Water Colony


By at the least 1955 through the 1960s, the ocean Colony ended up being the most popular lesbian pubs in Greenwich Village.

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

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The ocean Colony, 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 web Sites Project in discussion with water Colony bartender Preston Mardenborough.

Women’s home of Detention (demolished), Greenwich Avenue between western tenth Street and Christopher Street, 1945. Due to the Museum for the populous City of brand new York.


Initially started being a restaurant c. 1950, the ocean Colony had turn into a hangout that is lesbian at least 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 new space became a location for females dancing together, an act that may get somebody place in prison through the 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 clients mostly match a “butch-femme” dynamic, in which the “butch, ” or higher masculine-dressing for the pair, would simply take the “man’s” role into 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 in the water Colony into the 1960s, recalled that this dynamic also extended to where clients typically congregated: into the front side room, the back end associated with the club had been where in fact the “butches” usually sat while the front side had been where in actuality 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 regarding the “opposite sex” had been unlawful in nyc at that time; particularly, the “three article” guideline claimed which you might be arrested for using three or higher articles of clothes that have been usually from the gender which you would not be seemingly. Raids on homosexual pubs had been regular through the entire 1950s and 1960s, but had been particularly violent, frequently intimately violent, at lesbian pubs. Ladies arrested in club raids had been provided for the nearby Women’s House of Detention (demolished), which Joan Nestle, writer and co-founder regarding the Lesbian Herstory Archives, said had been sardonically known one of the club patrons since the “Country Club. ”

The Sea Colony was a full-time lesbian bar with three main spaces by the 1960s. The very first room, where in fact 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 public. In this space, the club had been in the left and tiny tables had been from the right as you strolled in; two single-stall restrooms had been behind the club. Nestle, whom frequented the ocean Colony and contains written extensively about this, recalled that just one girl ended up being permitted into the restroom at any given time, a guideline that has been implemented because of the Mafia “because they thought we had been therefore sexually depraved, if two of us went in we’d probably have sex, and therefore 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, possessed a task to allot us toilet tissue. … This butch girl would stand in front associated with line so we each got two wraps of wc paper. ”

The 2nd space (50 Eighth Avenue), into the previous restaurant area, was available through a corner for the main club and supplied dining dining table service. The “back space” (48 Eighth Avenue) ended up being available through this center room and ended up being in which the dancing that is illegal destination. Mardenborough recalled that whenever the authorities raided the bar, which happened weekly, a switch is pushed that fired up a red light in the “back space. ” Then, he stated, “Everything would freeze and individuals would set you back their tables and simply stay like they’re having drinks. ”

Regardless of the raids, ladies proceeded visiting lesbian pubs. One former regular said of her experience in the water Colony (her punctuation), “my first bar within the town was at the sixties during the SEA COLONY…………. Its as you have been in a movie as your brain starts a lens into the……. That is previous sluggish danced on to the floor. Lights had been dim…. And Maria ended up being the bar maid/butch…who everybody wanted…. She had been ALL OF THAT. …. ”

This entry had been published by task consultant Gwendolyn Stegall.