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Adonia - 20 Allen Street (2005 - 2012)
Avenue, The - 70 Delaware Avenue (1969 - 1970)
Initially the site of secret organizational meetings in 1969 for Buffalo's Mattachine Society, The Avenue (also known as the Second Tiki) was Buffalo's first gay "juice and coffee bar." It was open for business only 6 months and never had a liquor license. This bar was a favorite with younger gays at a time when the Minimum Legal Drinking Age was still 18. On weekends, suburban high school guys as young as 16 could be found there. Proof of age was never required, since technically the business was simply a "coffee shop." Because of its close proximity to City Hall, there were constant fears of overly-strict code enforcement and police raids.
In late 1969, Jim Garrow (owner of The Tiki) decided to open a second gay bar in a former straight bar on Niagara Square called The Avenue. On a cold Sunday evening in December 1969 (before the heat and electricity had been turned on), Madeline Davis, Jim Haynes, Don Licht, and several others used the not-yet-open bar as a secret meeting place for gay people interested in forming a Buffalo chapter of the Mattachine Society (an early homophile organization). Frank Kamaney, a nationally known gay-rights activist, spoke at that candlelit meeting. Kamaney, now regarded as the father of the gay-rights movement, lost his Federal Civil Service job in the late 1950s for being gay. He sued the government, won, and got his job reinstated along with years of back pay. His victory inspired gays throughout the nation.
A second organizational meeting was held in January 1970 with 200 interested people in attendance. Several committees were appointed to formalize the club's legal existence. Over a three month period a constitution and bylaws were adopted and in May 1970 Frank Russo was elected the first President of the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier. A well-known local lesbian named Bobby Prebis was issued membership card #1.
A month later in June 1970 the bar was raided by Buffalo police and its owner Jim Garrow was arrested on the premises. The bar permanently closed with his arrest and Mattachine moved its operations and monthly meetings to the Unitarian Universalist Church on Elmwood Ave at West Ferry. The building that housed the juice bar, with it's huge 14-foot Palladian glass windows, was demolished in 1972 to make room for Buffalo's new City Court Building, an example of Brutalist design by the renowned Chinese architect I.M. Pei.
Back Pocket - 884 Main Street - Upstairs (1991 - 1995)
The third gay bar to occupy this address, the Back Pocket was patronized by the denim-jeans crowd (Zippers, a companion bar in the same building, catered to the leather crowd). Wearing blue jeans that advertised your assets was a must. Some patrons claim the name hearkened back to the late 1970's and 80's when gay men would dangle variously-colored hankies from their back pockets as a coded advertisement of the sexual practices they liked best. Other patrons claim the name came from a term used in billiards.
Ballot Box - 12-14 East Chippewa Street (1958 - 1969)
Chippewa Street east of Main is only two blocks long, but on each of those blocks popular gay bars have made their home. In the early 1950's, the original Carousel was located on the second block from Main St. Later that decade and throughout the 60's the honor fell to the Ballot Box, located only a half-block from Main.
In the 1950's and 60's, downtown Buffalo had a bustling nightlife. The streets were crowded with people till wee hours of the morning. The Ballot Box being right off the beaten path tempted straight people to drop in for a cocktail and check out "real homosexuals." Venturing into the bar showed how daring you were. Just a few doors away was one of the City's few porno bookstores, lending even a greater aura of naughtiness to this block.
The book Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold points out that a major problem in Buffalo's lesbian bars was (is) straight guys making sexual advances to gay women. The straight men and women who visited the Ballot Box weren't there to pick up gay guys, but rather to make fun of them. The conservative-looking guys at the Ballot Box must have been a big disappointment.
The Ballot Box occupied a large, glass-fronted room spanning two buildings. As you entered the front door, along the left side of the room were booths and along the back and right wall was the bar itself. Down the center of the room were columns holding up the buildings and the jukebox sat against one of those columns.
The smell of specially-seasoned hamburgers cooking on the grill was irresistible. You couldn't resist ordering one. And the owner always made them right to your liking; the bartender did the same with your drinks.
This bar catered to a slightly older crowd (20's-40's) and the crowd was mostly regulars, in contrast to other downtown gay spots where the thrill of seeing a new face was the draw. You dressed as if you were a straight person. None of those 1960's British Carnaby Street clothes here. The same can't be said for colognes however. The popular ones at the time were Canoe and English Leather and gay guys poured them on. The colognes provided ample competition for the hamburgers.
Popular tunes on the jukebox were "The Stripper" (1963-Jerry Goldsmith) and "I Am the Walrus" (1967-The Beatles). When the chorus to this Lennon/McCartney tune came on, the bar would collectively chant "goo goo g'joob g'goo goo g'joob." A regular character at the Ballot Box was an older guy named Norm (see Club Ki-Yo for Norm's story).
The Ballot Box closed in 1969. Over the next two decades the building stood vacant and was finally demolished in 1990 for construction of a Journey's End Hotel. Today that building is a Radisson Suites Hotel and the lobby registration desk occupies the site of the old bar.
Big Daddy's Company Store, Inc. - 761 Main Street (1972 - 1973)
Black Magic - 471 Delaware Avenue (1957 - 1960)
Black Magic was the first gay bar in Buffalo's genteel Allentown neighborhood and the second gay bar on fashionable Delaware Avenue. The clientele was exclusively men. The bar was located in the basement and featured a baby-grand piano. Group sing-alongs were popular draws. The bar appealed to gay men who were very discrete about their sexuality and both the bar and its patrons made an effort to not attract undue attention.
Blackstone Grill - 140 Allen Street (1968 - 1970)
Originally a biker bar, in the late 1960's gays began to patronize this place. It was an odd combination, but up to that time there were few other gay bars close by. The Blackstone was Allen Street's first gay bar.
Generally the bikers partied in the front room where the actual bar was located and the gays stayed in the back (billiards) room. Soon the bar became completely gay and the bartenders would keep the lights off in the back, which then became a "fool-around" room.
At present, the building is occupied by a restaurant called Frizzy's.
Breakfast at Tiffany's - 490 Pearl Street (1995 - 1995)
Buddies Tavern on the Park - 31 North Johnson Park (1989 - 2005)
Buddies II - 166 Franklin Street (2005 - 2007)
Buffalo Underground - 274 Delaware Avenue (1996 - 1997)
Bulldog Lil's (1st) - 452-454 Pearl Street (1990 - 1992)
Bulldog Lil's was on two levels. As you entered on the front right, a bar ran along the left wall from the front windows to the rear. Halfway back, several steps took you up to a second level where there were tables and chairs, a second bar, and a dance floor.
Mounted high up on the walls were a dozen life-sized white plaster casts of men's torsos, giving the place a feeling of Ancient Greece.
The bar was located behind the Main Place Theater District and became popular with the downtown theater crowd.
Bulldog Lil's (2nd) - 26 Virginia Place (1992 - 1993)
After the first Bulldog Lil's closed at its downtown location, the bar had a second run in Allentown. The main floor of the building featured the bar itself and there was a second level where you could drink, cruise, and watch the activities below.
Even though there were numerous gay bars in Allentown by this time, the new bar was poorly advertised and failed to attract the crowds that packed the downtown location. The theater crowd that supported the original Bulldog Lil's no longer showed up. The site is now a fashionable restaurant called Scarlet's.
Bunkhouse - 561-563 Delaware Avenue (1983 - 1984)
Cabaret - 20 Allen Street (2003 - 2005)
The Stage Door was remodeled in 2003 to become the Cabaret. Previously a piano bar with tables and chairs along the wall opposite the piano, the table seating was removed and replaced with a dance floor. Behind the building a huge covered patio was built complete with modern glass doors to get out there. This was the first gay bar in Allentown with a backyard patio. Food could be ordered along with drinks. Cabaret had a large collection of loyal customers ranging from young to old. It enjoyed its location at a time when the Allentown bars were very popular and bar-hopping was fashionable. In its later days it became a popular party spot for lesbians.
Café Rumors - 733 Main Street (1989 - 1990)
Carousel (1st) - 33 East Chippewa Street (1950 - 1955)
Carousel (2nd) - 457 Ellicott Street (1957 - 1965)
Casablanca Grill - 136-140 Niagara Street (1954 - 1968)
The Casablanca started out as a straight bar that headlined female strippers. Lesbians were attracted to the bar with the intention of hitting on the strippers. Soon gay men began patronizing the bar as well and the straight crowd drifted away. The bar was demolished in the late 1960s in order to build a massive low income housing complex on the site.
Cathode Ray - 26 Allen Street (1989 - now)
Cell Block - 884 Main Street (1994 - 1994)
Chesterfield Grill - 42 East Eagle Street (1955 - 1964)
The Chesterfield was a small, run-down bar located on Eagle Street behind the AM&A's Department Store. The bar attracted a sleazy urban mix of gays, female prostitutes, and street criminals. Gay men and gay women patronized the bar equally, but it wasn't for the faint-hearted. The crowd was foul mouthed and short tempered. Physical fights were commonplace, especially between the pimps, the prostitutes, and the johns. The bar fell victim to the wrecker's ball as part of a mid-1960s urban renewal effort triggered by the opening of the modern Erie County Central Library building nearby.
City Lights - 727-729 Main Street (1983 - 1989)
Club 132 - 132 East Genesee Street (1958 - 1961)
Club 153 - 153 Delaware Avenue (1997 - 1999)
Club 26 - 26 Allen Street (1986 - 1987)
Club Denmar - 884 Main Street (1984 - 1990)
Club E - 391 Ellicott Street (1999 - 1999)
Club Heat - 153 Delaware Avenue (1990 - 1995)
Club House 134 - 134 Dewey Avenue (1995 - 2000)
Club Illusions - 391 Ellicott Street (2010 - 2010)
Club Ki-Yo - 172 East North Street (1964 - 1967)
A corner bar filled with gay white kids in the midst of a black neighborhood was certainly strange in 1964. Located behind what was then the employee parking lot for Buffalo General Hospital, Club Ki-Yo had a special magic. The name of the bar was a play on K-Y Jelly, the first water-soluble lubricant to replace Crisco and Vaseline as a sex aid for gay men. Though definitely a men's bar during the week, on weekends both gays and lesbians flocked there. Like the Red Spot years later, the patrons at the Ki-Yo were unusually warm and friendly to each other. A Saturday night just wasn't complete without a drink at Club Ki-Yo.
Though the place wasn't large, somehow everyone found their spot. Along one wall was a row of coat-pegs and the coats would sometimes be 3 and 4 deep. When you came to Club Ki-Yo you came to party. Sloe Gin and Squirt (a lemon-lime soft drink unique to Buffalo) was a popular order. Ultraviolet lights in bars had just become the rage and this cocktail glowed in a weird shade of pink. A giant bottle of pickled eggs and sausage was a permanent fixture on the back counter, though not many customers had the courage to sample any.
Behind the horseshoe-shaped bar was a small doorway covered by a khaki army blanket. Couples would slip behind the bar, then duck through the doorway into a high-ceilinged back room. Originally beer and liquor cases were stored in this room with easy access for the bartender. Now it served as a secret dance floor and make-out room.
On the ceiling of the back room was a small, red light bulb and an ultraviolet tube. Sometimes one was lit, sometimes the other, and sometimes there were no lights at all. But if the lights began blinking, it meant the cops were coming and everyone scurried for the front room. In most instances, the bar got tipped-off that a raid was about to occur.
Slow dancing was still in fashion (but illegal for gays) and one of the more popular songs was an oldie "The Twelfth of Never" (1957-Johnny Mathis). Other popular songs on the jukebox were Mama Cass singing "Words of Love" and The Four Tops doing their version of "Reach Out, I'll Be There."
One of the characters at Club Ki-Yo was a guy named Norm. An older man, he always wore a suit and didn't talk much. He'd lean against the side of the jukebox for hours reading a folded-up copy of the Courier Express, all the while cupping his hand over his ear as if he was listening to a small transistor radio. Today we'd wonder if he was using a cellphone. Norm was also a regular at the Ballot Box where he behaved the same way.
The building occupied by Club Ki-Yo was built in 1860 specifically for a tavern called Guenther's. Guenther's became famous as Mayor Grover Cleveland's favorite place to play cribbage with local politicians and his personal friends. The bar was equipped with specially built tables that had drink holders and a pegboard for keeping cribbage scores. On its 75th anniversary in 1935, Guenther's was hailed as the town's oldest tavern.
Despite the anniversary hoopla, Guenther's went out of business 4 years later. It was replaced by a German restaurant named Duch's which lasted until 1963. The next year Club Ki-Yo opened. Right from the beginning there were fistfights, name-calling, and other problems with the surrounding neighborhood. This all ended tragically when Club Ki-Yo became one of the first buildings torched in the "race riots" that swept Buffalo during the summer of 1967. Currently the site is an urban-redevelopment housing project called Woodson Gardens.
Club Liquid - 1459 Hertel Avenue (2001 - 2001)
Club Marcella - 662 Main Street (1998 - 2005)
Cobalt - 153 Delaware Avenue (2004 - 2005)
Continental - 212 Franklin Street (1978 - 2000)
Copper Kettle - 2295 Main Street (1978 - 1979)
Also known as Sam's Copper Kettle, the bar opened for business on Saturday, June 17th, 1978. Previously the Copper Kettle was a small restaurant located along Main Street between Dewey and Oakwood in the Cold Springs area of the City. Older straight men spent their afternoons drinking there. As a gay bar, they offered a free buffet seven days a week from 7-9 pm. On Saturdays drinks were 2-4-1 from 7 pm till closing. The bar had its own signature drink called the Copper Glow with the slogan "Get a glow on with the Copper Glow." The food they served failed to get glowing reviews from the gay patrons. The bar closed around Labor Day 1979.
Crescendo - 166 South Elmwood Avenue (1969 - 1973)
Originally patronized by lesbians, gay men began to invade the Crescendo after the demise of T&T's Western Paradise on Niagara Street. The male clientele was primarily a college-age crowd, including many gay men who enjoyed cruising straight bars such as Brink's, Cole's, and the Rendezvous. Some nights the bar would be so crowded that it was almost impossible to walk across the room with your drink.
Jerry Rothlein, the eccentric Chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Buffalo State College, regularly "held court" at the Crescendo. His quick wit, immense fund of knowledge, and biting tongue made him a bar favorite. Being skewered by this learned professor became a rite of passage. He lived on Allen Street across from the Blackstone and was a well-known Buffalo character in both straight and gay social circles.
The Crescendo operated at a time when many well-educated and well-employed gay men regularly patronized the Buffalo gay bars, mixing with other gay people from all social classes. Although the Crescendo had become a men's bar, many women continued to go there. One of the most popular songs on the jukebox was "Lay Lady Lay" (1969-Bob Dylan).
Crossroads - 561-563 Delaware Avenue (1983 - 1985)
Denny's Place - 814 William Street at Townsend (1972 - 1973)
This was the first bar operated in Buffalo by Dennis Kulczyk (see also Villa Capri). Previously Dennis worked as a bartender at Dominique's and the Hibachi Room. Dennis was the first gay man in Buffalo to own a gay bar following the Stonewall Riots in 1969. The bar was located way out William Street near the old NY Central Terminal. Denny's Place was the first gay bar in Buffalo which allowed men to dance together openly. No more flashing lights warning of a police raid. Dennis was proud of his Psychedelic Light Wall and his bar was the exclusive local distributor for David Magazine. David Magazine was founded in 1968 and was the first lifestyle and entertainment magazine targeted to gay men.
Because the bar was located so far from downtown, you needed a car to get there. Nonetheless the bar featured "all you can drink" draft beers every Tuesday for $2.50. All you can drink! Happy hour generously ran from 2 pm in the afternoon to 8 pm in the evening. Unfortunately the bar's liquor license was revoked within a year by the State Liquor Authority for "allowing delinquents to congregate."
Detour - 884 Main Street - Upstairs (1997 - 1998)
Dominique's Supper Club - 20 Allen Street (1976 - 1986)
Downs' - 684-686 Michigan Avenue (1935 - 1938)
Ralph Martin's was already in business and Galante's was out of business by the time Down's started serving gay customers in 1935. Down's catered to a less flamboyant crowd than Ralph's and it provided another opportunity to discover the extent of Buffalo's gay community.
Down's was a pioneer bar in the neighborhood surrounding Genesee and Ellicott Streets, a neighborhood that was to become the center of Buffalo gay life in the 1950's and early 1960's.
Downtown Manor - 212 Franklin Street - Downstairs (1977 - 1978)
Eagle Inn - 90 Washington Street (1956 - 1966)
The Eagle Inn was located in a deserted part of town next to the defunct Lehigh Valley Train Terminal. The
massive terminal was located directly across Main Street from the equally
imposing War Memorial Auditorium and stretched from Main Street to Washington.
The new HarborCenter hockey complex at Canalside is built on the site of this
old gay bar.
A rough street crowd of gay men and lesbians hung out at the Eagle Inn. The bouncer was a well-known Buffalo lesbian nicknamed "Little Marge" and no one messed with her. Same-sex dancing was allowed, with an eye on the door in case the cops showed up. One of the regulars at the Eagle was the poet John Wieners (1934-2002). At the time he was assistant to David Posner, who headed the University of Buffalo's poetry department. Wieners wrote a poem called "The Eagle Bar" capturing his impression of gay bar cruising in Buffalo and lamenting the gay men who hide at home with a wife and family.
Emil DiNicolantonia Restaurant (Emil's) - 223 Swan Street (1962 - 1976)
Finley's - 2359 Bailey Avenue (1997 - 1998)
Finley's was one of Buffalo's short-duration businesses, operating as a gay bar for less than six months. Despite its brief existence and its non-downtown location, the bar is remembered as a great place to drink and to make new friends.
Located five blocks south of the UB City Campus at the corner of Bailey and Dartmouth, the bar showcased a wonderful mix of activities ranging from AIDS fund raisers and drag shows to Sunday evening jazz performances (which even brought in some straight customers). The bar offered several video games, a pool table, and a dance floor. Perhaps most appreciated of all, was a nice clean bathroom.
Finley's was popular with Buffalo's African-American gay community and was patronized by both gay men and lesbians. Drag queens felt comfortable going there and they helped to enhance the party atmosphere. Most of the patrons were in their twenties and thirties. Finley's was a great bar for cruising and many men connected up. The bar always had a big supply of free condoms, no matter how large a size you needed.
Finley's sported a modern interior, tables and chairs, and air conditioning. Happy hours and parties were well attended and cover charges on weekends kept the crowds manageable. Previous to becoming a gay bar, the place was known as "Jimmy J's Drinkery and Munchie House." The room was quite large and could hold around 150 people.
The two men who owned the bar (one named Finley) were gay and they helped with bar-keeping chores. The bar employed women bartenders as well as men. The owners liked socializing with the patrons and frequently drank alongside them at the bar. The long L-shaped bar encouraged conversation and it was common for patrons to buy drink rounds for everyone. The dance floor was elevated above the main floor and was best known for its mirrored wall, where you could watch yourself dance or cruise someone else's reflection.
The bar's support for the gay community was highlighted in early 1998. As part of Buffalo's "Cause for Celebration" AIDS fund raiser, Finley's hosted a huge party and rented a bus to transport its patrons and their families to the downtown site. Arriving as a group, the Finley contingent visibly underscored the Black gay community's commitment to ending AIDS. The bar and its patrons were justifiably proud that day.
Heartbreakingly the owners' future plans for this promising bar were shattered when a fire broke out just five months after they opened for business. The damage was extensive and the bar closed down for good. The building was eventually demolished and the site is now a small public park across the street from the United Memorial Funeral Home.
The Five O'Clock Club - 285 Delaware Avenue (1953 - 1959)
Friends - 16 Allen Street (2001 - 2006)
Fuel - 884 Main Street - Downstairs (1998 - 1999)
Fugazi - 503 Franklin Street (1999 - now)
Funky Monkey - 20 Allen Street (2012 - now)
Gabriel's Gate - 145 Allen Street (1969 - 1970)
Galante's - 109 Wilkeson Street (1930 - 1935)
This was Buffalo's first gay bar (as far as we know). Joseph Galante and his family originally lived at 109 Wilkeson Street. In 1930 they moved next door to 107, where Joseph opened a grocery store on the ground floor and lived above the store with his wife Josephine and his two children, Salvatore and Sarah. The children worked as clerks in the grocery. Joseph continued to own 109 Wilkeson, which he turned into a speakeasy catering to Buffalo's gay and lesbian underground.
Except for private house parties, where you had to know the right people to get invited, Buffalo's gay men and women lacked an organized way to find each other. In fact, at the time it was difficult to even get a sense of how many other gays lived in the Buffalo area. Although the bar was located behind Buffalo's newly-completed City Hall, in a rough waterfront area near the former Erie Canal (Wilkeson Street ran alongside Wilkeson Slip), the opportunity to meet gay men was irresistible and many found their way to Galante's.
Selling alcohol during Prohibition was a dangerous business. Speakeasy operators who distilled their own hard liquor risked getting busted by the mob. On the legal side, if you operated a still during the winter months in Buffalo you risked being raided by Treasury agents who would notice that the snow melted off your roof too soon. So Joseph confined his beverages to home brewed beers and wines that didn't require distillation and that allowed him to keep a low business profile. Men and women had separate bars at Galante's, with the men's bar downstairs and the women's upstairs. It's not known if Joseph wanted separate bars or it just spontaneously happened that way.
The Constitutional Amendment imposing Prohibition was repealed just
before Christmas in 1933, and by the spring of 1934 Buffalo's first
openly-gay bar, Ralph Martin's, began a legal business on Ellicott
Street. Galante's speakeasy continued to operate, but Joseph was
increasingly harassed by the police for not paying sufficient
bribes. Eventually the illegal business was closed down by the
authorities and the building was demolished in 1936.
The former site of this pioneering bar is now home to Buffalo's Waterfront Elementary School #95. Please note that the original Wilkeson Street no longer exists and another street near the Erie Basin Marina now bears that name (In the 1820's Wilkeson fought to have the Erie Canal terminate in the Port of Buffalo, not along the river in Tonawanda as first proposed).
Gay Community Center - 1350 Main Street (1974 - 1977)
Genesee Hotel Tap Room - 308 Pearl Street (1960 - 1978)
Granny Goodness - 1459 Hertel Avenue (1975 - 1975)
Green Room - 884 Main Street - Downstairs (1999 - 2001)
Havana Casino - 143 Goodell Street (1960 - 1962)
Hibachi Room - 274 Delaware Avenue (1974 - 1977)
Hide Away - 884 Main Street - Upstairs (1991 - 1991)
Hillside Restaurant - 973 William Street (1958 - 1959)
Jam Club - 727-729 Main Street (1987 - 1994)
Jan's - 621 Main Street (1955 - 1963)
Jazz-Arts Center - 634 Washington Street (1959 - 1961)
Johnny's Club 68 - 68 East Genesee Street (1953 - 1960)
Julies' Touch of Class - 134 Dewey Avenue (2000 - 2008)
Kitty-Cat Lounge - 97 East Genesee Street (1950 - 1967)
Knotty Pine - 267 East Genesee Street (1957 - 1957)
The Lion's Den - 72 East Tupper Street (1968 - 1968)
The Lion's Den was the first bar to open east of Main Street following the 1967 race riots and it would be the last bar to do so for the next 20 years. The front door was in the centered with big glass windows on either side. When you stepped in, on your right was a short bar with a few stools and on your left was the jukebox. Beyond the bar were 3 or 4 steps taking you up onto a landing. There were about 8 tables with chairs on the landing.
Dancing wasn't allowed and they didn't serve food. Because of its location, many guys were hesitant to go there and consequently business was slow. Car parking was on the street, a source of apprehension in that neighborhood. Also, if you were going south on Main Street you couldn't make a legal left turn onto Tupper. That was a favorite traffic trap by the Buffalo police and many gay guys got a ticket at that corner. The bar opened in the spring of 1968 and never made it to New Years. The Lion's Den was yet another example of a failing straight bar that went gay for a few months, then disappeared.
Little Club, The (Duff's) - 750 Main Street (1982 - 1985)
The Little Lounge - 514 Niagara Street (1974 - 1975)
Log Cabin - 937 Main Street (1969 - 1970)
Mac Arthur Park - 153 Elmwood Avenue (1980 - 1981)
Marcella Showclub and Lounge - 622 Main Street (2005 - now)
Marianne's Restaurant and Lounge - 561-563 Delaware Avenue (1981 - 1982)
Maxl's Brau Haus - 1545 Main Street (1974 - 1976)
McMahon's Cocktail Bar and Lounge - 444-446 Pearl Street (1967 - 1967)
Me and My Arrow - 274 Delaware Avenue (1981 - 1981)
The Hibachi Room had already been closed for 3 1/2 years when a group of Buffalo gay men decided to reopen the bar under the new name Me and My Arrow (MAMA) on January 7, 1981. No longer to be operated as a restaurant, they remodeled the room by turning the former dining area into a dance floor and installing $30,000 worth of sound equipment and disco lights.
One of the investors, a man named Joseph, was the person who first came up with the idea. His dream was to turn MAMA into Buffalo's version of the notorious Studio 54 nightclub in New York City. Joseph was one of Buffalo's more colorful characters. He claimed that he didn't have a last name, he was simply "Joseph." In the 1980s people believed stuff like that. Before his involvement with MAMA, he was the head host at the exclusive Park Lane Restaurant on Buffalo's Gates Circle. Joseph often bragged that he was best friends with Julius Rudel, the conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and former maestro for the New York City Opera, though no one can recall ever seeing the two together.
The name of the bar came from an animated TV movie called "The Point" by singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson. Nilsson is best known for writing the theme song from Midnight Cowboy called "Everybody's Talkin'." The Point was broadcast on February 2, 1971, as the ABC Movie of the Week. It's the story of a rounded- headed boy (Oblio) living in Pointed Village. Everything was pointed - the houses, the trees, and the people. Oblio was made to wear a pointed hat so he would fit in. One day he mistakenly offended the king and was banished, along with his dog Arrow. Oblio then sings the only song in the movie to become a hit "Me and My Arrow." Joseph thought that both the story and the song had strong gay overtones and chose the song title for the bar name.
Billboard Magazine did a feature article on MAMA in their January 17, 1981 issue. MAMA was a basement bar - you went down two short flights of stairs to get in. On the landing halfway down was an illuminated glass case and proudly displayed inside the case was a copy of that Billboard Magazine article.
Right from the beginning the bar experienced harassment from governmental agencies such as HUD, the NYS Liquor Authority, and the City of Buffalo. The City in particular tried to use the fire codes to close the bar, but the owners successfully demonstrated that no fire codes were violated. And just as with the earlier Hibachi Room, crime on Chippewa Street was a major problem for the bar. Running alongside the building was a street called South Johnson Park. Many straight prostitutes strolled back and forth there waiting for prospective "johns" to drive by. Often the women had pimps loitering nearby keeping a watch on things.
The women tried to use the bar as a base of operations, especially on rainy nights. Cover charges and doormen simply couldn't deal with the problem. One night the bouncer even had a knife put to his throat. The bar tried issuing "Clique Cards" - these were membership cards distributed only to bar regulars. Whatever relief the cards provided, it wasn't enough as customers increasing avoided the hassle of going there.
The bar sponsored many events to attract gay customers, one of the most popular being the Joan Crawford Party in May 1981. Each weekend local DJs Charlie Anzalone and John Fiore put the bar's expensive stereo system through its paces, playing everything form Oldies to New Wave. Tea dances and "Doubles Sundays" kept the cash register ringing. In July the bartenders at MAMA organized a beach cleanup team to help restore Woodlawn Beach (back in the days before it became a State Park). When the guys arrived at Woodlawn, the local homeowners had erected No Trespass signs and told the organizers that their help wasn't welcome. The gay volunteers were asked to leave peacefully and everyone did.
Ironically one of the last big parties held at MAMA was Titanic Weekend in September. A few weeks later the bar officially closed down on October 4, 1981, nine months after it opened. Mean Alice's had been reborn as City Lights and MAMA couldn't compete. In November Joseph briefly reopened the bar in an effort to go-it-alone. His plan was to institute "progressive" drink pricing. Drinks started at 35˘ early in the evening and progressively got more expensive till they were $3.50 after midnight. $3.50 was a lot to pay for a drink in 1981. The scheme failed and soon the bar was closed for good.
Mean Alice's - 727-729 Main Street (1978 - 1981)
In a building that previously held a spacious, downtown Italian restaurant famous for it's pizzas, Mean Alice's became Buffalo's first centrally-air-conditioned gay bar. Air conditioning was surely needed on Alice's massive, elevated dance floor, crammed nightly with buff men gyrating to a driving disco beat. Tight pants and lewd baskets were in fashion and the sexual energy was sizzling.
It's difficult for present-day gays to imagine those years between Stonewall and AIDS, when the gay bars were packed with gorgeous, seductively-attired men. Gays of all ages would bar-hop just to savor the eye candy. Mean Alice's was the last Buffalo bar to enjoy that halcyon time.
Legal obstacles had to be overcome before this dance club could open. In the 1970's, it was still illegal in New York State for men to dance together and it was illegal for a bar to have couches. Sex could take place on couches, so they were considered prostitution equipment. The bar owners hired Paul Cambria, a prominent Buffalo attorney, in their successful fight with the State Liquor Authority. Their success however enraged City Hall and Major James Griffin launched a harassment campaign against the bar.
The size of the bar, it's in-your-face location, and the sexuality of the patrons offended conservative Buffalo values. Police raids at the bar became commonplace, ostensibly to find under-age drinkers. Every customer was required to show ID, even when they clearly weren't young. Outside the bar, patrons were ticketed for the slightest traffic or parking violations. Sobriety checks were used to publicly treat gays in a disrespectful and demeaning manner. Police recorded the license plates of cars in the back parking lot.
Mayor Griffin tried every way to hurt the bar and in the process enlarged his political base, but Buffalo's gays wouldn't cower. Disco music was in its heyday and Buffalo men love to dance. Every weekend the bar was jammed and each encounter with the cops was a whiff of Stonewall. Mean Alice's heralded a new era in Buffalo's gay nightlife. Gay dance clubs, big and bold on Main Street, are now an accepted fixture of the Buffalo gay scene. These dance clubs are often showcased by City boosters as an indicator of what a "hip town" Buffalo has become.
Metroplex - 727-729 Main Street (1995 - 2000)
Mickey's Grill - 44 Allen Street (1998 - 2002)
Mixology Buffalo - 443 Forest Avenue (2012 - 2013)
Murphy's Omega Cafe - 369 Pearl Street (1977 - 1983)
The Oasis - 60 Genesee Street (1957 - 1960)
Outer Limits - 212 Franklin Street - Upstairs (1977 - 1978)
Polish John's - Somewhere on the East Side
Popagayo Restaurant - 124 Elmwood Avenue (1976 - 1976)
Q - 44 Allen Street (2000 - now)
Ralph Martin's - 58 Ellicott Street (1934 - 1951)
The end of Prohibition in December 1933 set the stage for the first legally run bar to welcome Buffalo's gays. During the 1920's Buffalo was famous for three things: gambling, bootlegging, and boxing. Across the country, Americans huddled around their parlor radios eager to hear boxing matches broadcast from Buffalo. A champion boxer named Ralph Martin was a local favorite. Many officials in City Hall had won money betting on Ralph and he was well known throughout the town..
On the southwest corner of Seneca and Ellicott Streets was a cigar emporium. In this large room gentlemen purchased expensive cigars, then sat down in cozy chairs to smoke them - an early version of today's cigar bars. Ralph Martin purchased the bar in 1932 and converted it into a restaurant-bar named after himself. The bar opened in 1934 and it was an instant hit both with Buffalo's gays and with Buffalo's thriving prostitution industry. Prior to the Stonewall Riots in 1969, Ralph Martin's was the only men's bar to open as a gay bar - all the other bars were straight first, then converted to gay.
This mix of gays and whores created an outrageous party atmosphere. Straight "johns" who came to Ralph's in search of hookers were hit-on by the gays testing their luck, by the lesbians flirting for free drinks, and by the prostitutes themselves anxious to turn a trick. Every kind of action could be found at Ralph's.
Ralph Martin's bar was a Godsend for Buffalo's early gay and lesbian community. No longer dependent on the grapevine to locate private parties or on the criminal underground exploiting them at speakeasies, Buffalo's gays and lesbians came out in force. Ralph Martin's was neither a men's bar nor was it a women's bar. Instead it was a magical place where gays and lesbians partied together as one.
At Ralph's, the stars of the evening were the drag queens. Taking their inspiration from the Cotton Club and the Busby Berkley musicals, Ralph Martin's drag queens were over the top. No second-hand clothes for these girls, they made their fabulous costumes from scratch, including the giant headdresses that became their trademark.
Every Saturday night luxury cars such as Duisenbergs, Lincolns, and Packards, would negotiate the corner of Seneca and Ellicott, then come to a dramatic stop. The car doors would slowly open and out would step the flamboyantly attired queens. For special events Ralph rented high-intensity searchlights, their beams streaking into the night sky. Crowds of straight people would congregate on the sidewalks to watch and cheer the ongoing spectacle.
Inside the bar it was an evening of grand entrances. Each diva had her own supporters. Dishing contests kept the crowds in stitches. Every night at Ralph's was a night to remember. If you couldn't make it to the bar, you begged your friends the next morning to tell you every last detail.
Ralph Martin knew how to do it big and Buffalo had never seen anything like it. In the darkest days of the Depression, this extravaganza was just what the City needed. Ralph never revealed why he was so willing to welcome gays and lesbians to his bar, but certainly the goodwill he earned during his boxing days caused City Hall and the cops to look the other way. To satisfy the demands of certain morality groups, token police raids occasionally took place, but they were always conducted with a wink.
Ralph Martin's bar happened at a time when society wasn't as obsessed as now with keeping children permanently naive. Despite the gay clientele neighborhood kids were constantly running in and out playing hide-and-seek, pumping the player piano, or plying the customers to buy a shoeshine. If a boy or girl needed an alibi for being late to dinner, Ralph was always willing to say they were helping him clean up the back room.
A series of interviews with one of those shoeshine boys (Earl) provided the details for this story. Ralph Martin and his wife so liked this Alabama Street lad that he was made the bar's sole "official" shoeshine boy. When other boys tried to encroach on his territory, Ralph would chase them away. As a present for his thirteenth birthday, Earl lost his virginity to one of the resident prostitutes. And when he was a few years older, Ralph hired both Earl and his best friend as the official bar bouncers. Eventually Earl became a Buffalo fireman and today he and his wife live in a beautiful home downtown. Their youngest son recently became an internal medicine doctor.
Ralph Martin found practical ways to be supportive of the early gay community. He quietly loaned money to gays down on their luck, found them housing when their families threw them out, and telephoned influential people to resolve problems. In return, the gay and lesbian community loved Ralph with a passion and made his bar the number one place to go for 17 years running. Ralph Martin's was the gay bar that carried Buffalo through World War II. Soldiers and sailors had no problem wearing their military uniforms to the bar, so if your thing was guys in uniform, this definitely was your bar.
Ralph Martin died November 7, 1951, and with him passed a fabulous era in Buffalo's gay-bar history. By 1956, the home of Buffalo's first legal and publicly-known gay bar had became the Erie County Pest Control Agency. Today the site is the pitcher's mound at the Coca Cola Baseball Field built in 1988.
Red Spot - Lackawanna (1973 - 1973)
Buffalo's steel-making heritage forms the backdrop to this out-of-town adventure. Making a left turn at Gate #3 of the Bethlehem Steel Mill brought you to a old neighborhood tavern. Across the street was a church and the Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, its fenced-in yard also serving as the neighborhood playground. Behind the bar were trailer-type homes of blue-collar steelworkers and their families.
The Red Spot came onto the scene when Buffalo's gays were overdue for a new place to go. For several years running, the only available gay bars were small and offered few amenities. Surely folks would be willing to drive 10 miles to Lackawanna. It was a field trip! Both gays and lesbians made the pilgrimage to the Red Spot.
Perhaps unconscientiously-knowing that they were on borrowed time, Buffalo's gays and lesbians made the most of it, turning the Red Spot into one of the most fondly-remembered bars of all. It's rare to find anyone with a bad word to say. A fabulous dance floor, outrageous drag shows, great bartenders, and a rarely-achieved congeniality amongst the patrons left everyone with glowing memories of the Red Spot.
Surrounded by a social class that disapproved of gays, the Red Spot was pushing its luck. One warm evening three months after it opened, the bar stools filled with customers, a bullet shattered through the front window. Luckily no one was injured, but the Red Spot was dead. The steel mills left town and the site of this hate-crime is now an empty lot. The shooter was never found.
Ricardo's Steak House - 252 Delaware Avenue (1976 - 1978)
Ryan's Hotel Niagara Tap Room - 42 Niagara Street (1947 - 1962)
Satan's Corner - 66 Memorial Drive (1979 - 1979)
Secrets - 20 Allen Street (1998 - 2003)
Senate - 179 Rhode Island Street (1963 - 1964)
The Shadows Restaurant - 469 Delaware Avenue (1969 - 1974)
"Where Only the Shadow Knows and Goes" was not a secret to Buffalo gays. The Shadows was a popular basement bar located on a posh block of Delaware Avenue.
Sunday cocktail hour drinks were priced at 75˘ and bartender Diane kept things lively. Other popular bartenders included Billy, Dodo, Lenny, and Tony.
An surprisingly public spat broke out between the owner and his new 50% partner early in 1974. Just as they were closing the deal, a rumor circulated that younger gays in Buffalo didn't like the new guy and would boycott the bar if he became manager. The new partner was previously associated with another gay bar called the Windjammer Club on Pearl Street. The Shadows owner started to get cold feet and their squabble was the talk of the town. The deal eventually was finalized and the boycotts turned out to be just malicious rumors.
Tragically everyone's hopes were shattered on an early Sunday morning in June 1974 when the bar mysteriously caught fire. A man was seen running from the building moments before and the smell of gasoline engulfed the area. Arson investigators found a broken key in the door lock. The damage to the bar and building were assessed at $107,000.
The owners decided not to rebuild. A brief effort by members of the gay community to raise funds for reconstruction was not successful. The location is now a parking lot at the corner of Virginia and Delaware Avenues, best known for a large, faded wall mural of a British lion.
Shamrock Grill (1st) - 369 Michigan Avenue (1943 - 1957)
Shamrock Grill (2nd) - 535 Elmwood Avenue (1970 - 1973)
Shamrock Grill (3rd) - 555 Elmwood Avenue (1974 - 1981)
Silver Bullet - 88 West Chippewa Street (1988 - 1988)
The Silver Bullet was Buffalo's first leather bar. It opened in June 1988. The dress code after 10 pm daily was Levis and/or leather. Monday was "501 Night," Wednesday was "Sleaze Night," and Friday was "Leather Night." When the Coors Brewing Company first introduced Coors Light beer in 1978 it came in a gold-colored can. Later the gold color was removed and the resulting aluminum-colored can became known as the "Silver Bullet." The bar owner liked the term and chose it for the bar name. When the Silver Bullet closed in less than a year, it went on to became a very popular straight bar called the Crocodile.
Sphere Entertainment Complex - 681 Main Street (2002 - 2005)
Stage Door - 20 Allen Street (1986 - 1998)
The Stage Door was last piano bar in Buffalo. This bar ended a long tradition of piano bars that started with Eddie Ryan's Hotel Niagara in the 1940s and continued at bars such as the 5-O'Clock Club, Black Magic, and the Oasis. Gays enjoyed their drinks while sitting around the baby grand singing show tunes. Only a few customers realized that it was an electric keyboard hidden inside a piano cabinet. There were no strings or other piano parts, just a nice piece of bar furniture.
Stage Pigalle - 291 Delaware Avenue (1972 - 1974)
Quadraphonic Sound was cutting edge technology in 1973 and the Stage Pigalle spared no expense. Their motto was "The Stage - Where Big Things Are Always Happening."
The Sunday afternoon buffet would set you back 50˘ and bartender Gary was a favorite.
Swan Club - 437 Ellicott Street
T&T's Western Paradise - 1239 Niagara Street (1968 - 1969)
A country-western bar before it turned gay, T&T's had a huge back room which originally hosted square dances. This bar could accommodate more patrons than any other Buffalo gay bar in the 1960's.
The owner built a stage and runway for some of the best drag shows Buffalo has ever seen. The principal drag queens at that time collectively called themselves The Buffalo Funny Girls. Such honored names as Gary Anderson, Jimmy Bates, Lenny Castelone, Sammy Fiorello, Paul Jablonski, Larry Paulson, Bill Schroeder, and Guy Vullo are still fondly remembered.
Even though business was good, the owner always seemed to be short of cash. In spite of that, the bar regularly held drag contests with cash prizes in the hundreds of dollars for the winner. A persistent rumor was that the contests were rigged and only drag queens who secretly agreed to return the prize money ever won. The rumor was never proved.
Slow dancing was still in style and the dance floor with it's revolving mirror globe was filled nightly with embracing couples. Though located on an industrial stretch of Niagara Street near the bridge to Squaw Island, both gays and lesbians felt safe going to T&T's, even late at night.
Matrimonial and financial problems caused the owner to close the bar just before Christmas 1969. It went on to become Compton's After Dark, an extremely popular lesbian bar in the 1980's and 90's.
Tabu Nightclub - 777 Main Street (2008 - 2008)
The Tabu Nightclub opened for business as a gay bar on Saturday, March 8,
2008. Located in the newly-renovated Sidwell Building, Tabu was the second
bar to occupy this tony address. The previous straight bar was originally called
the Blue Martini, but quickly changed its name when another bar with the same
name protested. The Blue Martini became the Blue Mirage Ultra Lounge.
Tabu was the first gay "ultra lounge" in Buffalo, although other gay bars such
as Mean Alice's had featured lounge seating as early as the 1980s.
Tabu got off to a rocky start when the owners (Frank Colosimo and Jeff Bonetto) decided in early March to apply for an adult use license so they could employ male strippers. With the bar located diagonally across from the St. Louis Roman Catholic Church and next door to Buffalo's Catholic Charities, the adult use permit didn't have a chance of being approved by the City Zoning Board. Instead of an exotic cabaret, the bar withdrew its application and made do with its dancing permit. The dancing permit at least allowed drag queens to perform as long as they remained clothed and didn't use their own voices.
The dance floor at Tabu was enormous by Buffalo standards. It was surrounded by a chrome railing and boasted the usual assortment of laser beams, strobe lights, and other psychedelic gadgets. The superb sound system was put through it's paces by DJs such as Lady Atram, Sonic, and Frankie C. Tabu had two bars, the main bar downstairs and a smaller more intimate bar upstairs. The bartenders were usually shirtless. The top surface of the downstairs bar was made of translucent plastic. The ever-changing colored lights beneath the plastic made your mixed drink take on strange hues. Tabu was the first gay lounge in Buffalo offering "bottle service" where groups of friends can buy an unopened bottle of liquor with complementary set-ups (glasses, mixers, and ice) for a single, albeit expensive, price.
The overall color scheme of the bar was gray, blue, and silver. Giant aquariums, along with gurgling fountains and lounge furniture, created smaller areas for patrons to congregate. The large glass windows looking out onto Main Street were heavily tinted making it impossible to see in during the daytime. The vast stretches of walls were painted with swirly designs while yards of shiny silver fabric hung from the ceiling creating a gossamer effect. Also suspended from the rafters were trendy lighting fixtures of every description. The owners originally planned to have a spa area where you could get a back massage or a pedicure, but that part of the operation never took off.
The two premier events held at the bar were the Pure White Party in May of 2008 and the 1st Annual Black Party on August 31st. The Black Party was hosted by local drag diva Chevron Davis and featured the "Bad Girls of Tabu" (Jade, Bebe Bulgari, Arrianna, and Ariel Deemont). Unfortunately the 1st Annual Black Party was one of the last parties. The bar's away-from-everything-else location, the lack of convenient parking, the $5 door cover charge, and a cold, rainy fall in 2008 cut deeply into business. Tabu never celebrated its first anniversary, closing its doors in November 2008.
Tiffany's Dance Bar and Lounge - 490 Pearl Street (1995 - 1996)
Tiki Restaurant and Tavern - 330 Franklin Street (1968 - 1970)
Polynesian was the theme - for the decorations, not the men. By the time this bar went gay, the palm leaves had accumulated years of dust. But the owner was friendly, the drinks were strong, and nobody seemed to notice the faded decor. The Tiki was located diagonally across Tupper Street from Laughlin's (a cruisey straight bar in those days) and functioned as a neighborhood tavern for the Allentown gay crowd in the late 1960's.
The Tiki had two rooms and two entrances. If you entered from Franklin Street you came into the actual bar. If you entered from Tupper you were in the dining room, which also served as a dance floor and a drag-show stage.
One of the Tiki's most memorable events was "Bruce Brown's Birthday Party." Bruce was a well-to-do Buffalonian who threw himself a lavish birthday party at the Tiki on the same night in 1969 that the Astronauts first landed on the moon. Throughout the warm summer evening, drag queens huddled around black-and-white TV's watching the blurry pictures being beamed to earth. Outside the bar, cars on Franklin and Tupper Streets honked their horns in celebration. People everywhere were in a joyous mood and the open bar serving Bruce's party just couldn't keep up. The sun had already risen when the last revelers staggered out the door. Gays talked about the party for months.
Tom and Jerry's Club Annex - 821 Washington Street (1955 - 1966)
Tom and Len's Tavern - 132 Goodell Street (1956 - 1965)
Tudor Arms Lounge - 354 Franklin Street (1951 - 1964)
The Underground Nite Club - 274 Delaware Avenue (1999 - 2018)
Villa Capri (1st) - 937 Main Street (1970 - 1977)
Villa Capri (2nd) - 926 Main Street (1978 - 1989)
Sunday tea dances were well attended. Favorite mixed drinks were ice picks and screwdrivers.
The Villa - 844 Main Street (1990 - 1991)
Westbrook Station - 675 Delaware Avenue (1981 - 1983)
Westlake (1st) - 561-563 Delaware Avenue (1986 - 1988)
Westlake (2nd) - 153 Delaware Avenue (1988 - 1989)
Zippers - 884 Main Street - Downstairs (1991 - 1995)