A gay bar is a drinking establishment that caters to an exclusively or predominantly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) clientele; the term gay is used as a broadly inclusive concept for LGBT and queer communities.
Gay bars once served as the centre of gay culture and were one of the few places people with same-sex orientations and gender-variant identities could openly socialize. Other names used to describe these establishments include boy bar, girl bar, gay club, gay pub, queer bar, lesbian bar, drag bar, and dyke bar, depending on the niche communities that they served.
With the advent of the Internet and an increasing acceptance of LGBT people across the Western world, the relevance of gay bars in the LGBT community has somewhat diminished. In areas without a gay bar, certain establishments may hold a gay night.
Gathering places favoured by homosexuals have operated for centuries. Reports from as early as the 17th century record the existence of bars and clubs that catered to, or at least tolerated, openly gay clientele in several major European cities. The White Swan (created by James Cook and Yardley, full name unknown), on Vere Street, in London, England, was raided in 1810 during the so-called Vere Street Coterie. The raid led to the executions of John Hepburn and Thomas White for sodomy. The site was the scene of alleged gay marriages carried out by the Reverend John Church.
It's not clear which place is the first gay bar in the modern sense. In Cannes, France, such a bar already opened in 1885, and there were many more in Berlin around 1900. In the United Kingdom and the Netherlands gay bars were established throughout the first quarter of the 20th century.
The very first gay bar in Europe and probably in the world was the Zanzibar in Cannes on the French Riviera. The place was opened in 1885 and existed for 125 years, before it was closed in December 2010. Among its visitors were many artists, like actor Jean Marais and comedians Thierry Le Luron and Coluche.
Paris became known as a centre for gay culture in the 19th century, making the city a queer capital during the early 20th century, when the Montmartre and Pigalle districts were meeting places of the LGBT community. Although Amsterdam, Berlin, and London had more meeting places and organizations than Paris, the latter was known for the "flamboyance" of LGBT quarters and "visibility" of LGBT celebrities.
Paris retained the LGBT capital image after the end of World War II, but the center of the meeting place shifted to Saint-Germain-des-Prés. In the 1950s and 1960s the police and authorities tolerated homosexuals as long as the conduct was private and out of view, but gay bar raids occurred and there were occasions when the owners of the bars were involved in facilitating the raids. Lesbians rarely visited gay bars and instead socialized in circles of friends. Lesbians who did go to bars often originated from the working class.
Since the 1980s, the Le Marais district is the center of the gay scene in Paris.
In Berlin, there was gay and lesbian night life already around the year 1900, which throughout the 1920s became very open and vibrant, especially when compared to other capitals. Especially in the Schöneberg district around Nollendorfplatz there were many cafes, bars and clubs, which also attracted gay people who had to flee their own country in fear of prosecution, like for example Christopher Isherwood. The gay club Eldorado in the Motzstraße was internationally known for its transvestite shows. There was also a relatively very high number of places for lesbians. Within a few weeks after the Nazis took over government in 1933, fourteen of the best known gay establishments were closed. After homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969, many gay bars opened in West Berlin, resulting in a lively gay scene.
In Britain, the first gay bar in the modern sense was The Cave of the Golden Calf, established as a night club in London. It opened in an underground location at 9 Heddon Street, just off Regent Street, in 1912 and became a haunt for the wealthy, aristocratic and bohemian. Its creator Frida Strindberg née Uhl set it up as an avant-garde and artistic venture. The club provided a solid model for future nightclubs.
After homosexuality was decriminalized in the UK in 1967, gay bar culture became more visible and gradually Soho became the centre of the London LGBT community, which was "firmly established" by the early 1990s. Gay bars, cafes, restaurants and clubs are centred on Old Compton Street.
Other cities in the UK also have districts or streets with a concentration of gay bars, like for example Stanley Street Quarter in Liverpool, Canal Street in Manchester and the Birmingham Gay Village.
In Amsterdam, there were already a few gay bars in the first quarter of the 20th century. The best known was The Empire, which was first mentioned in 1911 and existed until the late 1930s. The oldest place that still exists is Café ‘t Mandje, which was opened in 1927 by lesbian Bet van Beeren. It closed in 1982, but was reopened in 2008.
After World War II, the Amsterdam city government acted rather pragmatic and tolerated the existence of gay bars. In the 1960s their number grew rapidly and they clustered in and around a number of streets, although this was limited to bars, clubs and shops and they never became residential areas for gays, like the gay villages in the US.
Since the late 1950s the main Amsterdam gay street was Kerkstraat, which was succeeded by Reguliersdwarsstraat in the early 1980s, when the first openly gay places opened here, like the famous cafe April in 1981, followed by dancing Havana in 1989. Other streets where there are still concentrations of gay bars are Zeedijk, Amstel and Warmoesstraat, the latter being the center of the Amsterdam leather scene, where the first leather bar already opened around 1955.
There are many institutions in the United States that claim to be the oldest gay bar. Since Prohibition ended in 1933, there are a number of places open and continuously operating since that date:
- The Atlantic House in Provincetown, Massachusetts was constructed in 1798 and was a tavern and stagecoach stop before becoming a de facto gay bar after artists and actors, including Tennessee Williams began spending summers in P-town in the 1920s.
- The Black Cat Bar, founded in 1906 and operated again after Prohibition was ended in 1933, was located in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood and was the focus of one of the earliest victories of the homophile movement. In 1951, the California Supreme Court affirmed the right of homosexuals to assemble in a case brought by the heterosexual owner of the bar.
- The Black Cat Tavern opened in November 1966 and was one of many LGBT bars to be raided, which happened on New Year's Day in 1967. It is now considered a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.
- The Double Header in Seattle's Pioneer Square is claimed to be the oldest gay bar on the North American West Coast, operating since 1933.
- Esta Noche was the first gay Latino bar that opened in 1979. It was located on Mission Street and 16th Street. Closed down in 1997 as one of the last gay Latino bar in the Mission District.
- Maud's Study Tavern (961 Cole Street San Francisco) was a lesbian bar which opened in 1966 and closed in September 1989. It claims to be the first gay bar. It closed during the AIDS crisis when a "clean and sober" mentality drove down a lot of bars.
- In New York City, the modern gay bar dates to Julius Bar, founded by local socialite Matthew Nicol, where the Mattachine Society staged a "Sip-In" on 21 April 1966 challenging a New York State Liquor Authority rule prohibited serving alcoholic beverages to gays on the basis that they were considered disorderly. The court ruling in the case that gays could peacefully assemble at bars would lead to the opening of the Stonewall Inn a block southwest in 1967, which in turn led to the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Julius is New York City's oldest continuously operating gay bar.
- Cafe Lafitte in Exile in New Orleans, dating back to 1933 and the end of Prohibition, claims to be the oldest continuously operating gay bar in the United States.
- The White Horse Inn in Oakland, California, also operating legally since Prohibition, but likely during the period where sales of alcohol were banned in the U.S., also claims to be the oldest gay bar in operation.
The first recorded use of the term 'gay bar' is in the diaries of homosexual British comedian Kenneth Williams: "16 January 1947. Went round to the gay bar which wasn't in the least gay." At the time Williams was serving in the British Army in Singapore.
The oldest Japanese gay bar opened in Tokyo in 1966.
A number of commentators have suggested that gay bars are facing decline in the contemporary age. Andrew Sullivan argued in his essay "The End of Gay Culture" that gay bars are declining because "the Internet dealt them a body blow. If you are merely looking for sex or a date, the Web is now the first stop for most gay men".
June Thomas explained the decline by noting that there is less need for gay-specific venues like bars because gay people are less likely to encounter discrimination or be made unwelcome in wider society. Entrepreneur magazine in 2007 included them on a list of ten types of business that would be extinct by 2017 along with record stores, used bookstores and newspapers.
Like most bars and pubs, gay bars range in size from the small, five-seat bars of Tokyo to large, multi-story clubs with several distinct areas and more than one dance floor. A large venue may be referred to as a nightclub, club, or bar, while smaller venues are typically called bars and sometimes pubs. The only defining characteristic of a gay bar is the nature of its clientele. While many gay bars target the gay and/or lesbian communities, some (usually older and firmly established) gay bars have become gay, as it were, through custom, over a long period of time.
The serving of alcohol is the primary business of gay bars and pubs. Like non-gay establishments they serve as a meeting place and LGBT community focal point, in which conversation, relaxation, and meeting potential romantic and sexual partners is the primary focus of the clientele. Historically and continuing in many communities, gay bars have been valued by patrons as the only place closeted gay men and lesbians can be open and demonstrative about their sexuality without fear of discovery. Gerard Koskovich of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society explains that "[Gay bars] were a public place where gay people could meet and start to have a conversation, where they didn't feel like sexual freaks or somehow not part of the larger social fabric; from that came culture, politics, demands for equal rights."
Gay bars traditionally preferred to remain discreet and virtually unidentifiable outside the gay community, relying exclusively on word of mouth promotion. More recently, gay clubs and events are often advertised by handing out eye-catching flyers on the street, in gay or gay-friendly shops and venues, and at other clubs and events. Similar to flyers for predominantly heterosexual venues, these flyers frequently feature provocative images and theme party announcements.
While traditional gay pub-like bars are nearly identical to bars catering to the general public, gay dance venues often feature elaborate lighting design and video projection, fog machines and raised dancing platforms. Hired dancers (called go-go girls or go-go boys) may also feature in decorative cages or on podiums. Gay sports bars are relatively unusual, but it is not unusual for gay bars to sponsor teams in local sports/game leagues, and many otherwise traditional gay pubs are well known for hosting post-game parties—often filling with local gay athletes and their fans on specific nights or when major professional sporting events are broadcast on TV. Some of the longest established gay bars are unofficial hosts of elaborate local 'Royal Court' drag pageants and drag-related social groups.
Gay bars and nightclubs are sometimes segregated by sex. In some establishments, people who are perceived to be of the "wrong" sex (for example, a man attempting to enter a women's club) may be unwelcome or even barred from entry. This may be more common in specialty bars, such as gay male leather fetish or BDSM bars, or bars or clubs which have a strict dress code. It is also common in bars and clubs where sex on the premises is a primary focus of the establishment. On the other hand, gay bars are usually welcoming of transgender and cross-dressed people, and drag shows are a common feature in many gay bars, even men-only spaces. Some gay bars and clubs which have a predominantly male clientele, as well as some gay bathhouses and other sex clubs, may offer occasional women-only nights.
A few gay bars attempt to restrict entry to only gay or lesbian people, but in practice this is difficult to enforce. Most famously, Melbourne's Peel Hotel was granted an exemption from Australia's Equal Opportunities Act by a state tribunal, on the grounds that the exemption was needed to prevent "sexually-based insults and violence" aimed at the pub's patrons. As a result of the decision, the pub is legally able to advertise as a "gay only" establishment, and door staff can ask people whether they are gay before allowing them inside, and can turn away non-gay people.
Already categorized as gay or lesbian, many gay bars in larger cities/urban areas take this sub-categorization a step further by appealing to distinct subcultures within the gay community. Some of these sub-cultures are defined by costume and performance. These bars often forge a like-minded community in dozens of cities with leather gay bars, line-dancing gay bars, and drag revues. Other subcultures cater to men who fit a certain type, one that is often defined by age, body type, personality, and musical preference. There are some bars and clubs that cater more to a working class/blue collar crowd and some that cater to a more upscale clientele. There are gay bars that cater to "twinks" (young, smooth-bodied pretty boys) and others that cater to bears (older, larger, hairier alternatives to the well-manicured and fey gay stereotype). There are also gay bars that cater to certain races, such as ones for Asian men "and their admirers", Latin men, or black men.
Music, either live or, more commonly, mixed by a Disc jockey (DJ), is often a prominent feature of gay bars. Typically, the music in gay bars include pop, dance, contemporary R&B, house, trance, and techno. In larger North American cities and in Australia, one or more gay bars with a country music theme and line dancing are also common, as are bars known for retro 1960s pop and "Motown Sound."
List of gay bars
- Pan Club Copenhagen (closed 2007)
- Sunee Plaza, a close collection of gay bars
List of lesbian bars
While some gay bars open their doors to all LGBTQ people, other bars cater specifically to lesbians. In recent years many lesbian bars have closed down. In 2015, JD Samson made a documentary exploring the remaining lesbian bars in the United States.
- Candy Bar (London) (closed)
- Lloyd G. Davies, Los Angeles City Council member, 1943–51, fought against "undesirable" bars in Hollywood, California
- List of public house topics
- Geoff Williams (19 September 2007). "10 Businesses Facing Extinction in 10 Years". Entrepreneur. Retrieved 2008-11-26.
- Tim Blanning. The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815. p 80. ISBN 978-0-670-06320-8.
- capitalpunishment.org Newgate executions 1800 - 1836
- Caryn E. Neumann (17 June 2007). "The Vere Street Coterie". Retrieved 2008-11-26.http://wayback.archive.org/web/20150925093526/http://www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/vere_street_coterie.html
- RTBF.be: France: fermeture du "plus vieux bar gay d'Europe" à Cannes, January 7, 2011
- Florence Tamagne, Paris: 'Resting on its Laurels'?, in: Queer Cities, Queer Cultures: Europe since 1945, p. 240.
- Tamagne, p. 242-243.
- Matt Cook. London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914 (Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture). ISBN 0521089808.
- "The programme and menu from the Cave of the Golden Calf, Cabaret and Theatre Club". 20thcenturylondon.org.uk. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
- Turner, p. 50.
- Pieter Koenders, Tussen christelijk réveil en seksuele revolutie - Bestrijding van zedeloosheid in Nederland, Amsterdam 1996, p. 704-706
- Gert Hekma (Gay Studies University of Amsterdam), The Amsterdam Bar Culture And Changing Gay/Lesbian Identities
- Reguliers.net: History of Reguliersdwarsstraat
- About the history of the Amsterdam Leather Scene
- See: LGBT Copenhagen
- "Copenhagen Gay Travel Guide 2014".
- "History". Retrieved November 28, 2015.
- Kery Murakami (June 23, 2007). "No longer at the center of Seattle's gay scene, bar still serving outsiders". The Seattle PI. Retrieved 1 January 2011.
- Press, Berkeley Electronic. """'Mira, Yo Soy Boricua y Estoy Aquí': Rafa Negrón's Pan Dulce and the Queer Sonic Latinaje of San Francisco"" by Horacio N Roque Ramirez". works.bepress.com. Retrieved 2016-04-07.
- Hankin, Kelly (2002). The Girls in the Back Room: Looking at the Lesbian Bar. University of Minnesota Press.
- Scott Simon (28 June 2008). "Remembering a 1966 'Sip-In' for Gay Rights". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2008-11-26.
- "America's Oldest Gay Bar, WhiteHorse, Turns 80". Huffington Post. May 21, 2013. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
- The Kenneth Williams Diaries edited by Russell Davies, 1993, 8.
- In 1966 (昭和41), There is the continuously operating gay bar "New Sazae" which opened in Tokyo, Shinjuku Ni-chōme. 8 December 2007 ja:出没!アド街ック天国 Shinjuku Ni-chōme.
- Sullivan, Andrew (4 October 2005). "The End of Gay Culture". The New Republic. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
- Thomas, June (27 June 2011). "The Gay Bar: is it dying". Slate. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
- Williams, Geoff (19 September 2007). "10 Businesses Facing Extinction in 10 Years". Entrepreneur. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
- Jones, Carolyn (May 9, 2013). "Oakland's White Horse gay bar turns 80". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
- "Australian gay bar can ban straights". The Advocate. Associated Press. 30 May 2007. Retrieved 2008-11-26.http://www.advocate.com/news/2007/05/30/australian-gay-bar-can-ban-straights
- "Night. Life.". Gay Bar Culture. 2008. Archived from the original on September 12, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-26.
- Bendix, Trish (17 August 2015). "Broadly goes to "The Last Lesbian Bars"". AfterEllen. Retrieved 22 October 2015.