NYC’s oldest gay bar launches crowdfunding campaign to stay afloat

July 8, 2020

Julius’ Bar. Map data © 2020 Google

On the corner of West 10th Street and Waverly Place, Julius’ Bar stands as the oldest gay bar in New York City. It’s also known for the “Sip-In” that took place here in 1966, which ultimately led to legal LGBT bars and was one of the most significant instances of LGBT activism prior to Stonewall. Julius’ was forced to close its doors in mid-March amidst the COVID crisis, and they’ve since been unable to reopen. Therefore, they’ve launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $50,000 that will keep them and their employees afloat until indoor dining is permitted.

Since launching the crowdfunding campaign in March, Julius’ Bar has raised more than $24,000 from 444 donors. The need has become direr in recent weeks, however, as the city has postponed indoor dining. In an update to the GoFundMe on June 24, the bar explained:

As you know we opened for a week and then closed again so to the SLA’s letter directing us to not have people hanging around, making sure they we’re their masks etc. Although, we followed the rules, we didn’t want to chance a fine or our license taken away. We are closed till phase 3 when we will be able to have you indoors at a limited capacity.

Julius’ is undoubtedly known best for the 1966 Sip-In, inspired by the famous Sit-Ins of the time. It was organized by early gay rights group the Mattachine Society in response to the State Liquor Authority’s regulations that shut down bars and restaurants serving homosexual patrons. Prior to the event, Julius’ had been raided by the SLA, and when the group arrived, sat at the bar, and announced they were gay, the bartender refused to serve them and covered their glasses. This action was captured by a Village Voice photographer.

The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project (who is responsible for the bar being named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2016) explains:

The reaction by the State Liquor Authority and the newly-empowered New York City Commission on Human Rights resulted in a change in policy and the birth of a more open gay bar culture. Scholars of gay history consider the Sip-In at Julius’ a key event leading to the growth of legitimate gay bars and the development of the bar as the central social space for urban gay men and lesbians.

Amanda Davis, Project Manager at the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, told 6sqft:

Pre-lockdown, when you went to Julius’ you could see how important it is to so many people in the LGBTQ community, even if they’re just there by themselves to unwind at the end of a long day. The fact that the interior looks exactly as it did during the 1966 “Sip-In” by members of the Mattachine Society is such a rarity in New York, where commercial spaces are often gutted with each new use. We often end our LGBTQ walking tours at Julius’. Last winter, I took my sister’s friends, a young gay couple visiting from D.C., here. One of them had just finished reading David Carter’s book on Stonewall and knew about the Sip-In. It was so moving to see the emotion in his face as he looked around the bar and took in the old photos on the walls. Carter’s words became something he could experience in a whole new way. That’s what historic spaces give us: a deeper understanding of, and an immediate connection to, history — our history — in ways that few other outlets can offer.

The nearby Stonewall Inn (where the Stonewall Riots of 1969 became a key turning point in the LGBTQ civil rights movement) recently received a $250,000 donation from the Gill Foundation. Along with more than $300,000 raised through a GoFundMe campaign, this allowed the historic bar to stay open and pay its $40,000/month rent.


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