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Water Colony

Water Colony


By at the very least 1955 through the 1960s, the ocean Colony had been the most popular lesbian pubs in Greenwich Village.

A popular of author and activist Joan Nestle, and others, it had been a sanctuary particularly for working-class lesbians during the right time, regardless of being Mafia-run and sometimes raided by the authorities.

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

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

Women’s home of Detention (demolished), Greenwich Avenue between West tenth Street and Christopher Street, 1945. Thanks to the Museum associated with City of the latest York.


Initially exposed as a restaurant c. 1950, the ocean Colony had turn into a hangout that is lesbian at minimum 1955, whenever Ann Bannon, composer of lesbian pulp fiction, visited it with Marijane Meaker, writer of lesbian-themed fiction. Overview of the restaurant through the exact same year mentioned “a recently included celebration space that handles 75 individuals. ” The review would not point out that the room that is new a location for ladies dancing together, a work that may get some one place in prison through the entire bar’s presence into the 1950s and 1960s. The Sea Colony was Mafia-run and frequently raided by the police, like many bars of the era, most famously at the Stonewall Inn although it was an important gathering place, especially for white working-class lesbians at the time.

The customers mostly squeeze into a “butch-femme” dynamic, where in fact the “butch, ” or higher masculine-dressing for the set, would simply take the “man’s” role within the relationship – purchase drinks, lead in dancing, available doorways, etc. – plus the “femme, ” or even more feminine-presenting of the set, would simply take the “woman’s” role. Preston Mardenborough, a bartender during the water Colony within the 1960s, recalled that this dynamic also extended to where clients typically congregated: right in front room, the end that is back of club ended up being in which the “butches” usually sat together with front side had been where in actuality the “femmes” sat, both gossiping concerning the other group. The butches had been specially a target of authorities brutality, as dressing in clothing regarding the “opposite intercourse” had been illegal in nyc during the time; especially, the “three article” rule claimed you did not seem to be that you could be arrested for wearing three or more articles of clothing that were traditionally associated with the gender. Raids on homosexual pubs had been regular through the entire 1950s and 1960s, but had been especially violent, usually intimately violent, at lesbian pubs. Females arrested in bar raids had been provided for the nearby Women’s home of Detention (demolished), which Joan Nestle, writer and co-founder regarding the Lesbian Herstory Archives, said ended up being sardonically described among 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 in which the primary entry at 52 Eighth Avenue had been positioned (presently Art club), had the bar’s just operating egress with uncovered windows, which makes it probably the most general general public. In this space, the club had been in the left and little tables had been on the right as you stepped in; two single-stall restrooms had been behind the club. Nestle, whom frequented the ocean Colony and it has written extensively about this, recalled that just one girl had been permitted within the bathroom at the same time, a guideline which was implemented by the Mafia “because they thought we had been therefore sexually depraved, if two of us went in we’d probably have sex, and that could bring the vice squad. ” In conformity with this particular guideline, she noted:

“Every evening, a quick, handsome, butch woman with toilet paper covered around her hand, had a task to allot us toilet tissue. … This butch girl would stay at the front end regarding the line so we each got two wraps of rest room paper. ”

The 2nd space (50 Eighth Avenue), into the previous restaurant area, ended up being available through the trunk regarding the primary club and offered dining dining dining table solution. The “back space” (48 Eighth Avenue) ended up being available through this center area and had been where in actuality the illegal dance took spot. Mardenborough recalled that after the authorities raided the club, which happened regular, a key could be pushed that fired up a light that is red the “back space. ” Then, he said, “Everything would freeze and individuals would set you back their tables and merely stay like they’re having drinks. ”

Inspite of the raids, ladies proceeded visiting lesbian pubs. One former regular said of her experience during the water Colony (her punctuation), “my first bar into the city was at the sixties during the SEA COLONY…………. Its as you come in a film as your head starts a lens into the last……. Everyone sluggish danced on the ground. Lights had been dim…. And Maria ended up being the bar maid/butch…who everybody wanted…. She had been ALL OF THAT. …. ”

This entry ended up being compiled by task consultant Gwendolyn Stegall.