Looking Closer at Lesbian Spaces in the Bay Area

While entering the data for Damron’s listings, we couldn’t help but notice the fleeting nature of queer spaces; many entries would be listed one year and gone the next. We also couldn’t help but notice a lack of queer spaces for women. Damron’s guide primarily caters to white gay males while occasionally noting some spaces for queer women. The designations of spaces where queer women frequented in Damron’s guides may not have been intended for women to find, but rather for queer men to take note and perhaps consider looking elsewhere for other men.

The lack of noted spaces for queer women had us interested to know more about the spaces that were available to them. Some of the entries were either not designated as catering to the lesbian community, received little recognition, or some spaces were not mentioned at all. On the West coast for example, Jugg’s Liquor Store is listed with no designation other than (*), indicating that it was a frequented gay business. However, Jugg’s was a lesbian owned business known locally as a spot for women to pick up other women. Another establishment to note is The Paper Doll, first listed in Damron’s guide in 1970 with the designations (R), for “restaurant,” and (G), for “girls.”

We discovered that The Paper Doll was one of the first lesbian bars to open just after Prohibition in North Beach, San Francisco. According to interviews, the restaurant and bar had changed names throughout the years because of raids, pay-outs and tax issues. Although the name changed throughout the years, it was still known as a space for queer women.1 By 1970, however, The Paper Doll had changed its name to the 524, or as Damron listed it, “Five-Twenty-Four” and then later known as Noah’s Ark. While 524 is listed, it doesn’t have any designation recognizing that queer women frequented there.

Another long-established lesbian space in San Francisco commonly referred to as Mona’s isn’t listed in Damron guides, either. Mona opened up many bars in the area including Mona’s Candlelight Club, Ann’s 440, Cha Cha’s, In Touch and Mona’s Gorilla Lounge. The first and only bar spaces listed in Damron’s guide is Mona’s Gorilla Lounge in Santa Cruz. Mona’s suffered the same conditions as The Paper Doll, including pay-outs, raids and tax issues causing name and location changes, perhaps one reason for the lack of recognition in the Damron guides.2

Another significant location to note is Maud’s Study. Maud’s is recorded in almost every issue of the Damron guides. It did not, however, receive its proper recognition or designation as a long established female queer space. Its only designation is (G- girls but seldom exclusively). In other entries for popular frequented lesbian spaces, Damron notes in the description either (Many L/G) or (L/G only) in addition to the (G) designation. Maud’s was a very popular lesbian owned and frequented space in San Francisco, with softball teams, lesbian bartenders and all female shows, deserving more recognition as such in the guide. Despite these setbacks in the Damron guides, these listings led our research team to find elements of the rich history of lesbian spaces in San Francisco. Much more work, however, is required.

  1. Straight-Owned Bars/Lesbian-Owned Bars. October 9, 1991-July 25, 1992. MS Box 7, Folder 53, Wide Open Town History Project Records. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Historical Society. Archives of Sexuality and Gender (accessed May 3, 2020). https://link-gale-com.lib-proxy.fullerton.edu/apps/doc/MIEIWX502288604/AHSI?u=csuf_main&sid=AHSI&xid=f369030d↩︎

  2. Mona’s (1934), 1. 1934-July 25, 1992. MS Box 7, Folder 13, Wide Open Town History Project Records. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Historical Society. Archives of Sexuality and Gender (accessed May 3, 2020). https://link-gale-com.lib-proxy.fullerton.edu/apps/doc/MTXDMY208077403/AHSI?u=csuf_main&sid=AHSI&xid=c5e155bd↩︎

Originally Published: August 9, 2020 | Last modified: August 9, 2020