April 21, 2016 at 2:54 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
New York’s oldest gay bar approved for landmark status

Julius Bar, gay news, Washington Blade

Julius’ in New York’s Greenwich Village. (Photo by Christopher D. Brazee for the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project)

The National Park Service on Wednesday officially added the Greenwich Village gay bar Julius’ to the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of the bar’s “association with an important early event in the modern gay rights movement.”

The action came one day before the 50th anniversary of a 1966 sip-in that gay activists staged at Julius’ to challenge the then-interpretation of a state liquor regulation used to prohibit bars from serving alcoholic beverages to homosexuals.

“On April 21, 1966, three members of the Mattachine Society, an early and influential gay rights organization, organized what became known as a ‘sip-in,’” a statement released this week by the National Park Service says.

“Their intent was to challenge New York State Liquor Authority regulations that were promulgated so that bars could not serve drinks to known or suspected gay men or lesbians, since their presence was considered de facto disorderly,” the statement says.

The Mattachine Society members carried out the sip-in by sitting at the bar at Julius’ and ordering drinks. According to news reports of the action, the men declared they were homosexuals just as the bartender put one of their drinks on the bar, prompting the bartender to place his hand over the drink and telling the men he could not serve them.

Participants said the action was modeled after the sit-ins at lunch counters organized by black civil rights activists in the South during the early 1960s segregation laws that barred blacks from being served in “white only” restaurants.

The Park Service statement notes that as a result of the publicity and news media coverage generated by the sip-in, and following intervention by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, the Liquor Authority issued a clarification of the regulation. The clarification said bars could legally serve drinks to homosexuals if they determine gays or lesbians weren’t engaging in disruptive behavior.

“Scholars of gay history consider the sip-in at Julius’ as 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,” the Park Service statement says.

“We’re thrilled that it is officially listed and that the National Park Service added another site recognizing LGBT history and allowing LGBT history to stand alongside American History,” said Ken Lustbader, an official with the New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project.

The group prepared a detailed 37-page history of Julius’, including the sip-in, as part of the application calling for the bar to be added to the National Register of Historic Places. The New York State Board for Historic Preservation earlier this month formally nominated Julius’ to be added to the National Register.

The historic write-up prepared by the LGBT Historic Sites Project says the building in which Julius’ is located dates back to 1826 and has been a bar since 1864, making it one of New York’s oldest continuously operating bars and the city’s oldest gay bar. The write-up says Julius’ has had a gay clientele since the 1950s but wasn’t considered a full-fledged gay bar until shortly after the sip-in event in 1966.

A celebration of the historic site designation was scheduled to take place at Julius’ at noon on Thursday, with two of the sip-in organizers and participants expected to be in attendance — Dick Leitsch, 81, and Randy Wicker, 78. Both were leaders of the New York Mattachine Society.

Lustbader said members of the New York City Council were expected to attend the celebration to present a Council proclamation recognizing Julius’ historic significance. He said an official with the National Park Service’s New York City office was also expected to attend to officially announce the placement of Julius’ on the National Register.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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