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 barĂ¢€”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.

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