Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Kimball Ladies Cafe

Kimball Ladies Cafe

Location: Perry Street, Davenport, Iowa, USA

Opened/Closed: c. July 1910

Not going to go into a big analysis here. Just a pleasant ad for a ladies cafe from the Quad City Times (Davenport, IA) from July 26, 1910. 

Kimball Ladies Cafe (1910)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Oxwood Inn

Oxwood Inn
Oxford Inn

Location: Oxnard Avenue, Van Nuys, California

Opened: 1972

Closed: 2017

Notice that this became a "queer catch-all bar" in its later years, so wasn't technically a lesbian bar at all any more. But even with that, it was the last lesbian bar in Los Angeles, even for all its "inclusivity." Which just goes to show that "inclusivity" as a drinking hole survival strategy doesn't work. 
And notice that no one identified as  lesbian is interviewed in this article. 

From Los Angeles Magazine

After 45 Years, L.A.’s Last Lesbian Bar Is Gone for Good

The Oxwood Inn shut its doors last weekend

The Oxwood Inn is missing its “O.” It’s hard to say how long it’s been gone, but no one bothered to replace it. The bar itself, a windowless dive sitting across from a Subway on a quiet stretch of Oxnard Avenue in Van Nuys, hasn’t had a facelift since it was purchased in 1972. Bought by Texas-born Betty “Tuck” Sutherland, it was the longest-running lesbian bar in the United States, as well as one of the only places transgender women could feel safe and welcome—until last weekend, when it closed its doors for good.

Dubbed “Menopause Manor” for its demographic—middle-aged women, many of who lived in the Valley—the Oxwood was Cheers for the lesbian working class. Two electronic darts games greeted visitors upon arrival, and a sparsely populated case offering “Bro Dart Accessories” was on the wall, looking like it hadn’t been opened since the 1980s. The place was a time warp—rarely was anyone preoccupied by their phones (at least not for noticeable lengths of time), and the old school décor included a framed portrait of Marlene Dietrich and a large art deco mirror hung on faux bois white walls. In short, it was a far cry from the purposefully decorated, dimly lit dive bars you’ll find in Los Feliz.

As products of a century where being homosexual has been both illegal and celebrated, the Oxwood’s early, original clientele saw the bar as a gathering place more than an opportunity to get drunk or meet a new potential partner. (Those were just an added bonus.) When Sutherland died in 2012, friends and family celebrated her legacy; since then, the bar had remained opened daily from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m., hosting karaoke on Thursdays, DJs on Fridays, and the trans-focused Club Shine on Saturdays. Sutherland’s former partner and longtime manager, Lynn Stadler, took over the lease after Sutherland’s death and kept its doors open despite the business costing her more than it was making her. As of last week, that cost was too high: In January of next year, the bar will be torn down and an apartment complex will going up in its place. But Stadler isn’t sad to see it go. “When something’s costing you that much money, you’re not nostalgic,” she says. “I’m glad. I’m putting over $400 a week of my own money into it, and all I have coming in is my social security.”
Stadler’s stance seems to be unique, as Oxwood regulars are already feeling the loss. “It was a different breed,” former Oxwood bartender Marianne Basford says. “It was more like a sanctuary. It wasn’t some kind of hip bar scene. It was more like a secret clubhouse for women.”

What once began as a lesbian bar turned into a queer catch-all—the opposite of the swanky, trendy clubs of WeHo with bathroom attendants and celebrity guests. And now that Club Shine is no more, transgender patrons are feeling particularly affected (though rumor has it the club night will be relocating in the future). The event was “a little bit hit-or-miss” at first, according to Laura Espinoza-Lunden, a trans promoter and musician, but it eventually grew into a full-blown movement. By the end of the first year, “it took off,” she says. “It became a home for the community.” In the end, Club Shine is what kept the Oxwood afloat for the last decade. “We would have been bankrupt long before,” Stadler says.

Zackary Drucker, a trans woman and consulting producer on Transparent, feels the Oxwood was unique in that it “created a space for queer trans women without the pressures of men entering the space as potential partners,” as she puts it. “It was the friendliest, most inclusive environment for trans women. I’m getting emotional thinking about it. The fact that there were queer cisgender woman in that space with cisgender women, queer butch women—there was such a range of people who felt comfortable there that it was truly the most inclusive trans nightlife space.”
“They’ve been wonderful to the LGBT community,” Espinoza-Lunden adds. “One of the most welcoming bars ever in L.A.”
In the Oxwood’s final week, groups gathered together on different nights to pay homage to Sutherland and the environment she helped create. “The Oxwood, which was the butt of so many jokes around the Valley, outlasted all the other bars,” Basford says. “[It’s the] end of an era.”

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Henry S. Jacob's Cafe

Henry S. Jacob's Café

Location: 25 Graeme Street (a/k/a West Diamond Street), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Open/Closed: c. 1914

As part of a fairly extensive research project, I have been looking into the history of the saloons and cafe's that used to exist around Pittsburgh's former Diamond Square (now Market Square). One of the best sources of information are the proceedings from License Court, which allowed citizens and other groups to contest the renewal of liquor licenses for various establishments. Imagine my surprise when I found the following complaints lodged against Henry S. Jacob's place. This report is from the Pittsburgh Daily Post, March 20, 1914:

Wow. Where to even start. During the same era, New York had its Café des Beaux Arts, a ladies drinking establishment opened in 1911. But the press emphasized that this was a genteel place. (Regular readers here will remember that saloons and bars of this era were nearly entirely identified as male-only spaces.)
Mr. Jacob's place apparently wasn't. It was somehow predominantly or primarily women, without appearing to be a genteel place for ladies. In fact, we're told that many of the women are of "bad repute" or "strange." But if they were "prostitutes" looking for customers, why go to a bar that's "primarily" women? After all, logically, you are not going to find many men there. And though detectives claimed that these "strange women" had "asked them to go out," you got to wonder what most of these women were up to....

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Some Ladies Cafes in New York (1895)

This illustration was accompanied by a syndicated article on Ladies Cafes in New York that appeared in several American newspapers in December 1895. I may transcribe the article later. Since there are few graphic depictions of the ladies café, an early pioneering example of a public socializing space for women (albeit for wealthy, white women only), I thought it would be fun to share. As we have noted before, many bars and restaurants of the time did not allow women to enter, or in some cases, only allowed them to enter if escorted by a man.

Monday, January 30, 2017

National Dairy Kitchen Ladies Restaurant

National Dairy Kitchen Ladies Restaurant
Charlotte [NC] News, Jan. 3, 1900

Location: Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

Opened/Closed: c. 1900

The political news is so depressing these days that I'm digging into history as a kind of reprieve.

This 1900 article on the opening of a ladies restaurant is a good illustration of the basic observations we've made about the history of women's spaces.

1) Because men tend to have the monopoly on societal resources (money, authority, expertise, etc.), it is not uncommon for men to open/own/control women's spaces. Notice that two men (Messrs. Rutledge & LeGallais) opened this restaurant.

2) When men open women's spaces, they often do as an after thought, as a way to make money off of women after the market for men is saturated. This is the case here. By there own admission, there were "several well kept restaurants in the city for men" which did not admit women. So these guys saw an untapped market for women diners who want an "a-la-carte lunch." (And yes, I fully recognize that they did not mean all women, just wealthy white women of leisure.)

3) When men open women's spaces, they do not really limit them to women--even though the men's spaces rigorously excluded women. Notice that this "ladies restaurant  is for "ladies or ladies with escorts." By escorts, they mean men. But as we know from other ladies restaurants we have examined, the "escort" rule was often broken, meaning it was not uncommon for more men than women to show up in a "ladies restaurant."

This is a persistent historical problem around women's spaces, and one that even feminists (especially of the "liberal" variety) are often unaware of (or consciously ignore).  In efforts to be all "inclusive," women will make all kinds of amends to include males, while they somehow miss (or don't care) that men are not doing the same. Notice the debate around bathrooms these days--it's all about women's bathrooms becoming "inclusive" to "all genders." Meanwhile, men's bathrooms carry on just as they always have.

Does that mean that I think ladies restaurants were somehow "bad" then? Nope. Even with all their limitations of social/economic class and race, even though it was men dictating the terms, it still opened up a space for women to dine together and talk. And that's the start of all kinds of good things.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Bresnahan's Ladies Cafe

Evening Star, September 19, 1900
Bresnahan's Ladies Café

Location: 426 Ninth Street, Washington, DC, USA

Opened/Closed: c. 1900

Especially after the Women's March on Washington, the pressure on women to be "inclusive" (include males) is big again--as if women had a long history of excluding males.

What a big joke.

In reality, that has rarely happened. Women have had the authority to exclude male from various gatherings for only very short periods of time in history and under very limited circumstances--all while men were quite comfortable making the dominant cultural institutions all male, or at minimum, with tiny, hard fought for token female representation, for centuries.

Sometimes, we get the cognitive dissonance thing--which is very popular today. We call an event or space something "for women, "but then let the men run amuck anyway.

While it's very popular today, it's not unique to today, as the ad for the Bresnahan's Ladies Café shows. Even while the power in Washington government was 100% controlled by men in 1900, men could still barge in and take over this little "high-class" ladies café.

So why bother with the name? Because it was a crumb, and you have to start somewhere. Even as women were barred from going into many Washington restaurants, cafe's, and bars, especially with no male escort, they could still go to Bresnahan's. Without a male escort. But they still had to put up with loud men taking up seats and tables anyway. (And yes, we're talking exclusively about wealthy white women who even had this limited "privilege.")

Sound like any "women's" places you know of? That is how persistent  and consistent the patriarchal domination of space has been over history. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Barone's Variety Room

Barones matchesBarone's Variety Room

Location: 1116 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Opened/Closed: 1963

Since it appears that the old days are coming back, it's important to remind folks, especially our younger readers, just how the powerful responded to lesbian space.

This excerpt is from the Philadelphia Inquirer, May 12, 1974. The quoted material is from Byrna Aronson, who was then an administrative assistant with the American Civil Liberties Union.

"We were in Barone's Variety Room (a lesbian bar) in March, 1968, and plainclothes police came in. I didn't see them. I leaned down to kiss my girlfriend on the cheek, and Captain Clarence Ferguson, in a pork-pie hat, tapped me on the shoulder and said 'You're under arrest.' And I said, 'What for?' He said, 'Sodomy.' I just started to laugh.

Twelve women were carted off in a paddywagon that night, Ms. Aronson among them. They were booked on a variety of charges. It was alleged (in graphic language) that several women had been making love on the floor, that others were drunk and disorderly, and that some had resisted arrest.

The next morning at their arraignment, a magistrate dismissed the charges. "But we were left with an arrest record. In Philadelphia, if you're booked, your records go to the FBI. And so anytime you apply for a job that requires any kind of security clearance, you're out of luck. One of the women arrested had such a job, and she lost it.

Barone's was closely associated with another lesbian bar named Rusty's. See our previous post on Rusty's here.