NYC’s oldest gay bar honored with historic plaque
April 25, 2022
By: Aaron Ginsburg
The site of a monumental event in the LGBTQ community’s fight against anti-gay discrimination was honored last week with a historic plaque. The Village Preservation on Thursday unveiled the plaque at 159 West 10th Street, also known as Julius’ Bar. The bar was the site of the first “Sip-In,” an act of defiance in which members of gay rights groups entered the bar and asked to be served drinks while announcing they were homosexuals, going against the discriminatory regulations of the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) which at the time prohibited bars from serving gays or lesbians.
The Village Preservation was joined by the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, Broadway star John Cameron Mitchell, and LGBTQ activist and “Sip-In” participant Randy Wicker.
Taking place on April 21, 1966, the first “Sip-In” was led by members of the Mattachine Society, a gay rights group. Members of Mattachine entered a multitude of bars accompanied by reporters to document the discrimination they would face. The members entered Julius’ Bar where they were joined by Wicker and asked the bartender to serve them drinks while announcing they were homosexuals, after which the bartender refused.
The bartender’s refusal was covered in the New York Times and the Village Voice, one of the first times LGBTQ discrimination received significant coverage in the mainstream media. This event led to historic changes in policy and is considered by historians to be a key moment in the creation of legitimate gay bars, an important social space for gay men and lesbians.
“As the city’s oldest gay bar and home of the pioneering 1966 ‘Sip-In’ protesting anti-gay discrimination, we are proud to be placing a plaque at Julius’ with our partners at the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project to honor this uniquely important civil rights site,” Andrew Berman, Executive Director of Village Preservation, said.
“Three years before Stonewall, when being gay was still considered a crime, these brave individuals protested for their right to gather free from harassment and discrimination.”
The plaque reads: “On April 21, 1966, members of the Mattachine Society, a pioneering gay rights organization, challenged a regulation that prohibited bars from serving LGBT people by staging a “Sip-In” at Julius’, a bar with a large gay clientele.”
The plaque continues: “With reporters and a photographer in tow, the activists announced they were homosexuals, asked to be served, and were refused. This early gay rights action and the attendant publicity helped to raise awareness of widespread anti-LGBT discrimination and harassment.”
This plaque marks the 19th location commemorated by the Village Preservation, which has honored a number of historic homes and establishments in the area. The last unveiling covered by 6sqft was of urbanist Jane Jacob’s Greenwich Village home where she wrote her seminal work, The Death and Life of American Cities.