It’s coming up to 50 years, the start of gay liberation. End of this month. The big celebration happens where it all started: the Stonewall Inn, on Christopher Street in New York. The bar where the gays finally fought back — drag queens and butch guys, all manner of homosexual men, and, no doubt, some closeted straights. They just weren’t gonna take it anymore — the abuse, the disrespect, the paddy wagons, the arrests. The humiliation and the clubs! They fought back, tossing beer bottles.
It was 1969, 50 years ago. The day after, it has often been said, or attributed to, the funeral of Judy Garland.
It is history, the Stonewall. Commemorated by no less than Barack Obama, who declared it a landmark. And so it is.
Just around the corner from the Stonewall Inn is Julius. The oldest gay bar in America. Or the oldest bar period in New York? Or the oldest bar in the entire universe, it always seems to me. Anyway, trust me, it’s old. Looks just the same for the 40 or more years I’ve been a customer.
The signs above the bar, L’Chaim, Skol, A Sante, etc., have long turned yellow from the decades of cigarettes long outlawed. The windows are large — always were, no shame to be found inside — and they look out onto a quiet corner of the West Village, the quaint and tantalizing Three Lives bookstore across the street.
At Julius, they serve burgers and chili and mac-and-cheese bites. On the cheap, but really very tasty. Onion rings and daily specials, too. My husband and I eat there, with some happy hour drinks, and the two of us come away, slightly tipsy, for $40. Drinks are $5. Wine is $4. For hours.
Some nights, the Mattachine Society meets there. I remember the Mattachine as I was newly aware of my own homosexuality, yet not quite out. It was the first known organization for gay men, and there was an Off Broadway play about it some years ago featuring an actor playing a famous movie musical director — a member, closeted, no doubt.
Julius features young men, not so young men, men determined to not be not noticed. To meet, to maybe have sex, find a partner, or just drink beer.
Women come. Usually with a gay guy. It is a very convivial spot. A large number of older gentlemen. That makes it all the more okay for me (I’m 71). There are young men with older men. “Hello, young/old lovers!”
Recently, a movie, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” with Melissa McCarthy, featured her inside one of the picture windows at a small barrel table. Plenty of scenes were shot there, in fact — at the bar, with her gay friend, the sun streaming though the window, the Julius sign, in St. Paddy’s Day green, prominent everywhere.
Better yet, and far earlier in the development and acceptance of us, the prescient “The Boys in the Band” was also shot there. A bunch of happy gays, dancing in the small back room.
And the music! Varied. Unpredictable. Liza and Babs and Bette and Judy, for sure. But also Otis Redding, Nancy Wilson. Laura Nyro. Lypsinka.
Sometimes, old black-and-white movies are playing, with subtitles since no one can hear anything over the raucous, lively, after-work crowd — and the music.
Julius is blocks from where I live with my husband of 32 years. It’s a once-a-week choice for dinner, a night to be with, well, like-minded people. Our own.
I never go to the Stonewall Inn. It’s dark and unwelcoming. It’s small. There’s no food but peanuts and, maybe, chips. It is history, but it is not so interesting these days. And, I’m sure, since a long time ago, not as happening as Julius.
Julius. You can get laid there (well, not there there, but from there).
Men come in groups around the three small barrel tables up front (where McCarthy sat in the film). People still, and always, looking around at other people. I look myself. How can you not look; it’s really raining men inside.
My long-winded point: Shouldn’t we bend history just a bit and make Julius the new Stonewall celebration? The site for that yearly late-June hoopla? No doubt this notion would rankle many gay men, including the men who are still around who were there on that fateful night 50 years ago.
But the Stonewall would still bring in just as many happy, drunk revelers because of Julius’s overflow. Why not? It only stretches history by a mere block and a half. What’s a block and a half since we’ve all come millions of miles from that night in that bar?
Hy Abady had a house in Amagansett for 30 years. A contributor for more than 25 years, he has collected his “Guestwords” essays in “Back in The Star Again: True Stories From the East End.”