lesbian pulp and the lavender universe: Gianni's, Ariel's and other NYC lesbian bars from the past

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Gianni's, Ariel's and other NYC lesbian bars from the past

Mary almost missed her first visit to a lesbian bar which was tucked away on a side street in lower Manhattan.  It was 1972, the front windows of Gianni's were painted black and there were no markings, signs or address on the front door. Mary closed her eyes, knocked on the door, and waited. A latch to a little 4" long keyhole window slid open. The heavy door was unlatched and a bouncer dressed as Charlie Chaplin pulled Mary in quickly. The bartender informed Mary that in this bar "We order our drinks first, then look".

Ariel's 1980s where Giannis was originally located.
Ten years later at the same location is where I meet my first girlfriend. Now the bar is called Ariel's. It's on 19th Street between 6th and 7th Avenue. There is still dancing in the back room however they no longer ration the toilet paper as they did in Mary's time. Mary never figured that one out but she now realizes 'Charlie Chaplin' was probably more of a 'Sister George'.

The Killing of Sister George was a groundbreaking film and
one of the first films in history to be released with an 'X' rating in the US
The night I meet Sal, my two other friends drag me out of the bar before Sal and I exchange numbers. I call Ariel's bar later at 3:30am, slightly before closing time and describe what Sal looks like. She is still there. Sal gets on the phone, whispers a few special words (I will never tell) that wins my heart over immediately and I meet her the next day in front of Washington Square Park for our first date.

The Duchess, Seventh Avenue, West Village NYC
Bonnie & Clyde's 82 West 3rd Street, NYC
Is she for me?
Mary sheepishly told me that when her friends met someone at Gianni's or Cooky's which was on 14th Street, tradition was to take the woman to Bickford's for a late night snack in order to get a look at her in better lighting. Sounds horrible, right? But she said the bars were very very dark back then. Hopefully if you liked the woman she would say, "Call Me Later".

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  1. I remember The Duchess. The wooden floor was crooked and creaky. You really had to concentrate when walking from the bar to the bathroom, so you wouldnt trip!

    My mom took me to Bonnie & Clyde's when I was a teenager. I remember they had a pool table. Gloria Steinem and all the feminists went there so I didnt think it was a big deal that she and family friend Lauralyn used to go there too. Later I found out they were dating!

  2. My first time at lesbian bar was at The Dutchess in 1978, I was 18 years old. I was convinced that when I walked in the place women would just start groping me, of course I probably secretly wished they would. I love this website! Please keep posting.


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