July 2002 at the Metroactive guide to bars and clubs:

Long and lean like a river barge, Club Savoy is a slow starter. If you arrive on a Friday before 10pm, a few chairs may be warmed by the butts of early birds, but the three rooms that make up the club are mostly calm, cool and empty. But the Savoy is no wallflower--it's built for dancing. In the front room, a small bar arcs out in a half-moon, facing a tiled floor that sees a lot of use as the night wanes on: every Monday, "Secret Society Club" DJs turn the place into a rave-type cocoon; Tuesdays, DJ Georgia ropes in Country & Western Dance Night (lessons start at 7:30pm); Saturdays, DJ Claudia shakes the house. The backroom features its own DJ station and dance floor, and can be rented out for special events. On the best nights--like last month's post-Pride parade barbecue--the party spills out into the parking lot, and everyone seems to know one another. 
Barbara, the Savoy's owner/manager, confirms that there is no nicer crowd in the South Bay, especially for women. The Savoy, you see, started out as a lesbian bar, and the ladies still rule the roost, but Barbara likes the term "gay-friendly" as opposed to gay bar. (Emphasis added). With full-spectrum dancin', two pool tables, darts, 12 beers on tap and a monthly women's talent show, whatever you call Club Savoy, it's the place to practice your rollerskate jams. 

 Notice how reluctant the owner is to claim the name "lesbian bar." She won't even go as far as saying "gay bar." Just "gay friendly."

For all the talk about how "accepted" lesbians are these days, why can't a bar owner openly embrace what has presumably been her core clientele? Would a bar owner catering to motorcycle owners fear the word "biker"? Of course not.

This is always a bad sign when we examine the history of these things. If you are so uncommitted to your base clientele that you won't even say the "L word," then eventually you will end up being all things to nobody. And after that, given the political/economic dominance of the male demographic, men will take over. So we already have that tension at play here, even in the early 2000s.

The hedgy-ness in fact demonstrates the exact opposite: that lesbians are actually in a very precarious position as their command of space and their ability to create and enforce boundaries is increasingly attacked from every direction, often under the ideology of "inclusivity." As nice as "inclusivity" sounds to liberal minds, it's important to focus on actual results, not the pretty speeches.

Which is that a space that centers women and their needs and desires is lost in favor of one that focuses on men. Happens every time.

So how does the process work? First, the venue descriptions start to omit any reference to "lesbians" altogether. Like at Club Planet:

Savoy - So it’s midnight. You’re still feeling it. You’re still buzzed. Why go home? You don’t have to. Savoy, located at 3546 Flora Vista Ave, is open well after normal closing-time, so you can keep the vibe going until it’s scandalously past your bedtime.

And in this particular instance, we also see that Savoy Club became increasingly aligned with the hyper- feminine, exclamation mark-oriented "t community":


So in reality, it has somehow become acceptable to cater to "t community" interests while simultaneously erasing the word "lesbian" from any promotions because "lesbian" is some how "exclusionary" while "t community" is not.

But it gets worse. Here's another "t community" event at Club Savoy. We see that the "monthly women's talent show" mentioned in the Metroactive guide above has been transformed into "Variety Show" that truly mocks real life women and their limited options in schools and the workforce:

I will NEEEEEEEEEED help; do you sing, dance, stand up comedy, act, strip...oooops ..well, tastefully, have or make or work with props, music, lighting? I am also putting together a group of girlz who will be available for shows. I LOVE IT CHICKS!! 

Join in, who cares if you have talent....great leggs go a long way on stage. Can you stand in the background and do a CanCan? Can you hummmmm along as one of the SUPREMES?  

Can you prance around in a cheerleader or maid's outfit?   

You're HIRED!! . Call me!"

Let's be clear. This type of sh** is not typically part of lesbian culture at all. Too many of us found in high school that the only acceptable role for girls in sports was to join the cheerleading squad and scream for the boys. Other options either did not exist or were underfunded/understaffed with inferior facilities and resources--and that still persists today despite Title IX. And let's not even go into the  "great legs" or "chicks" crap.

As for cleaning jobs, we know for a fact that they are not sexy, fun, or exciting in the slightest, as too many of us have been actually stuck in them. We also know that a "cleaning lady" is paid less than a "janitor" for doing the same damn work. Though some lesbians will no doubt try to play along and be a "good sport" or "ally" with all this, most will be massively turned off.

But this IS a typical heterosexual male/"t community" sexual fetish.

This is not to say that the process of eliminating the women works in a linear or evenly paced fashion. In fact lesbians have been known to still cling to and defend a particular location even after the "lesbian bar" has been sold and/or officially "repurposed." (see this example).

So it is not surprising that women were still trying to hold onto the space (and signal it as theirs through facial expression/body language) at least as late as January 2009, just as this one (clueless male) customer comment unwittingly shows:

I was the only guy there.  w00t for me!  party over here!

Wife and I looking for a drink prior to a party, stopped by the first bar we saw, The Savoy, and it had a packed parking lot.  Happening place, thinks I.  No idea its a gay bar until were there about 2 minutes.  Oh well, when in Rome.   No one else seemed that thrilled I was there, but it was fun.  I gots plenty of love for all peoples even if it isn't returned.

Too bad both pinball machines were busted.  -1 star for not getting my Tommy on up in this hizouse

The former Club Savoy building for sale
So when did Club Savoy (mercifully) meet its end? Many websites mention that it is now closed, but as usually happens, no date is given.

It is mentioned in the Explorers Guide Northern California (2011), so it must have been existence as the book went to press. (That book still described Club Savoy as a "lesbian dance club" long after the owner decided she wasn't interested in such a thing.) But I will guess it ended around then.

Since closing, the location has been a (presumably straight) bar called Venuez and a Korean tapas place.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Lila (or Lila Initiative)

Croatian poster depicting a lesbian Virgin Mary
was withdrawn after religious and political pressure

Location: Zagreb, Croatia

Opened: December 1988

Closed: May 1990

Older article (10 years)--but still fascinating--on lesbians in Croatia.

I'm especially interested in highlighting the history behind Lila, Croatia's first lesbian organization which managed to exist FOR ONLY ONE YEAR.  

Important reminder that "progress" (whatever that means) is not linear, and can be reversed at any time.

Notice that that the gains that lesbians made in the late 1980s were actually reversed. With the introduction of "democracy," Lila's meeting space was lost. From then on, lesbians lost any place to talk and relax or "popularize women's culture"--except under the "protection" (supervision?) of gay men.

Sound familiar?

Also, hyperinflation (and free market reforms?) made it increasingly difficult for women to live independently, which had a terribly adverse impact on lesbians.

Once again we are reminded of how fragile women's space really is--not only in the English speaking countries, but world wide.

The bolded sentences are mine.

Lesbians in Croatia

by Andrea Spehar
Lesbian life in Croatia today is a life of women who are victims of totalitarian systems forced to hide their sexuality and to have a dual life--the private and the public. A few of us decided to struggle for our rights, to be public. I hope our activities will stimulate others to join us. Obviously in war time it is very hard to overcome the lack of courage. It is hard to struggle for truth when you can be fired from work the next day.

Some History

Lila was the first lesbian organization in Croatia, and was formed within the feminist group Tresnjevka. The idea for such an organization was due to an anonymous public opinion poll of December 1988, during the second feminist meeting in Zagreb. Those questioned felt that the issue should be treated in a more open way. During the organization's one-year of existence, about 70 women where in the group.
Lila wanted to make lesbians and bisexuals visible and popularize women's culture. It was not able to achieve all its goals, but there were some positive results: there was a place where women could be together and relax (there was no public place in Zagreb where lesbians could meet). The importance of Lila is best described by a member: "When my long love relationship ended, I was desperate and really alone. It was not possible to talk about this with my friends or my mother--I was a lesbian. When I came to the group, for the first time I felt that my problem was also a problem of these women, and that at least here, it was not a problem."

New Political Situation

After the elections of May 1990, when Franjo Tudjman won, Lila lost her space. Even worse, the political situation for our movement was bad, so new women did not come to continue the work. Lila stopped. In December 1990, Croatia adopted a new Constitution. For the first time in our history, women and lesbians had an opportunity to take part in democracy. But 45 years of socialism had its influence on women's self-confidence: few women took part in the government, and our political influence was zero.
There were hopes for human rights and pluralism when the new government began. But it soon became clear that homosexuality was still to be invisible. In 1991, during the middle of Croatian television showing the British series "Oranges are not the only fruit" (after a scene where two actresses kissed), the series was stopped. Technical difficulties were claimed. The reaction from Radio 101 was great: one program was devoted to this event, in which the station's programmer explained that they had received telephone calls from church leaders who asked that the "immoral drama" be stopped.

The Danger of a Kiss

The Church has great influence in Croatia, so the television series was stopped. Lesbian relationships were seen as dangerous to society, especially to the roles men and women play. Lesbians are dangerous especially now during the war, because lesbian sex does not result in children. Lesbianism destroys the hope of a strong, national state. According to the Croatian government, women exist only to reproduce the state.
Now when women and lesbians fight for our rights, there is a counter public information campaign, which says we are trying to destroy Croatia and Christianity. It is claimed that we are against an independent Croatia, that we do not love Croatia. We are suppose to be re-educated.
If you are a lesbian in Croatia today, you are forced to live in total isolation. We are not only isolated from society, we are isolated from each other. In Croatia there is no public space (outside of our group, Lesbians and Gay Men Action--LIGMA) where lesbians can talk and share their experiences, without prejudice. You cannot read a book based on lesbian themes, as there is no such thing in Croatian and books from abroad are few. The same is true for other media and scientific papers. The only thing you will hear about yourself from the public media is that you are a whore, or are ill, or do not even exist. In a direct, political sense, you are the destroyer of the state and all its moral values.
According to the new Croatian Constitution, being a lesbian is not a punishable offence. But in practice this is not true. Croatian families are very patriarchal, and there is great pressure on lesbians to marry. Today, it is impossible for young girls to be independent. The average monthly salary is DM 100. If you want to live on your own, a rented apartment costs at least DM 200 per month.
Lesbians who live in smaller towns see moving to Zagreb as their only chance of freedom. But in Zagreb there are no public spaces for lesbians to meet. Because of the unequal status of women in Croatian society, lesbians have lagged behind gay men in developing a sense of identity and community. The one gay male bar in Zagreb is regularly visited by police, who take personal information about those present away for their files. If you do not give the information, you are taken to the nearest police station, which is even worse.


In June 1992, a few of us decided to form Lesbians and Gay Men Action (LIGMA). LIGMA is only in Zagreb, but we have supporters in other towns. There are many more sympathizers who are afraid to act because of the fear of losing their job or family.
It is hard as people are more concerned about finding food in order to survive than about struggling for their rights. But we want to work for the protection of lesbians and gays in Croatia, to publish lesbian and gay magazines, and do AIDS education. We have been forced to give interviews to newspapers in order to publicize the group, but the government-controlled media usually made interviews scandalous and insulting.
Financing is our major problem. There is a great economic crisis in Croatia (annual inflation is from 2,000 to 3,000 percent). But we also need literature and other materials, advice, and your support. Our organization is young, but well organized and willing to fight for our rights until the very end.
by Andrea Spehar, LIGMA coordinator for lesbian issues. LIGMA, PP 488, HR-41001, Zagreb, Croatia.