15 Awesomely Named Yet Totally Defunct Lesbian Bars Of America

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The website Lost Womyn’s Space is devoted to honoring both ancient and modern womyn’s spaces that have been lost — “anything from lost women’s colleges and schools, to lesbian bars and clubs. And everything sacred and profane in between” — and it’s a website I’d recommend becoming obsessed with, as I am. Silverside, the captain of Lost Womyn’s Space, has done serious research to unearth the stories of more lesbian bars than probably currently exist in the world. All the information in this post, unless otherwise noted, was garnered from that blog.

 

15 Awesomely Named Yet Totally Closed Lesbian Bars Of America

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1. Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness (2900 E.Broadway Blvd, Tucson, AZ) 1994-2011

I feel like the idea here is that if your homophobic mother asks you where you’re going, you can say “ain’t nobody’s bizness.”

This hotspot, located in a shopping plaza, began as a lesbian bar and eventually evolved to attract a “mixed-gender” crowd and closed shortly thereafter because MEN RUIN EVERYTHING. Just kidding (kinda), I don’t know why it closed, do you?

When it snagged the 1999 Best Lesbian Bar Award from The Tucson Weekly, the Weekly professed: “The Biz is Tucson’s lesbian Cheers, but with hip music, a good dance floor and an Amazon attitude.”

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2. Volli-Bal (2124 North Clark St, Chicago, IL) 1950s-60s

This bar had a very strict butch/femme culture and often found itself subject to random police raids — both common situations at the time. More importantly, the creators of this bar discovered a new way to spell “volleyball,” a sport beloved by lesbians because volleyball players tend to wear tiny outfits and have strong fists!

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3. Our Hideaway (Chicopee, MA) 1949 -1999

I like to imagine this name came from the secret name for a private tree fort where the bar’s owner used to meet her romantic friend for cuddling after school. Yannow?

Anyhow, Our Hideaway was once the oldest women’s bar on the east coast, frequented both by college kids new to the area and locals who’d been partrons for 25 years!

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4. Kooky’s Cocktail Lounge (W. 14th Street, New York, NY) 1960s to early 1970s

One of only two lesbian bars in the city at that time, it seems like everybody who went to Kooky’s mostly hated it. Karla Jay, in her book The Lavender Menace: A Memoir of Liberation, tells tales of a hostile owner dressed in complicated pastel prom gowns who would harass clientele into buying more drinks (eventually turning everybody into an alcoholic), a bathroom guard who parceled out three squares of toilet paper to each guest while ensuring no couples snuck in and an intimidating entrance/carding procedure administered by male doormen. (The toilet paper situation wasn’t unique to this bar, however, this was a common strategy.)

“The bar lesbians were in no position to rebel against Kooky’s dictatorship,” Jay writes. “Instead, they put their energy into creating a network of friends and allies within the bar.”

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5. Never Never Land (1920 Market Street, Shreveport, Louisiana) 2005 to 2010

Inspired, undoubtedly, by how cute Mary Martin was when she played Peter Pan in the 1956 live action film “Peter Pan,” this girlbar dive with noted karaoke promised its customers: “Come with me now to a far off land across a briny sea, to a place where you can laugh and play and fly your heart so free.”

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6. Meow Mix (269 East Houston, New York, NY) 1996 to 2004

via mappingrootsnyc.org

“Meow Mix with its never-got-over-riot-grrrl-grunge is hot nearly every night of the week. Lipstick lesbians and butch drag queens swarm the dance floor or rock as live acts perform.”

Firstly, this name sounds like cat food. Secondly, perhaps the saddest introduction to my budding bisexual lifestyle came on a warm Pride Sunday in 2004, when I nervously tagged along to Meow Mix with a group of lesbians I’d met up with earlier ’cause one of them had been my roommate in boarding school. I was debating the whole way if I would actually go into the bar or not, but alas, my debating was all for naught — the place was closed like a book. Everyone was so confused and sad. Little did I know that later in life, as a lesbian, the experience of walking 16 blocks to a gay bar that turned out to be closed was par for the course. Apparently there were problems with “flooding, city harassment, and a shift in the neighborhood demographics.” The bar also played a cameo in Chasing Amy.

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7. Tink’s Pub (22 South Preston Street, Louisville, KY) 2001- 2012

I imagine some of you have visited Tink’s Pub and can verify whether or not it’s owned by my pet dog, Tinkerbell, who has always dreamed of starting her very own Pub. Regardless, Tink’s boasted karaoke, drag shows, pool, video poker, darts and a jukebox, and had its closing night party on New Year’s Eve 2011.

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8. Hot Legs (814 South Second Street, Milwaukee, WI) 1984-1987

I imagine the name “Hot Legs” was inspired by a naked girl with nice legs. “For a time Hot Legs was THE lesbian bar in Milwaukee,” says the Wisconsin GLBT History Project. Indeed, Hot Legs was well ahead of its time when it began offering those always-tantalizing wet t-shirt contests!

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10. Huddle Tavern (219 Cumberland Ave, Knoxville, TN) 1940-1981

1. Rhymes with CUDDLE!

2. Cormac McCarthy “immortalized” this bar, which was located in a basement, by writing about it in his novel Sutree. He cited patrons coming “down the street and turning in two by two” and spotting “a group of dubious gender” drinking in a corner. The place served beer in a fishbowl and whiskey in a jelly jar! Neat-o!

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11. The Kitty Kat Club (St.Louis, MO) 1960s-1970s

This bar name is genius for marrying the memory of Kit Porter to the sexiness of the Kit-Kat Girls from “Cabaret” to the cuteness of actual kittens (lesbians love cats: fact). That’s just about all we know, and I just made that up, so.

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12. Plush Pony (Los Angeles, CA) 1960s–> 2009

photo by laura aguilar

A hotspot for “Chicana dykes” and “lesbian Latinas” is cited in Gay L.A. as one of many “working class gay girl beer-and-pool-table bars” that popped up around the city in 1960s. The amazing lesbian photographer Laura Aguilar did a series in back of the bar, creating “an amazing document of working-class Chicana lesbian culture, a group whose existence is relegated to the margins of both Chicana and lesbian social formations.” The photo above is from that series. Seriously I love Laura Aguilar so much.

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13. Howdy Club (47 West Third Street, New York, NY) – 1930s -1940s

Lisa E. Davis says: “The Howdy Club is the earliest club we know about that hired lesbians as entertainers — strippers, singers like Blackie Dennis, and chorus boys who might serve the first round of drinks, then join the floorshow.” The Howdy Club closed because of “morals changes,” a/k/a excessive police harassment in the mid-to-late 40’s.  They also had a football team (pictured, above).

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14. The Sea Colony (52 West 8th, New York, NY) 1950s-1960s

I feel like this’d also be a good name for a restaurant in Disneyworld with singing little mermaids. But it’s not a restaurant in Disneyworld, it was a mega-popular often-working-class lesbian bar patronized by ladies like Joan Nestle and even Audre Lorde. Patrons could dance in the back room, where a red light started flashing to indicate a police raid in the works.

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15. Mother’s Brew (Louisville, KY) 1975-1976

Honestly when I go to gay bars the last thing I want to think about is my mother, especially since she started going to gay bars before I did, but this lesbian separatist hangout rocked the hell out of that brew, just like your mom does. Started by the Lesbian Feminist Union collective, Mother’s Brew was a bar but also a meeting space AND a venue for lectures and women’s music AND a shelter for battered women AND a feminist library AND an art gallery. Alix Dobkin, Holly Near and Cris Williamson performed here, amongst others. The no-men-allowed thing was very serious here.


Amazing Defunct Lesbian Bar Names Honorable Mentions:

MoDiggity’s Pub (Salt Lake City, Utah) – 2000s

Cowgirl’s Oasis (Fort Worth, Texas) – 1995-96

Billie Jean’s (Kansas City, MO) – 1980s

Tiny & Ruby’s Gay Spot (Chicago, IL) – 1950s

Bonnie & Clyde’s (New York, NY) – 1970s/80s

Attitudes (St.Louis, MO) – 1988-2012

Pandora’s Box (Detroit, MI) – 2005-2008

Bad Dolly’s (Reno, NV) – 1990s

Madison Flame (Memphis, TN) -1990s – 2007

 What are your favorite lesbian bar names?


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Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

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86 Comments

  1. Thumb up 5

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    Not a bar, per se, but I have to give a shout out to the Clit Club. Being a big theater nerd, I heard about it from RENT and tried to go once but we were sadly underage and they wouldn’t let us in.

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    I miss bar names like Attitudes, Secrets and Don’t Tell Mama’s. There seemed to be one in every suburb on the east coast. What about Indigo in Boston? Actually, it was Cambridge and my friend T was the bartender who looked like k.d.lang. What was the smaller bar across the street from Indigo? Wow… I’m not THAT old, but I went “Awwww! Meow Mix,” when I saw that pic. I’ve been to way too many lezzie bars, but damn, they were fun! I’m sure I could add 10 more to this list if I could remember! Oh! How could we forget Little Freida’s in LA?! I lived at Freida’s when I was in WeHo! And WOW Bar in NYC?? And Starlight?!! This was BFB of course…Before Facebook.
    I will honor them all at Pride tomorrow. *sigh*

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        Rubyfruit was my first lesbian bar experience too! I was so freakin’ terrfied (alone in NY/America for the first time) that I let them think I was some straight tourist. I then kissed the hell out of the pretty girl I left with in the taxi back home though, so I think that misconception was cleared up.

        Cubbyhole rocked my world. So glad to hear it’s still going.

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          Cubby is still the best for pre-game, or post-game for that matter. The crowd literally changes every hour…old school gals early, then happy hour career gals on their way to dinner, then young fun drunk girls, then boys with their girl posse. It never gets old. It has always been my ‘Gay Cheers’. I love it!

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            I think Rubyfruit was the first lesbian bar I ever went to as well, but I was maybe 18 and we didn’t stay long. Starlight was the first lesbian bar I ever really went to, like for the night.

            In 2004 I worked at a (now-defunct) restaurant next door to Rubyfruit mostly staffed by gay guys, and the Rubyfruit lesbian owners would get to work in the afternoon and sit outside and smoke and stuff before opening, and the gay guys I worked with would make derogatory jokes about butch lesbians which’s one of many reasons why i never told them i was queer, which is kinda fucked, right? i mean, you wish the boys would be on your side. but alas.

            Anyhow, I also went to Rubyfruit with my Mom and Alex when my mom came to visit me in ’08 or whatever, which was shortly before it shut down and turned into RF Lounge.

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      Oh my god, I forgot about Hershee!

      Norfolk also has The Wave, which is where sketchy goes to party. I remember getting into that bar and getting my chocolate martini on long before I was of age. At one point, someone hid me in a stall in the men’s bathroom and handed me a beverage so I could drink. That was my first gay bar and I’ll love it FOREVER.

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    Pope Joan in Toronto – I got my driver’s license to go drinking there. Memories! Fond yet blurry memories of ghastly/wonderful places.

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    “Little did I know that later in life, as a lesbian, the experience of walking 16 blocks to a gay bar that turned out to be closed was par for the course.”

    This happens to me ALL THE TIME, especially when trying to go to Cubbyhole and then finding out there’s a giant line outside and all the people you’re with are like “let’s just go to Art Bar” and you’re like “THAT IS NOT THE SAME”.

    Seriously though, when I moved to NYC I saw all these websites talking about how awesome Meow Mix was, only to find out later that it had been closed for years. SADFACE.

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    When I was 20 and hadn’t figured out I was queer, I was in some midwestern city for a rugby tournament and we went to a bar after our game. The name of the bar was RU12. I sat on a bar stool drinking a beer and looking at the neon sign sounding out every possibility for about 15 minutes because – yes – I was clueless in many areas of life. Finally, this older butch dyke (older being probably 30 at the time) came over and asked what I was thinking about. I said, “Rue 12. I don’t get it.” She laughed, put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Are you one too?” She lifted an eyebrow and waited and I was like, “OHHHHHHH!”

  6. Thumb up 2

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    DUDE MEOW MIX WAS AWESOME OKAY OH GOD LET ME SHARE MY BABY DYKE MEMORIES

    I used to go there all the time for Xena Night and it was a mixed crowd but 99% queermos, and even though I was underage they were all cool to me (I just couldn’t drink XD). It was amazingly fun and Lucy Lawless herself showed up one time, but that was in the early years before I went. I was voted Miss Callisto 2000 there! (of course I was the only Callisto but hush) And we used to march in Pride as the Marching Xenas…during the moment of silence we would all do a silent warrior salute. I would always be way hoarse by the end of the parade from doing the Xena yell so much but by god it was worth it. We always had a blast and people always went nuts when they saw us.

    Oh dang I’m so nostalgic, especially since it’s the day before NYC Pride. Gentrification is mostly what killed that place, like basically everywhere cool in this town. :(

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    My favourite has to be the legendarily named Boobsbourg in Paris. I swear to god that this is a genuine gay bar. When I was there, even though I knew it had closed I made my girlfriend come with me on a pilgrimage to see it. The sign is still there! We paid our respects and left.

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    I’m in utter shock that Arizona was mentioned. The only times I’ve ever seen the desert I live in mentioned on this website is if they’re talking about the bitch I didn’t vote for Jan Brewer. Any who, loved the post, lesbian bars are theeeeee cooooolest!

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    There is a place in Tokyo called Kuri to Risu, which is a play on words meaning Chestnut and Squirrel in Japanese but phonetically-speaking is meant to sound like “clitoris” (say kuritorisu quickly). Which gets my vote as best name ever.

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    Not only have I been to 2 of these – Ain’t Nobody’s Business and Meow Mix, I just found out my wife also went to the The Biz while visiting friends in Tucson years ago. At least this time we weren’t in attendance on the same day. The number of missed “almost meetings” we’ve reconstructed over time (OMG, I was at that concert, too! How on earth did we not meet 10 years earlier?) could fill a book.

    And to add to the list – two early lesbian bars in Indianapolis, open in the 1960s – 1990s: Shirley’s One Way (because she only went one way) and The Labrys. The Labrys closed before I started my bar-going, but Shirley’s was still open, and one of the few reasons I didn’t get carded as an 19-year-old was because Shirley thought I was cute and enjoyed sending me free drinks. I think she may have been in her 50s or 60s at that point. This was when I started hanging out with gay women much older than me and they called me a “gold star” all the time because they thought it was adorable that I never slept with a guy.

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    “Little did I know that later in life, as a lesbian, the experience of walking 16 blocks to a gay bar that turned out to be closed was par for the course.”

    GIRL, yes. there should be a course just on this which teaches the following:

    1) how to stay motivated
    2) how to somehow find some other gay or gay-friendly place to get inebriated
    3) where exactly one should pee in the street in between all of those blocks
    4) how to not feel all of the sads upon reaching closed queermo oasis

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      Stilettos has always been like 99% lesbian (Okay, it’s in Inkster…)

      Then there’s Rainbow Room… Which is like half lesbian, half drag queen.

      Soho always has a lot of girls around.

      But I guess, the big lesbian thing is Ladies night every first Wednesday at Rosie O’Grady’s in Ferndale.

  12. Thumb up 1

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    Love the post. now how about a post n whats STILL open? seeing shuttered doors of places like meow mix just make me wish id moved to nyc earlier. and i HATE ramdomly picking a party/bar out of the back of GO! mag, then showing up to a dead/empty party.

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    What the FUCK is happening with that Kitty Kat logo, it is horrifying.

    I loved this whole thing (for some reason Volli-Bal cracked me up most of all, god I wish it still existed in what is now like the very straightest part of town). There’s one in the south suburbs (never visited) called Dick’s R U Crazee? Punctuation and all.

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    There’s a new bar in Columbia, Tn called “The Muddy Beaver.” I’m not sure if it’s a lesbian watering hole or if two rednecks got drunk one night and thought those words sounded like a good business idea.

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    this post has given me an idea. one day i want to do a continent-wide road trip and write a book (/haha who am i kidding, it’s gonna be a blog) about all the lesbian bars in the land where i will rate them based on price of drinks, lineups, relative number of babes, proximity to late night snacks and include interesting facts/herstory on each place.

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    Wow. I practically grew up going to Madison Flame in Memphis. I started going the moment I turned 18 and went almost every weekend for years. This is such a great list. I wish I could have gone to more before they closed. I second the request for the best named still OPEN lesbian bars!

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    Ugh….Pride Hangover. I think this article pumped me up and I overdid it. I don’t need to go to a lesbian bar or party for a while (give it a week). Amazing time and I met Tegan & Sara. Yes, I bought 2 of the God Hates Bags bags. I love Revel & Riot!

  18. Thumb up 0

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    omg a friend and i were seriously joking about starting up a lesbian bookstore/club after seeing all these gross straight guys at the gay club in our city… i want mother’s brew to move here

  19. Thumb up 0

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    HOW HAS NOBODY MENTIONED THE LEXINGTON? I know it’s not a great name, but seriously that is a serious San Francisco Dyke Bar Institution.

    …Or come to think of it the Bearded Lady Cafe?

  20. Thumb up 0

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    No mention of Chances (Houston), probably the biggest lesbian bar in the US. It was actually 3 separate bars that were connected.

    I’m a guy and straight as well but was warmly accepted to join in the Wednesday night jam sessions they used to have.

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      Yep. I was just thinking of Chances. That was the first place I ever saw a drag king performance.

      Also, My Sister’s Room in Atlanta. Somehow that one appears to be hangin’ around, somehow…

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