When it comes to LGBTQ bars in New York City, the Stonewall Inn is, without question, the most well known. As the site of a series of revolutionary riots in 1969, wherein members of the LGBTQ community rose up in defiance of police raids, the establishment rightly etched itself into the historical canon. And while other iconic watering holes did not serve as the backdrop for such violence, the mere opening of their doors, day in and day out, served as a form of protest, a velvet hammer that would help bring about change.
Marie’s Crisis—first known simply as Marie’s—opened in the mid-19th century as a brothel before evolving into a boy bar in the 1890s. (The “Crisis” was added later, in honor of Thomas Paine’s Crisis articles, wherein he argued for American independence from England.) For the last forty years, Marie’s Crisis has served as a jubilant subterranean piano bar favored by both the gay community and musical theater buffs at large. Professionals and novices still pack themselves elbow to elbow, belting tunes towards the ceiling above.
Julius’ Bar, located on West 10th Street in Greenwich Village, is said to be the oldest gay bar still in operation today, though, technically, it wasn’t always a gay bar. Not by a long shot. The space itself dates all the way back to the 19th century, when it operated as a grocery and then a watering hole. It was a mainstay during Prohibition, a player in the jazz scene, and then, in the 1950s and ‘60s, a favorite among the gay community. Management wasn’t too keen—as was too often the case at bars all over the city—and on April 21, 1966, four activists staged a “sip in” to protest a NYS Liquor Authority regulation that prohibited bars and restaurants from serving homosexuals. The move would land the bar on the National Register of Historic Places.
The strides made by Stonewall ushered in a new era, and paved the way for future generations. Places like Cubbyhole, a kitsch-covered lesbian bar that first opened in 1994, and Pieces, a long-standing gay bar known for its Tuesday karaoke and self-described “drag spectaculars.” Today, bars catering to the LGBTQ community serve less as a necessary place of refuge. Nevertheless, they remain important bastions of history, identity, and culture.
Cheers to Pride.
Photo courtesy of Mercedes Mehling