Water Colony


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

A well liked of author and activist Joan Nestle, amongst others, it absolutely was a sanctuary specifically for working-class lesbians in the right time, regardless of being Mafia-run and sometimes raided by the authorities.

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

Approximate Water Colony flooring plan. Drawn by Gwendolyn Stegall for the NYC LGBT Historic web web 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 populous City of the latest York.


Initially launched as being 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, writer of lesbian-themed fiction. Analysis 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 females dancing together, a work which could get some one place in prison through the entire bar’s presence into the 1950s and 1960s. Though it had been an essential gathering spot, particularly for white working-class lesbians at that time, the ocean Colony ended up being Mafia-run and sometimes raided because of the authorities, like numerous pubs for the age, many famously during the Stonewall Inn.

The customers mostly squeeze into a “butch-femme” powerful, where in fact the “butch, ” or higher masculine-dressing for the set, would just 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 use the “woman’s” role. Preston Mardenborough, a bartender at the water Colony within the 1960s, recalled that this dynamic also extended to where clients typically congregated: in the front side room, the back end for the club had been in which the “butches” usually sat and also the front side had been in which the “femmes” sat, both gossiping in regards to the other team. The butches had been specially a target of authorities brutality, as dressing in clothing associated with the “opposite intercourse” had been unlawful in nyc at that time; especially, the “three article” guideline 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 bars had been regular through the entire 1950s and 1960s, but had been specially violent, usually sexually violent, at lesbian xhamsterlive sex pubs. Females arrested in bar raids had been delivered to the Women’s House that is nearby of (demolished), which Joan Nestle, writer and co-founder associated with Lesbian Herstory Archives, said had been sardonically described among the list of club clients whilst the “Country Club. ”

Because of the 1960s, the ocean Colony had been a full-time lesbian club with three main spaces. The very first area, where in actuality the primary entrance at 52 Eighth Avenue had been situated (presently Art club), had the bar’s just operating egress with uncovered windows, which makes it probably the most general public. In this space, the club had been regarding the left and little tables had been regarding the right as you strolled in; two single-stall bathrooms had been behind the club. Nestle, whom frequented the ocean Colony and has now written extensively about any of it, recalled that only 1 girl ended up being allowed within the restroom at the same time, a guideline which was implemented by the Mafia “because they thought we had been so sexually depraved, if two of us went in we’d probably have sex, and that could bring the vice squad. ” In compliance 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 in front associated with the line and now we each got two wraps of rest room paper. ”

The room that is second50 Eighth Avenue), into the previous restaurant area, had been available through the trunk associated with primary club and offered dining dining table solution. The “back space” (48 Eighth Avenue) ended up being available through this center area and ended up being where in fact the unlawful dancing took place. Mardenborough recalled that whenever the authorities raided the bar, which happened regular, a key will be pushed that switched on a light that is red the “back space. ” Then, he stated, “Everything would freeze and people would set you back their tables and merely stay like they’re having drinks. ”

Inspite of the raids, ladies proceeded visiting bars that are lesbian. One former regular said of her experience during the water Colony (her punctuation), “my first bar within the town was at the sixties in the SEA COLONY…………. Its as if you have been in a film as your brain 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 THAT. …. ”

This entry ended up being authored by project consultant Gwendolyn Stegall.

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