Two Of New York’s Most Iconic Gay Bars Battle The City To Stay Open

julius-barTwo 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.)

Further north in Hell’s Kitchen, the Latin club Escuelita, an early home to drag icons like Ru Paul and Lady Bunny, might lose its liquor license.

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!

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  • Shannon1981

    How dare they! I thought we were moving forward, not backward. If these were yuppie clubs aimed at straight, white, rich men, we’d have no issue. How can I help?

  • Kurt

    @Shannon1981: 1, Gay rights is nto advanced by having us eat brugers with mouse droppings and cockroaches. 2) It would be nice for Q to tell us what the “minor violations” were before jumping on one side or the other.

  • Shannon1981

    @Kurt: I don’t want iconic parts of our culture close down. If helping that not happen includes scrubbing floors and bringing the places up to code, I’m willing. I have a one track mind: preserving our culture and securing equality.

  • Jame

    Julius re-opened yesterday.

  • the other Greg

    Julius is a great place to experience the gay culture of the ’70s… the 1870s!

  • Carlos G

    Good for Julius for getting their shit together and cleaning the place up, nobody wants to think about mouse turds while scarfing down one of their delicious burgers, bus as for La Escuelita, good riddance. That place is nothing but a nest of thieves and criminals as well as a drug den masquerading as a trash heap night club. The place is a fire trap, the bartenders are crooks, managers are disgusting, the bouncers are thieves and the mostly latino/black clientele seems to have been bused in from ever single third world prison in the universe. If your idea of a historic gay bar is a place where if you dont watch your back you may get stabbed beaten or pick pocketed then this may be the place for you, but if not, then pray they close this disgusting dump for ever. And as for their ridiculously deformed “trans performers with their faces chests and asses pumped with caulk and tire filler, the sooner they shoo them away the better. Ugh! The last thing we as a gay community need representing us in Time Square are these low life thieves and freaks. Oh and before you call me a racist, I am a proud Latin man. I just cant stand these trash heaps heroin peddling scum representing me and my community any longer. Your first sign that the place is a hell hole is when they frisk you at the door, lol what a fucking joke. Good Riddance Escuelita and your disgusting minions, nobody needs you, nobody ever did and no matter what Lady Bunny says, nobody ever will. Oh and as for Bunny, dont worry hon, you still will be able to find plenty ex-on cheesy dick at the Port Authority a couple of blocks away.

  • pierre

    @Carlos G: I guess you didn’t have an opinion on this! ;)

  • mudduck

    We go to Julius’s for the hamburgers, and sometimes we get a draft beer to go with it. Without the grill, it wouldn’t attract us. The cheesesteak is also delicious, and we love the onion rings. I fear that Bloomberg’s New York City is padding its budget with fines on small businesses.

  • SteveC

    Is it still illegal to dance in bars in NYC?

  • CBRad

    They’ll be gone eventually. Along with the rest of what’s disappeared from NYC.


    ESCUELITAS has been home to many generations of Out and Proud gays in NYC today.. It’s said that in a Society where we’ve managed to gain the rights to marriage they say that they want to “shut us down” bc we are below standards of the Community! Perhaps if they made the community slightly more realistic as opposed to as bourgeois as it has become there wouldn’t be such a problem!

  • Kay

    @Carlos G:

    AMEN! I couldn’t agree anymore.. I am a Puerto Rican Transwoman who has seen Escuelita turn into a joke in recent years. The place is overrun by (18-21 year old) Latino/Black trash. Anyone defending the place is blind or just after the ghetto boy hustler dick that frequents the place.



    As a young GAY MALE, ESCUELITA was & will be the Greatest place the has to offer to a young Gay male like myself! Just like many many others ESCUELITA has being their first drink of gay life enjoyingment and such. That’s a legendary Place for too many people, & let just cut the Crap , the issue of this because as it is inform in the article, this is all because NY has build up high class building And it seem to their eyes Esco doesn’t fit in anymore! If I’m not mistaken AT ESCO hundreds of tourist visit Esco from around the country and the world to not say much on that matter! ESCO NEEDS TO REMAIN OPEN FOR LIFE!





  • Hephaestion

    I love the burgers at Julius! I hope they don’t close down the grill. That’s a crucial part of the Julius experience. I love that place. It has character and history. It’s rustic and fun and friendly for all… we need more such places, not less.

  • NYCTender

    I have worked in bars in NYC since the early 80’s, Bars have always been an easy target for fines to help the city’s budget since it’s easier to pay it then fight it. One issue with bars is part of our own community, we need to spend less time meeting men on line and more time with face time in our local bars. As for Esqualita w/o knowing the violations it’s difficult to say but I have never had an issue getting a liquor lic re newed in 30 years in the business, so I have to suspect it’s more then a minor issue. And no, you still can not dance in a bar w/o a cabaret Lic. and most do not have and can not get them.

  • CBRad

    @TASTEY GOODIES: It’s not just breeder conservatives. It’s out-of-town gays who come to NYC with too much money and try to turn everything into an antiseptic Disneyworld. There was a day when gays had style and added to places they moved to. Now they won’t rest until all NYC is TGI Fridays, The Olive Garden, and Starbucks. And the biggest fashion will be wearing those silly turtle bike helmets so everyone knows you ride “green.” And going crazy and living-it-up at night will mean the rare staying up until 1:00 am.

  • CBRad

    @CBRad: But, the REALLY strange thing about gays who move to Manhattan, is that they like to think they’re cooler than the people back where they left (“..I’m the one in the big city now!! I’m so…continental..!.”) yet they try to turn NYC into the very place they left! It’s the strangest thing. And then they try to call themselves “New Yorkers”, meanwhile despising the people who were already here and only hanging with other loser newcomers who had such an inner-neediness they had to move here to feel superior. Couldn’t Andrew Towle, Andrew Belonsky, Matthew Rettenmund, David Hauslaib, and the whole clique of their followers just have gotten together in Kansas City or something? It would’ve been cheaper for them, and us natives of NYC could have kept the city intact.

  • ousslander

    good burgers at julius, friendly people.

    Escuelita went once but being wanded and frisked, made me never go back.

  • Toferdavid

    Nothing for nothing but if julius’ had cockroaches and rat turds around the city did the patrons a favor. Now if they have taken care of the issue perhaps they will think more about the future of the place and their responsibility to the gay community to keep it intact. If you got time to lean you have got time to clean momma.

  • Elmwoodmac


    Wanded and frisked? Sounds good to me!

  • cory

    I am gay white male who enjoys going to Escuelita;I have lots of friends who are not trash. I believe this is another form of Racism against our community.

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