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Remembering LA’s Earliest Lesbian Bars

Mon, May 06, 2013   By James F. Mills    44 Comments
Green Door photo1 Mazer Lesbian Archives

An August 1955 photo shows lesbian patrons posing inside the Green Door bar, on Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. Until this photo was donated to the Mazer Lesbian Archives, no LGBT historian had ever heard of the Green Door. The photo is also notable because the women are freely posing, which was rare during a time of police harassment.
(Photo courtesy of the June Mazer Lesbian Archives)

The Palms may be the only lesbian bar in West Hollywood and the oldest continually operating lesbian bar in the Los Angeles area but it is far from the first lesbian bar in the area.

The June Mazer Lesbian Archives, located at 626 Robertson Blvd., adjacent to West Hollywood Park, maintains an extensive collection of lesbian-related information from across the nation. WEHOville consulted with the archive to learn more about some of the early lesbian bars in the area.

Angela Brinskele, the archive’s communication director, said that early records of lesbian bars are sketchy. Before the Stonewall riots, which are credited as the single most important moment leading to the gay liberation movement, police used to routinely raid gay and lesbian bars. As a result, people didn’t keep things that might associate them with those bars. To buy some protection for the bar and its patrons, lesbian bar owners often paid off police officers, either with cash or sex or both.

In 1991, the archive videotaped a half-dozen women reminiscing about the early lesbian bars. The archive hopes to hold another videotaping session this summer. People interested in reminiscing about lesbian bars from the 1950s to the 1990s should contact the Mazer.

The Mazer is still learning a lot about the bars of the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Recently, the archive received a donation of several photographs dated August 1955, taken at a bar called the Green Door on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. The donation is notable, Brinskele said, because LGBT historians had never heard of the Green Door. Furthermore, the photos show women freely posing, which was rare in a time of police harassment.

Below is a brief history of some of the earliest lesbian bars in the Los Angeles area, gathered from that taping session, Lillian Faderman’s book “Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics and Lipstick Lesbians” and other resources at the Mazer.

If Club – Located at Vermont Avenue and 8th Street (in what is now Koreatown), this is the earliest known lesbian bar, opening in approximately 1947. It was a working class, racially mixed bar. Sometime in the 1950s, The Open Door opened across the street, catering to a similar crowd. A 1966 “Barfly” gay guide described the If Club (also known as the If Café) as, “a crowd of butch girls, men in 40s, others from area.” That same guide described the Open Door as having the “same crowd as at If Café.”

Star Room – Located between Watts and Gardena in an unincorporated portion of Los Angeles County, this was a “cruising bar” that attracted a more pink-collar clientele (teachers, secretaries, nurses, etc). Opened in the mid 1950s, owner Jo Heston had to marry a man in order to buy the bar because laws at that time didn’t allow women to own bars. The laws also prevented Heston from pouring liquor, so the bar had male bartenders.

Beverly Shaw

Beverly Shaw, an openly lesbian singer, starred at her nightclub, Laurel Canyon, for more than 15 years. (Photo courtesy of One Archives)

Club Laurel – Located in Studio City on Ventura Boulevard at Laurel Canyon, this was an upscale club with a dance floor owned by singer Beverly Shaw, a celebrity among the lesbian community. Shaw, who was described as having a sultry voice, often sat atop the piano to perform songs and dressed in tailor-made suits wearing a bow tie. Patrons tended to dress up when they went to Club Laurel, which one review described as an “uptown club unlike anything in the way of a gay club we had ever seen.” It opened to great fanfare in 1957, closing in approximately 1971.

Joani presents

Joani Presents, owned by Joan Hannan, was located in North Hollywood and attracted many classes of women throughout the 1960s and 70s.

Joani Presents – Located in North Hollywood at 6413 Lankershim Boulevard, this bar was owned by Joan Hannan, who was most famous for playing the drummer in the all-girl band in the 1959 Marilyn Monroe film “Some Like it Hot.” Attracting many classes of women, the bar was popular throughout the 1960s and 1970s, only closing when Hannan and her partner moved to Humboldt County.

Canyon Club – Located in Topanga Canyon between Malibu and Pacific Palisades, this was a private membership club complete with a swimming pool that attracted “women who looked like women” (which today would be known as “lipstick lesbians”). Drawing a more professional crowd who couldn’t risk being arrested in a police raid, women gladly paid the $20 yearly membership fee. If the police did drive up, management would flash the lights, indicating women dancing with women should trade partners with the men dancing with men. Same-sex dancing was illegal in Los Angeles County until the 1970s.

For a look at the history of West Hollywood’s Palms bar, click here.

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44 Comments

  1. chloe rossMon, May 06, 2013 at 11:33 am

    How could anyone forget the “Dummy Up” club in Studio City? Located on a dead ended street (whose name I can’t remember) – it was a little hideaway in the late 70’s. I don’t know who their clientele was but I did work with a young woman who frequented the bar and said it was great and very discreet (at a time when wild heterosex was running rampant in the streets and discos) hangout. Another one you missed was Carolyn Clones – a pop-up tea dance-a-thon for which I supplied requisite food that enabled required drink. Clone’s clientele was definitely upscale and very much Armani suit professionals. One of her regular locations was at the corner where Hamburger Mary’s now stands. That’s right – across from our now City Hall.

  2. jeanne simonoffMon, May 06, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    i remember 1959, the if club, walking in, very shy and very new and very underage. it was my first experience in a lesbian bar. later there was the mint on pico, the sugar shack was it venice blvd? and going country western dancing in the valley at oilcan harry’s, a guy’s bar who liked us to come on wednesday nights.

  3. Wendy OchsTue, May 07, 2013 at 5:13 am

    Don’t forget San Gabriel’s lesbian bar – Vermie’s then changed name to Club 3772 on Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena. This is a great article and I am thanking my friend who shared it on our private Fb group page since our bar closed in the mid 90’s. After a recent visit back home to CA from FL, I created a Fb page for our bar since it was a long lasting place to meet. More and more old friends are being found through social media. I was under age trying to sneak into the bars and am now 52. I so cherish our little bar and the people I met there are still family and dear friends to me. Thanks for such a wonderful article.

  4. chloe rossTue, May 07, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Did not know The Mint (on Pico near La Cienega) was a lesbian bar – only know they have great music. Also the Sugar Shack – where I went to a book party (not lesbian) – it closed and later became a Chinese restaurant serving NY style Chinese food and the best shrimp and lobster sauce on earth. I think there was also a place over on Gateway that was on Pico and near Barrington but I am not sure. I was and (am) lucky to have had a wide and diverse group of friends and went to lots of cool spots in the 70’s and 80’s. I laughed when John Duran said he was chased out of the Palms by women wielding cue sticks. I went in once with my then husband and while not threatened with cue sticks – it was frosty. On the other side of the coin, A friend and I were hissed out of the old (70’s) Revolver/Blue Parrot and not allowed into Studio One due to our footwear. I did however go to Probe and actually met a straight man (well..) who asked me to dance.

  5. joetheplummberWed, May 08, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    Chloe, Caroline Clone’s place was not a Lesbian Bar, it was a Lesbian’s Bar. And we should all not for get Club 7969 (now Voyer). I got cold cocked there in the jaw by Christy McNicol for using the ladies room; (it was my estimation in 1981 that every bathroom unisex).

  6. ViragoMon, Jun 03, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    Remember The Connection on Sepulveda in Culver City. A small neighborhood bar just like Cheers that was popular through the 80’s

  7. DavidThu, Jul 18, 2013 at 8:57 am

    Chloe Ross, do you remember the address of the Sugar Shack? Am working on a book about a couple who met there in ’67.

  8. Jeanne SimonoffThu, Jul 18, 2013 at 9:20 am

    i remember it was on venice boulevard, and what a lively place it was. great juke box and good dancing. my partner and i all dressed up in our pin striped suits, some make up taking turns lighting each other cigarettes. in the day. I remember one song in particular, “I’m Your Puppet.” gazing into her eyes and lip sinking to the song, “pull my strings and i’ll do anything. i’m your puppet.”
    i don’t remember the exact address.

  9. pearlstringFri, Aug 23, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Here are some women’s bars from the 70’s/San Fernando Valley .. The Crystal Inn .. Pat’s Lantern .. The Hialeah House .. The Saloon .. The Love Inn .. and later, This Is It, Club 22 .. and more.

  10. pearlstringFri, Aug 23, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Hollywood, The Seventh Circle. WeHo, Bacchanal. And more …

  11. David KiddFri, Oct 04, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Thanks, Jeanne. Does anyone have any memories of The Canyon Club? Or the Greenwich Village in Studio City. I’ve come across some stories of the Canyon not allowing African Americans. And one of a couple (one lesbian the other a gay man) trying to get the Greenwich to “mix” and welcome gals.

  12. Kym AbbeyThu, Dec 05, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    For Canyon Club, see Faderman & Timmons’ “Gay L.A.”

  13. SamFri, Dec 13, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    I worked at some of the clubs peanuts. The Dummy Up was un by Nancy Martin and her partner Trisha. I was the door bouncer and bartender.

  14. SueTue, Feb 11, 2014 at 10:21 pm

    What about the Big Horn on Lankershim? Owned by Dee Blye…

  15. Kim DornTue, May 06, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    OMG i remember the Dummy Up! I lived there practically. Loved that place! Not to mention the after hours bar at the Queen Mary and who could forget Cinema Lady and the 49er? Peanuts was fun along with the Pink Flamingo! Started going when I was 19 yrs. old – fake idea? Oh Yes! I went with my 34 yrs. old girlfriend! I remember Colleen and Terese – and my two Debbies! Fun times. Now sober and clean almost 25 years! Thank GOD!

  16. KarenSat, May 10, 2014 at 12:28 am

    Talk about a walk down memory lane! I used to work for JB who ran the 49er and The Love Inn. Tended bar and ran the DJ set-up. I’m surprised I’m still alive and have a functioning liver. Spent way too many nights in bars in the Valley.

  17. JaneThu, Jun 12, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    Anyone remember Entre nous in West LA? A Woman by the name of Halley ran it. Also Club 22 in NoHo, In Touch East? I remember the Dummy Up, my first bar in LA and it closed shortly after I went there. Also remember the Carolyn and Christine Clones bar, the good days!

  18. RoxySun, Dec 21, 2014 at 12:18 am

    Kim, thanks for remembering the Pink Flamingo. I was one of the few female bartenders when it was predominantly a boys bar – Club 3626 at 3626 Sunset Blvd. 1987-1989.

  19. MaryFri, Dec 26, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Memory Lane for sure…….In the early ’80’s- anyone remember Sparks- similar to Clone’s- high end femme one night a week dance bar- on either Las Palmas or La Brea. Clones was fun. Christy McNichol was a regular-she never punched me but i danced w her

  20. IrishmayMon, Mar 16, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    Sparks was run by Shelley- lots of fun. Entre Nous, The Dummy Up, The Friendship at the beach, The Pink Elephant, Peanuts, Club 22′ The Apache on Stoner Ave with the outdoor fire pit, Rumors, Baker Street-, The Catch, The Palms, The Executive Suite, Girl Bar, The Connection on Sepulveda- great times in the late 70’s and throughout the 80’s and the early 90’s-

  21. Carol SjolanderSun, May 10, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    There’s a place called The Huntress in midway city not sure if its just a lesbian bar now. Robbie’s in Pomona had a lesbian Night.The Hook up in Pomona still open is a quaint lil place , pool bar for everyone to enjoy. In the valley somewhere there’s a place called the Library /or Reading room. Met my wife at SCENE ONE in West Covina, they had a ladies night,closed now. But I grew up in Arcadia, Ca. and Judy Sobe’s VERMIES aka Club 3772 now will always be the spot for me ..

  22. susanSun, May 17, 2015 at 7:31 am

    I lived and worked in the area for a few years. the clubs that come to mind for me were kind of small and im not sure how long they were around. I didn’t go often but had a roomie that bartended at most of these. the oxwood inn, the connection, rumors, and club 22. wow its been years.

  23. Marilyn TaylorSun, Jun 07, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    I was one of the regulars at Joani Presents when I was first “out” back in 1971. I was still heterosexually married but very, very curious about the so-called “gay life”. I remember going there with a mini skirt, knee-length boots and a long wig. I was so fascinated that I was there almost every night of the week until the bar closed. Also during this time I was raped and a very nice woman took me under her wing and helped me over this terrible ordeal.

  24. AdrienneFri, Jul 10, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    There was a Lesbian/gay bar with dancing via the jute box on the beach of Santa Monica. I was very near to the Muscle Beach area. The owner was a straight male, who only changed his gender bending when it was election time. The City Fathers had a great aversion to having Santa Monica identified with Lesbians/gays.

  25. jeanne simonoffFri, Jul 10, 2015 at 11:03 pm

    the bar i remember going to with my first partner was the WESTWIND, which was in Venice Beach. I used to meet my friend Nancy to shoot pool during the week in the summer. We used to lie on the sand in front of the bar all summer on the weekends and then drink a beer and run into the sea to refresh.

  26. AdrienneSat, Jul 11, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    I remember walking from SM down the cement walkway to Venice to the same bar. I was underage, didn’t drink but enjoyed the comfort of other women of my like. It’s the SM bar whose name aludes me.

  27. RDGMon, Aug 31, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    WHY DIDNT THEY TEACH LITTLE BOYS ABOUT GIRLS THAT LIKED EACH OTHER? HOW WERE WE TO KNOW ? I LIKED TO WALK HOME WITH STELLA, NANCY AND DOREEN.. WHAT HAPPENED ? EVEN MY MOM WENT GAY? THE BEAVER LIKED THE GIRLS, MRS. LANDERS SEEMED NICE,

  28. AdrienneMon, Aug 31, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    There was a bar in El Monte,Ca that we went to that was not part of the LA City restrictions. I don’t remember the name but we had to travel there to dance with our partner.

  29. nearlynormalizedThu, Sep 10, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    Most of the lesbian bars also sponsored softball teams…Fast pitch softball was the name of the game…Bars from Venice, San Fernando Valley, West Los Angeles, Redondo Beach, Long Beach; all over. It was a good time had by all. Dykes and their women for days.

  30. Jeanne BristolSun, Oct 25, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    My name is Jean I used to almost live at if club in 50’s and60’s so did candy, lee Corley pony tail tony sheets,big Jean miss lee worked there .is any of the old crowd alive

  31. SharonThu, Jun 16, 2016 at 9:48 pm

    What memories! The Dummy Up, The Palms, Studio One, Rumors, The Executive Suite and Vermies. When I lived in Altadena I went to Vermies regularly. Margarett was the bartender at Vermies. Thank you for the memories!

  32. SharonThu, Jun 16, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    Also the Bacannal in the late 1960s early 1970s.

  33. DebTue, Jun 21, 2016 at 5:52 am

    Before it was the Connection it was in was the My Way.who remembers the My Way? Remembering Mama Rosa.

  34. Deborah LevinsonTue, Jun 21, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    I was coming here to mention the DU myself.

  35. SusanTue, Jun 21, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    Wow lots of memories. I live in northern az now. It’s nice to read about some of the old haunts!

  36. Judy ScottTue, Jun 21, 2016 at 11:18 pm

    Monika and I certainly remember the My Way, that is where we met. And Moma Rosa, and all the other pool players. Together now 34 years. And this year we became grandmothers!

  37. DianeWed, Jun 22, 2016 at 2:06 am

    From the early 80’s I remember Dummy Up,Caroline Clones, Club 22, Entre Nous, Peanuts, Executive Suite, The Palms, Sparks, Club 7969 and Probe. Was a regular at The Flamingo (used to be a men’s bar called The Zoo or the Jungle and had birds on the patio which were left behind at The Flamingo) and the bartenders were DeeDee and Cathy. They used to have wet t-shirt contests out on the patio. The bar is now the restaurant Cliff’s Edge and my initials are carved on one of their gigantic trees on the patio.

  38. patsyWed, Jun 22, 2016 at 10:10 am

    Wonderful memories for me too. I miss the Girlz places!

  39. KymberleighSun, Sep 18, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    I remember Club 22 very well. It was not only my Saturday night hangout, it was somewhere I could just drop in to in the late afternoon if I was thirsty. Nancy Kesterman had only one rule: No one could disrespect anyone else. We even got some transgender customers, all of whom were very friendly and seemed to be there to “get away” from the stereotypical drag clubs. And Nancy hired the cutest bartenders ever.
    Sadly, the 1994 Northridge earthquake did so much damage to the building that Nancy had to close down. She said at the time she hoped to reestablish at a different address but after 20 years I guess I can stop hoping for that (LOL).
    Love to hear from any of the old crowd. I miss ya all.

  40. SandraSat, Dec 10, 2016 at 11:26 pm

    I started clubbing at a young age, Odessy, Circus, Peanuts, Rosie’s, Girl Bar, Ginos, 2636, Pallets, Arena, Griffith Park Sundays,..Gina (Baby’s sister) was the most beautiful woman, so in love with her. Beautiful memories!!

  41. NancySun, Dec 25, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    I sure do miss those days! In the late ’80s and early ’90s I practically lived at The Connection in Culver City! I thought it was on Overland, not Sepulveda Blvd? I was an 18 year old EMT working at Goodhew Ambulance with a couple of other lesbian co-workers and sometimes we would go there after work, in our uniforms (something we’d be in big trouble for these days). We all had fake id’s (which were obviously fake but they let it slide)! Lol! There were a couple of years there that I went every single day and it never mattered what time (they opened early, I think by 12pm), what day, there was always someone you knew, someone to hang out with. I would even just take a book and sit by myself and read and never felt weird or uncomfortable about it. They also ended up with a pinball machine we would spend hours playing along with the pool table, occassionally sneaking out the back door into the alley to make out or do drugs. Grin! I remember being told that the bar had previously been owned by a retired male cop and had been a hangout for local law enforcement prior to becoming a lesbian bar. In fact, I believe they just kept the name when ownership changed and every once in a great while some older cop would come strolling in and quickly feel uncomfortable when he realized it was no longer the same bar he used to hang out at with his buddies. There were a lot of old time lesbians there but also a group of us youngsters and everything in between. It never felt like there was a generation gap between the youngest to the oldest. We were all friends. I just finished watching an episode of Vice news about the closing of most lesbian bars throughout the country and it made me really sad. Those were some of the best times of my life and it’s unfortunate that other young lesbians won’t have that same opportunity. Now nearly 50, I feel out of touch with young lesbians because there is no place left to socialize with each other. It was so important having a space that was specifically ours as lesbian women. It just wasn’t the same sharing the guy bars. It’s an unfortunate loss for all of us. I later moved back to the Inland Empire where Robbie’s in Pomona (mixed gay and lesbian bar) was the local hangout. I’m still friends with Brenda P from The Connection 30+ years later and it’s one of my most cherished friendships. I do wonder about the others and want to give a shout out to Margaret with the van, my old co-workers Lisa and Shelly, Grace the bartender (for a short time), the twins, and all the rest! I hope life has treated you well!! I can’t remember the name of the woman who was an owner or just worked there for years who died of breast/liver cancer – she was a good friend of Brenda’s and I’m sure many others and just wanted to mention her. Thanks to this website for giving us a place to walk down memory lane!!
    P.s Anyone know anybody that used to be involved with SCWU (Southern California Women for Understanding)? That group was another huge influence in my life, especially in the San Gabriel Valley area. I think I was the youngest one (16) in the group at the time but those women (Ivy, Judy, Dolly, Debbie, Wendy and so many others) took me under their wings and were my mentors when I was coming out. They were the first to introduce me into the lesbian community and I’ll always love them for that!!! 🙂

  42. Charlotte BaldridgeSun, May 07, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    I think I’m glad I no longer live in CA. Sounds like every place we used to go is long gone or has changed so much we wouldn’t be comfortable.We used to haunt Joni’s, The Love In, The Big Horn, J.B’s.49er, The Attic.

  43. Judith DubinMon, May 22, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    Guess I’m older than most of you posting here. The first gay bar I went to in LA was “The Roost” owned by Jack (Pop) Fox. It was on Pico and Bundy in 1958. The Foxs also owned the Westwind down on the beach in Ocean Park. The Roost was later sold to Marty and renamed The Gateway. Others not mentioned here were The Fox Hills, owned by Phil Ewing (who also owned the Canyon Club), on Beverly Blvd. He later closed it and opened The Ron Rob Social Club. Tuck, who had originally been the bartender at the If Club, with her partner Sue opened the Cork Room and later moved to the Valley and opened The Oxwood Inn. For a short time, the Why Not was a fun spot (on Lincoln, I think) owned by four women who had been co-workers at Hughes Aircraft.

  44. DarleneSun, Jun 18, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    I tended bar at the Mug and the Westwind in Venice – 1960’s. Lots of lesbians were ther during the summer for vacation from many states.

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