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10 Most Historic & Iconic Gay Bars In America

At no time since the 1969 Stonewall Riots have our gay bars been under greater attack than in 2020. This time we can’t see the violators. It’s a virus called Corona. So it’s more important than ever to support our gay culture institutions. So we take a look at our most historic and iconic gay bars in America. How many of these historic venues have you visited or even heard about? (TONY) The White Horse Inn – in Oakland, California, claims to be the oldest, continually operating gay bar in the US. It was officially opened in 1933 and has been attracting gay custom since around that time. (AL) Cafe Lafitte in Exile – New Orleans. Like the White Horse in Oakland, Louisiana’s Cafe Lafitte In Exile also stakes a claim as the oldest gay bar in the US still in operation. It also dates back to the end of Prohibition in 1933 but may have been operating unofficially before that time. It can be found in New Orleans’ historic French Quarter. (FAY) Atlantic House – Provincetown. It’s impossible to say how long gay people have favored this Cape Cod venue as a watering hole, but it’s been at least 60 years and probably several decades longer. Provincetown has been attracting an LGBTQ crowd since the start of the 20th century when it became a popular retreat for artists and writers. (TONY) Twin Peaks Tavern – San Francisco is in the heart of the Castro, is one of the city’s most famous gay bars and has a history stretching back almost 50 years. It opened in 1935 but was taken over by lesbian friends and relaunched in 1972. Mary Ellen Cunha and Peggy Forster did something radical at the time. They uncovered the windows, making Twin Peaks the first gay bar in the US to have big, clear windows, so people could see in from the street. Previously, gay bars were boarded up or hidden behind discreet doors. (AL) Wild Side West – San Francisco. Wild Side West has been gay-owned since its launch as ‘Wild Side’ in Oakland in 1962, catering predominantly to the lesbian community. It relocated in 1964 to Broadway in San Francisco, changing its name to Wild Side West in the process, and then to its current location in Bernal Heights in 1976. (FAY) The Hole In The Wall – San Diego. This cozy, California dive bar has a history going back to the 1920s. It was a speakeasy during Prohibition and began to earn itself a reputation as a gay-friendly hangout in the 1940s. (TONY) The Rail – San Diego. Another of the longest-running gay bars in the whole country, The Rail (formerly The Brass Rail) has a history dating back to 1934. It first opened in Downtown’s historic Orpheum Theatre building, before relocating to Hillcrest in the early 1960s. (AL) Oil Can Harry’s – Los Angeles. Oil Can Harry’s has been welcoming gay men through its doors – particularly leather men and cowboy lovers – since 1968. You’ll find it in San Fernando Valley, away from West Hollywood. (FAY) Julius – New York City. Julius is believed to be the oldest, continually operating gay bar in New York City. The venue opened in 1867. It began to get a reputation as a gay hangout in the 1950s, a reputation its management at the time took steps to try and quell by sometimes refusing to serve people who they knew to be gay. (TONY) The Stonewall Inn – New York City. Stonewall is probably the most famous gay bar in the world. The venue had existed for several decades, mainly as a restaurant, when it was taken over by a Mafia mobster in 1967 and relaunched as a gay bar. On a hot June night in 1969, it was raided by police, and patrons famously fought back, leading to several nights of protests and rioting. The uprising helped advance the modern LGBTQ rights movement and the birth of Pride festivals worldwide. Madonna, Taylor Swift, and Joe Biden are among those who have visited the bar – now under new owners – in recent years to pay tribute to its place in gay history. The 2020 pandemic has had a massive impact on the Stonewall as a business, but a successful GoFundMe campaign has succeeded in raising over $300,000 to guarantee it should be around for some time to come.

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