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Where's a girl to go?- The demise of lesbian bars in SF
The Examiner ^

Posted on 08/20/2002 3:01:35 AM PDT by chance33_98

Where's a girl to go?
Of The Examiner Staff

Society's take on lesbians is a little like voyeurism.

A peak through a bar window, a glance at a flier posted on a street corner, a guilty read of the Women seeking Women personals.

We know Dykes on Bikes lead the Pride parade. Or maybe even that last month's Ladyfest Bay Area drew lesbians from around the country, or that a woman named Des is remembered on a makeshift memorial on a Dolores Street traffic island.

But scratch the surface of San Francisco's lesbian community and another perspective is revealed -- bars and cafes catering to lesbians are fading in the nation's gayest city. Last month, the Bearded Lady CafÈ closed. Two years ago, it was the CoCo Club. Long before that, Amelia's, Clementina's, Francine's, Sophia's, and the Artemis CafÈ all cashed out.

In The City, lesbian hangouts have struggled to survive. Currently, there are only two strictly lesbian bars, the Lexington Club in the Mission and Wild Side West in Bernal Heights.

Many say it's a financial issue. Most women either don't have disposable income or are not willing to spend it.

"Women have a tendency to be in long-term monogamous relationships, and most likely won't be found in bars and nightclubs," said longtime lesbian nightclub promoter Mariah Hanson. "Then, when they break up, they're back in the bars and nightclubs."

But is it enough to prevent a lesbian hangout from succeeding?

Lila Thirkield can shoot down that theory. Her bar, the Lexington Club, has provided a window for the subculture, to a lifestyle many don't see or are not willing to.

Seeing a need for a full-time lesbian bar in the Valencia Corridor when there was none, Thirkield was scared when she opened the place in 1997. But since then, the Lexington has flourished.

She found a formula that worked: Small place, low prices, no cover charge, and a sense that the place is essential to the community.

"We've totally created this world when there wasn't one," she said. "We've always taken care of our own."

Need an example? Take Christmas Day. The bar was nearly empty, and Thirkield probably spent more money to keep it open then she made all day.

But she didn't think of closing, because, "It's important to have a place to be when there isn't anywhere else to go."

The Lexington Club has taken over where the Bearded Lady left off, as a dynamic place where women were inspired enough by the creativity of the owners to open a window into their own souls--through readings, music, theater, and art.

It's about expression, passion and feelings. A community is marginalized no longer, at least on these nights among friends.

Today, a layer of grime covers old fliers attached to the door of the Bearded Lady's vacant storefront. A "closed" sign is slowly becoming bleached by the sun.

During its heyday, things were different.

"The vibrant art scene that grew up in and around the cafÈ was a real blossoming of confidence and talent for a generation or up and coming artists," said the original Bearded Lady herself, Harriet Dodge. "We became a hub of sorts. Many people found their voices with us."

It didn't hurt to have creative minds such as herself and Silas Flipper Howard, a guitar player for the legendary lesbian punk band Tribe 8.

In addition, the women they met at the cafÈ inspired them in their own projects, such as the film "By Hook or By Crook," co-starring, co-written, and co-directed by Dodge and Howard. The film, funded by the lesbian community, was critically acclaimed at the Sundance Film Festival and will be coming to San Francisco in October.

"We were just so broke when we started the place, we were selling the bakery samples," said Howard, who now runs a hauling business and works as a garbage collector, carpenter and house painter. "But if we needed something, people donated it. People were really ready for something."

Though the cafÈ was sold to allow Dodge and Howard to concentrate on the film, its days seem numbered anyway. The energy to keep it open in the evolving environment wasn't what it used to be.

Today, much of the lesbian social scene comes from weekly or monthly clubs at various venues. A promoter organizes, a DJ plays, women dance, and the owner makes money -- an owner who is most likely not a lesbian and cares little about anything other than the bottom line.

"We're seeing greed all around us," Hanson said. "There comes a point where enough is enough," which is why Hanson and Thirkield, at least, are doing their part to take back control.

Hanson is planning on opening her own full-time lesbian nightclub, the Cherry Bar and Lounge, in October.

"These clubs have become our meeting places, our places to check in community, a celebratory atmosphere for an oppressed group to meet and feel safe," said Hanson, who also admits to some trepidation.

"Everybody tells me I'm crazy to do this," she said. "I don't believe that."

TOPICS: Culture/Society; US: California
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To: Mulder
I talked to my friend this morning, and it's slim pickings I'm afraid, but I promised an update, so -such as it is- here it is...

He remembered the incident and is unrepentant. I read him several of the remarks made about him on this thread and he laughed.

The only (semi) current information he had was what he learned at his 30 year reunion, that one of the muffin munchers had persisted in her perversion, and gotten burned in a scandal.

He added that the girl I knew (the auto dealer's daughter) had married and had kids. He didn't know the fate of any of the others.

I asked him if he'd heard any rumors of any of them dousing themselves with lighter fluid, lighting it, jumping off a bridge and shooting themselves on the way down and he laughed and said no.

So, in a nutshell, he is unrepentant, and the only data he had suggested that teen-lesbomania may be curable at the 50% level. (based on the one apparently normal outcome and the one perverted outcome)

After all the florid posturing and prose here, this is somewhat anticlimactic, I realize.

I'm glad to see that he wasn't eaten up with limp-wristed homo-loving weenie-guilt though!

61 posted on 08/23/2002 12:32:54 PM PDT by DWSUWF
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To: chance33_98
Black lesbian bar: The Knappy Canal
62 posted on 08/23/2002 12:39:47 PM PDT by bribriagain
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So, in a nutshell, he is unrepentant, and the only data he had suggested that teen-lesbomania may be curable at the 50% level. (based on the one apparently normal outcome and the one perverted outcome)

Well, the fact that he is "unrepentant" is probably going to ruin the day of some folks here.

At least the story had a happy ending (for one of them anyway), anticlimatic as it might be.

Thanks for the update.

63 posted on 08/23/2002 2:55:16 PM PDT by Mulder
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