PHOTOS: Plaque Unveiled at Julius’ Bar, Commemorating History-Making Act of Civil Disobedience

April 22, 2022


PHOTOS: Plaque Unveiled at Julius’ Bar, Commemorating History-Making Act of Civil Disobedience

Activists, preservationists, historians and others gather to honor the site of the 1966 “Sip-In” at Julius’, on 56th anniversary of event

NEW YORK, NY —On April 21, 2022, Village Preservation, the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, the owner of Julius’ Bar, Broadway star John Cameron Mitchell, LGBT activist and 1966 “Sip-In” participant, Randy Wicker, and others, gathered for the unveiling of a plaque to acknowledge Julius’ significance to LGBT activism and history.

NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project's Ken Lustbader speaks to the crowd at Julius' Bar
NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project’s Ken Lustbader speaks to the crowd at Julius’ Bar

On April 21, 1966, members of the Mattachine Society, an early gay rights group, organized what became known as the “Sip-In” to challenge New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) 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 SLA regulations were one of the primary governmental mechanisms of oppression against the gay community because they precluded the right to free assembly. This was particularly important because bars were one of the few places where gay people could meet each other.

Mattachine members Dick Leitsch, Craig Rodwell, and John Timmons, accompanied by several reporters, went to a number of bars to document this discrimination. At Julius’, where they were joined by Randy Wicker, the group announced that they were “homosexuals” and asked to be served a drink — the bartender refused their request. This refusal received publicity in The New York Times and the Village Voice and was the first time LGBTQ discrimination had been proactively documented in mainstream media. The reaction by the SLA 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.

Ken Lustbader, NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project: “Today we make an invisible history visible by installing a commemorative plaque on the exterior of Julius’ bar, an important location in LGBTQ history. In April 1966, courageous activists staged a ‘Sip-In’ to publicize the homophobic discrimination that the LGBTQ community experienced in bars, which could refuse them service if suspected of being homosexual. These pre-Stonewall trailblazers challenged the idea that LGBTQ people were second-class citizens — they deserved safe and welcoming places to socialize and build community. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project is proud to have undertaken extensive research and writing when nominating Julius’ to the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 2016 for LGBTQ history. Since then, we have nominated an additional ten sites directly associated with LGBTQ history. With the recent pushback of LGBTQ rights and attacks on queer people throughout the country, we’re proud to join with our partners at Village Preservation and Helen Buford, owner of Julius’, to formally memorialize this history with this tangible plaque. It will provide intangible benefits of identity, pride, and a connection to the past.”

Andrew Berman, Village Preservation: “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. 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. This is part of a long tradition of pioneering efforts for civil rights for LGBTQ people, African Americans, women, immigrants, and many others rooted in this neighborhood, from the first free black settlement in North America located here in the 17th century, to the fight for Women’s suffrage here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to the Stonewall Rebellion and many other agitations for LGBTQ+ rights which took place here in the late 20th century. We’re thrilled to be able to add this site as our 19th historic plaque in our neighborhoods, which have marked the homes of figures from James Baldwin to Jane Jacobs, Lorraine Hansberry to LeRoi Jones, Anais Nin to Alex Haley. We’re especially proud given that in 2012 we were able to get Julius’ determined eligible for the State and National Registers of Historic Places, when few LGBTQ+ sites had ever received such a determination, and we continue to advocate for individual New York City landmark designation for the site.”

About the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project
The award-winning NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, launched in 2015, is the culmination of over 30 years of research and advocacy by its founders, who are national pioneers in the historic preservation of LGBT sites. Their initial efforts to nominate the Stonewall Inn to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 came to fruition five years later, and further efforts secured the designation of Stonewall National Monument in 2016. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project has since nominated eleven more LGBT sites to the National Register, from James Baldwin’s residence on the Upper West Side to the Women’s Liberation Center in Chelsea. In addition, six LGBT sites that the Project recommended to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, including the Audre Lorde Residence on Staten Island and the Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse in Soho, became city landmarks in 2019. The Project also highlights the city’s LGBT history beyond Greenwich Village with a website of nearly 400 diverse places in all five boroughs. Dating to the 17th century, these sites illustrate the community’s influence on NYC and American history and culture.

The Project further disseminates its work by providing walking tours (also accessible through a free app), presenting lectures, engaging the community through events, developing educational programs for New York City public school students, and sharing its content through robust social media channels. Its goal is to make an invisible history visible while fostering pride and awareness for LGBT people around the world.

About Village Preservation
Since 1980 Village Preservation (VP) has documented, celebrated, and fought to preserve the special architectural and cultural heritage of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo, successfully advocating for landmark designation of over 1,500 buildings, and zoning protections for nearly 100 blocks. VP places a special emphasis on civil rights and social justice history connected to our neighborhoods; in 1999 it was co-applicant for listing Stonewall on the State and National Register of Historic Places — the first time any LGBTQ+ site had ever been so honored in the country — and in 2015 successfully helped lead the campaign for individual NYC landmark designation of the site. VP has also successfully proposed and secured landmark designation of the former NAACP headquarters, the LGBT Community Center, the Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse, and the studio of Jean-Michel Basquiat, among other sites.

Village Preservation offers 80 public programs annually about our neighborhoods’ histories; a need-blind children’s education program focused on architecture, African American history, and immigrant history; dozens of online maps and tours, including our Civil Rights and Social Justice Map, with over 150,000 views; a 4,000 piece historic image archive; and a collection of over 60 oral histories with important figures in the civil rights, social justice, artistic, literary, business, and cultural history of our neighborhoods.

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