Two longstanding gay bars in New York are fighting the city to stay open. In the West Village, Julius’ (right), one of the oldest gay bars in the country and home to gay-rights demonstrations before Stonewall, was just closed for health violations. (Update: The bar has since reopened.)
The State Liquor Authority (SLA) doesn’t want to renew Escuelita’s liquor license next month, which spells death for any club—especially a gay one. Owner Sayvon Zabar says the beef is over two minor violations and tells the New York Post authorities are just trying to steamroll gentrification through the Times Square/Port Authority region: “We are no longer welcome on West 39th Street, as minorities scare the mostly white tourists who patronize the newly built and expensive boutique hotels.”
The club, amazingly, is bringing its drag queens along to fight the SLA in court today. Lady Bunny wrote on her blog:
“Escuelita has fulfilled a need for the black and Latino gay and trans community for decades. They get along with their local community board and police precinct. This place represents authentic NYC flavor! And now someone is telling the SLA to crack down on the joint because it isn’t as upscale as the area is becoming? Class warfare, racism, transphobia, drag phobia—this hits a lot of alarm bells.”
Julius’, on the other hand, was shut down by the Department of Health last weekend for more concrete issues: an infestation of cockroaches and mouse droppings. The bar, which still serves burgers to its mostly older clientele, is housed in an 1826 building. Ironically it was Julius’ involvement in a 1966 court case that helped helped birth the modern gay bar scene in New York.
The New York Times gives a little history lesson:
“It was not so unusual in those days to find a bar that was filled only with men,” Mr. Bourscheidt said. “It was quietly known in the gay world as a gay bar. They did everything they could to conceal that fact. In my somewhat distorted recollection from 1965, it seemed that everyone in there had gone to Yale, was dressed in a suit, and was in advertising — which was then an occupation open to gay men, unlike banking or the law.”
Around his third or fourth visit, he bought a beer and turned from the bar to look around. The bouncer came over and told him it was New York State law that he had to face the bar. “I said, what kind of law is that?” Mr. Bourscheidt said. “It was the only time in my life I’ve ever been thrown out of a bar.”
That may have been a bizarre interpretation of a provision of the state liquor law that forbade the service of liquor to disorderly people — a group to which homosexuals, in the view of the State Liquor Authority, automatically belonged, regardless of decorum. This was challenged in 1966 by an organization of gay men, the Mattachine Society. Three men from the group appeared at Julius’ with a letter announcing their sexual orientation and their intention to remain orderly. Refused service at Julius’, they brought a court case and the law was overturned.
The Mattachine Society is gone but you can still attend John Cameron Mitchell’s monthly Mattachine party at Julius’. That is, if the bar gets its ducks in a row. We say: get rid of the unhygienic grill and focus on the drinking.
As for Escuelita, we would kill for front row seats at that SLA hearing. We can just see Bunny Carmen Carerra and the other queens reading those board members for filth!