LGBTQ+ community has been long fighting for its rights and acceptance. For a community that has been facing constant prejudice, finding safe spaces have been of utmost importance. This is where gay bars come into the picture. These bars have been the backbone of the gay community, providing a haven where they can simply be themselves and not face societal judgement.
The curious question if you’re planning a night out with your LGBTQ+ friends, is which bar to visit? But, if your quest is for a historic bit of gay culture instead, you may unravel the question, “What is the oldest gay bar?” Today, in this blog post, we will provide an in-depth answer to that question and look at the significance of these bars in the LGBTQ+ community.
What is a Gay Bar?
A gay bar is a drinking establishment that caters to an LGBT clientele. They are typically single-sex, but some are open to anybody who wants to visit. Bars that once served as an important community-centers used to have names like The Closet, The Hideaway, The Alley, and The Bushes. They were important social spaces where homoseuxual people congregated freely instead of being marginalized.
Historically, before the existence of safe and internet-centric hookup apps such as Grindr and Scruff, gay bars were the hub for meeting like-minded people, socializing, finding community, commiserating, seeking refuge and love. Many bars in the 20th century were disreputable and dangerous, frequently raided by the police and causing the patrons to scatter and hide.
The Oldest Gay Bars in the United States
The oldest gay bars in the United States are primarily situated in larger cities across the nations. Some bars have staked a claim on being the oldest in terms of original establishment, while others have been continuously operating since the repeal of Prohibition.
Here’s a list of some of the oldest gay bars in the United States:
Café Lafitte in Exile (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Café Lafitte, located in New Orleans’ French Quarter, stakes a debatable claim to the title of the oldest continuously operating “gayest bar in the USA.” It’s been in business since 1933, a time when being gay or lesbian in New Orleans (or anywhere in America) was not generally acknowledged. Rumor has it that Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and Rudolf Nureyev were among the famous men who visited the bar.
The Stonewall Inn (New York City, New York)
The Stonewall Inn will forever be remembered as the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement. The Stonewall Riots began there on June 28, 1969 – a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations against a police raid launched by the LGBTQ+ community. Today, The Stonewall Inn stands as an emblem of LGBTQ+ history and a testament to the strength of the gay community in the face of adversity.
The White Horse Inn (Oakland, California)
The fifth-oldest bar in the United States, the White Horse Inn was originally established in 1933 and in its current location along Telegraph Avenue since at least the 1950s. The bar is popularly known in the LGBTQ+ community as the place where the female impersonator movement began. Many famous marquee performers, including Charles Pierce, have performed here over the years.
Julius’ Bar (New York City, New York)
Julius’ Bar was founded in 1864 as a grocery and soda fountain, and it became a bar in 1938, specifically for the gay community, due to its Greenwich Village location. This bar has been continuously open ever since and has quietly made history. The bar remains at the heart of the West Village’s LGBTQ+ scene.
The Double Header (Seattle, Washington)
The Double Header was opened in 1934 and is reportedly the oldest gay bar in the nation located off the Pacific coast. Seattle’s Pioneer Square welcomes all guests to its historic brick edifice, often standing outside under black and white awnings on the crowded sidewalks.
The Enduring Significance of Gay Bars
Gay bars have played an incredible role in the LGBTQ+ community, providing a sense of acceptance, community, and a safe haven for those marginalized by society. In the early days, gay bars found themselves the target of raids and arrest from the police, as well as discrimination from society in general. They have also been safe havens for those exploring their own sexuality in a space that supports them.
By the 1980s, gay bars had become the prime source of finding romantic partners through personal ads introduced in gay newspapers, flyers posted in bars and clubs. With the evolution of hookup-apps in recent years, the role of gay bars has slowed down to some extent, but they remain an important source of community, offering a safe, accepting space for people to be themselves.
Gay bars have been around for over a century, providing safe havens, community, and acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community in the face of adversity. They have been instrumental in gaining public visibility, pushing for LGBTQ+ rights, and standing up against oppression. The oldest gay bars in the United States are a testament to the enduring strength of the community we celebrate today.
What is California’s oldest bar?
The oldest continuously operating saloon in California is The Historic Iron Door Saloon which is located in the California Gold Country near Yosemite National Park. The saloon was built sometime before 1852, and was first called the “Granite Store”, perhaps due to the solid granite blocks used in the construction of the front and back walls. The saloon’s name was later changed to the Iron Door Saloon, due to the presence of a heavy iron door at the front entrance.
The Iron Door Saloon has a rich history as a popular gathering spot during the California Gold Rush. It has been the site of many notable events, including the famous gunfight between the sheriff and a notorious outlaw. The saloon is also said to have been a favorite haunt of John Muir, the famous naturalist and conservationist, who was a frequent visitor to the area.
Despite its age, the Iron Door Saloon has managed to remain a vital and well-loved part of the community. Visitors can enjoy a drink or a meal at the historic bar, which features original fixtures and decor. Live music and other events are often held at the saloon, adding to its lively atmosphere.
In addition to being a popular destination for tourists, the Iron Door Saloon is also of great cultural and historical significance. It has been recognized as an important local landmark and serves as a tangible link to California’s rich past. Visitors to the saloon can experience a taste of the old West, and gain a deeper understanding of the state’s history and heritage.