Water Colony

Water Colony


The Sea Colony was one of the most popular lesbian bars in Greenwich Village by at least 1955 through the 1960s.

A popular of author and activist Joan Nestle, amongst others, it absolutely was a sanctuary specifically for working-class lesbians during the right time, in spite of being Mafia-run and often raided because of the authorities.

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The ocean Colony, very very first flooring of 52, 50, and 48 Eighth Avenue (left to right), 1964. Picture by John Barrngton Bayley. Due to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Approximate Water Colony flooring plan. Drawn by Gwendolyn Stegall when it comes to NYC LGBT Historic web web Sites Project in discussion with water Colony bartender Preston Mardenborough.

Women’s home of Detention (demolished), Greenwich Avenue between western tenth Street and Christopher Street, 1945. Due to the Museum associated with the populous City of brand new York.


Initially launched as a restaurant c. 1950, the ocean Colony had turn into a lesbian hangout by at minimum 1955, whenever Ann Bannon, composer of lesbian pulp fiction, visited it with Marijane Meaker, composer of lesbian-themed fiction. Overview of the restaurant through the exact same year mentioned “a recently included celebration room that handles 75 people. ” The review failed to point out that the room that is new a location for females dancing together, an act that may get some body place in prison through the entire bar’s presence into the 1950s and 1960s. Even though it ended up being an essential gathering place, specifically for white working-class lesbians during the time, the ocean Colony had been Mafia-run and sometimes raided by the authorities, like numerous pubs for the age, many famously in the Stonewall Inn.

The clients mostly fit into a “butch-femme” powerful, where in actuality the “butch, ” or higher masculine-dressing of this set, would just take the “man’s” role within the relationship – buy drinks, lead in dancing, available doorways, etc. – and also the “femme, ” or even more feminine-presenting of the set, would make the “woman’s” role. Preston Mardenborough, a bartender in the water Colony when you look at the 1960s, recalled that this dynamic also extended to where patrons typically congregated: into the front side room, the back end associated with the club ended up being where in actuality the “butches” usually sat in addition to front side ended up being where in actuality the “femmes” sat, both gossiping concerning the other team. The butches were specially a target of authorities brutality, as dressing in garments of this “opposite intercourse” had been unlawful in ny during the time; particularly, the “three article” guideline reported which you could possibly be arrested for using three or higher articles of clothes that have been typically from the sex you failed to be seemingly. Raids on homosexual bars were regular through the entire 1950s and 1960s, but had been particularly violent, frequently sexually violent, at lesbian pubs. Ladies arrested in club raids had been delivered to the nearby Women’s House of Detention (demolished), which Joan Nestle, writer and co-founder regarding the Lesbian Herstory Archives, said had been sardonically described on the list of club clients whilst the “Country Club. ”

The Sea Colony was a full-time lesbian bar with three main spaces by the 1960s. The space that is first where in fact the primary entry at 52 Eighth Avenue had been found (currently Art club), had the bar’s only operating egress with uncovered windows, rendering it the absolute most general general general public. In this space, the club ended up sex chat rooms being from the left and tiny tables had been regarding the right as you moved in; two single-stall restrooms were behind the bar. Nestle, who frequented the ocean Colony and it has written extensively about this, recalled that only 1 girl ended up being permitted within the restroom at any given time, a guideline which was implemented because of the Mafia “because they thought we had been therefore sexually depraved, if two of us went in we’d probably have sex, and therefore could bring the vice squad. ” In conformity with this specific guideline, she noted:

“Every evening, a brief, handsome, butch woman with toilet paper covered around her hand, had a work to allot us toilet tissue. … This butch girl would stay in front associated with line so we each got two wraps of rest room paper. ”

The 2nd space (50 Eighth Avenue), within the previous restaurant area, had been available through the trunk of this primary club and supplied dining dining table solution. The “back space” (48 Eighth Avenue) had been available through this center room and ended up being where in fact the unlawful dance took destination. Mardenborough recalled that after the authorities raided the club, which happened regular, a key will be pushed that fired up a light that is red the “back space. ” Then, he stated, “Everything would freeze and individuals would set you back their tables and simply stay like they’re having drinks. ”

Regardless of the raids, females proceeded visiting bars that are lesbian. One former regular said of her experience in the water Colony (her punctuation), “my first bar when you look at the town was at the sixties in the SEA COLONY…………. Its as if you come in a film as your head starts a lens into the last……. Everyone sluggish danced on to the floor. Lights had been dim…. And Maria ended up being the bar maid/butch…who everyone else wanted…. She had been ALL OF THAT. …. ”

This entry was compiled by task consultant Gwendolyn Stegall.

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