BBaF Podcast Episode 23: Gay Bars Through History with Christine Sismondo

Listen to Episode 23: Gay Bars Through History with Christine Sismondo” – me

We are now smack dab in the middle of Gay Pride Month, and so like the true procrastinators we are, we’ve decided to devote the rest of the month on the Bit by a Fox Podcast to LGBTQ stories – highlighting the importance of gay bars and clubs through history, the cultural impact of the movements that came out of those important spaces, and the renegades, revolutionaries and icons behind it all. It’s such a big subject, we’re creating our first podcast series in honor of Pride Month.

In the first episode of our three part series, we touch on gay bars through history. Many have argued that the American gay rights movement was kicked off in a bar. Our guest, writer and historian, Christine Sismondo, PHD, has been researching the history of lesbian and gay bars in Toronto, some parts of which have been published in Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer (2017), and she is the author of America Walks into a Bar, a book about the history of bars in the United States. We discussed how bars have played such a crucial role in gay culture and politics through the years.

Walt Whitman went to Bohemian bar Pfaff’s Beer Cellar in New York City almost every night between 1858 and 1862 while he was working on early editions of Leaves of Grass.

“The Two Vaults” an unfinished poem c. 1861
The vault at Pfaffs where the drinkers and laughers meet to eat and drink and carouse
While on the walk immediately overhead pass the myriad feet of Broadway
As the dead in their graves are underfoot hidden
And the living pass over them, recking not of them,
Laugh on laughers!
Drink on drinkers!
Bandy the jest!
Toss the theme from one to another!
Beam up—Brighten up, bright eyes of beautiful young men!

—Walt Whitman

Gladys’ Clam House was a Harlem speakeasy in the 1920s, located at 133rd Street, between Lenox and Seventh Avenue. Gladys Bentley performed in tuxedos, played piano and her show included drag back up dancers. It was the most the most notorious gay uptown establishment during the Harlem Renaissance.

In response to a police raid of the Black Cat in Los Angeles, activists organized one of the earliest protests that helped ignite the LGBTQ civil rights movement.

The riots that followed the raids at gay bar Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969 were a turning point in the gay rights movement.

Our cocktail this week is a Gin Rickey. Christine picked this classic, tall drink because it was most likely the kind of drink being served at one of these historic gay bars. Gin was also a favorite of Walt Whitman.

Gin Rickey
2 ounces gin
1 ounce fresh lime juice
club soda
garnish: wedge of lime

Add the gin and lime juice to an ice-filled highball glass. Add club soda to top. Rub lime wedge around the rim of the glass and squeeze some juice and add the lime into the glass.

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