Remembering LA’s Earliest Lesbian Bars

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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eve goldberg
Guest
eve goldberg

I briefly worked the door at the Big Horn on Lankershim…which later became Club 22. Also, wasn’t the Dummy Up called the Valley Alley for a while?

Also, does anybody remember the Skylight Inn in Venice back in the 70s? Also called Brothers. I saw Rikki Lee Jones perform there once. It was the first lesbian bar in L.A. that I ever went to.

And finally: YES – The Connection was definitely on Sepulveda, not Overland.

Joanne Kay Parham
Guest
Joanne Kay Parham

Whatwas the club in No. HOLLYWOID THAT Puzz and Sandy use to own

kelly evans
Guest
kelly evans

who ran “whisper’s” at the probe on wednesdays? the best lez dance night of the 80’s

Darlene
Guest
Darlene

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.

Judith Dubin
Guest
Judith Dubin

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… Read more »

Charlotte Baldridge
Guest
Charlotte Baldridge

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.

Nancy
Guest
Nancy

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… Read more »

Sandra
Guest
Sandra

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!!

Kymberleigh
Guest

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… Read more »

patsy
Guest
patsy

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

Diane
Guest
Diane

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.

Judy Scott
Guest
Judy Scott

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!