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Gay Old Times ... 1969


Illustration by Shane Harrison  

Gay New Yorkers may not have been free in the year of the Stonewall riots, but there was still plenty of fun to be had, with the third annual Gay Scene Guide boasting “over 175 listings … as accurate and up to date as the editor’s kidneys can make it.” The year before, Mart Crowley’s play The Boys in the Band put the secret joys and woes of gay life on the public radar, and, on The Tonight Show, the psychic Criswell predicted that gay enclaves would spring up in cities nationwide. A sampling of what was available.
(*=still open) A gay guide to life in 2009.

Parts of 42nd Street are “always lively with … scores of hustlers,” noted the Gay Scene Guide. “We understand the going rate (average) being charged by the (again, average) hustler is $10.” Movie theaters were also popular. At the Empire, “old war and adventure films predominate, which attract many of the leather crowd.” The guide did take pains to warn its readers away from the Port Authority.

The Gay Scene Guide praised the neighborhood but cautioned, “do not confuse the ‘hippy set’ with the ‘Gay set.’ There are many hippies in this area, who while they may dress in a ‘gay’ fashion are actually quite opposed to any gay advances.”

Barbra, once known for her plaintive "Happy Days Are Here Again" at the Bon Soir.  

→ Bars
The Bon Soir (40 W. 8th St.)
Barbra Streisand debuted here in 1960, opening for Phyllis Diller. Where “blacks and whites [and] gays and straights mingled without a trace of tension,” says historian James Gavin in Charles Kaiser’s book The Gay Metropolis.

The Bohemian (15 Barrow St.)
GSC: “This one is for GIRLS only.”

The International Stud (733 Greenwich St.)
GSC: “Leather bar … Seldom do you see silk neckerchieves, or Betty Boop curls, on any of its patrons.”

*Julius(159 W. 10th St.)
Venerable Village pub, complete with greasy burgers, dates back to the nineteenth century. Became discreetly gay sometime in the fifties. In 1966, four members of the Mattachine Society (see “West Side”) announced they were gay and asked to be served, flouting a common interpretation of state liquor laws that kept bartenders from serving known gays. The “Sip-In” made things easier for gays in bars, but hardly signaled the end of mob ownership and cop raids on more overtly gay venues like the Stonewall Inn. John Cameron Mitchell now hosts a monthly party at Julius’ called “Mattachine.”

Kookie’s (149 W. 14th St.)
Lesbian bar. Wrote historian Joan Nestle in The Feminist Memoir Project: “Kookie herself strode around the floor, blonde hair teased high, keeping track of how fast we emptied our glasses. One night she had stopped at my table and shoved her pinkie into my glass to suggest I needed another drink. Kookie was a businesswoman, and we were her trade.”

Tenth of Always (82 W. 3rd St.)
As David Carter writes in Stonewall: “ an ice-cream parlor run by the Mafia and targeted at gay teenagers.” Dancing was permitted, “but the staff would yell at customers if they even sat close to each other.” When the police stopped by, as they often did, “the Mafia staff would turn on a chandelier as a signal for everyone to stop dancing.”

Sea Colony (Eighth Ave. and Horatio St.)
GSC: “GIRLS’ bar, survivor of every ‘clean-up’ campaign to date.” Wrote Nestle: “I can still peer into the smoke-filled room, feel the pressure of bodies … We needed the lesbian air of the Sea Colony to breathe the life we could not breathe anywhere else … Because we were labeled deviants, our bathroom habits had to be watched. Only one woman at a time was allowed into the toilet … Guarding the entrance was a short, square, handsome butch woman, the same one every night, whose job it was to twist around her hand our allotted amount of toilet paper.”

*The Stonewall Inn (53 W. Christopher St.)
Former restaurant cheaply converted by the mob into a gay dance bar in 1967. Drinks were $1, costly for the time, and mixed with bootleg liquor. Nor was there any running water behind the bar. But there were two dance floors. The back one was “the favored place of the homeless youth, as well as of young blacks and Puerto Ricans,” writes Carter, its jukebox more Motown than Beach Boys. The club may have been uniquely suited to having an uprising because it fronted Christopher Park, a gathering place for gay youth, hippies, and activists. But the June 28 raid and ensuing riot linked the bar permanently with the issue of police corruption, and the Stonewall Inn, its popularity already waning, closed three months later. It’s now a gay bar again.

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