In December 1961, Martha and William Leaver took over the failing restaurant and liquor license of the Heights Supper Club, which had been operating at 80 Montague Street since 1950. While the old restaurant had relied on a straight clientele, the new owners decided to appeal to the growing number of gay men who lived in Brooklyn Heights or visited to participate in its active gay scene, which included a number of well-known cruising places (notably the Promenade) and several popular mixed bars that permitted a certain amount of same sex cruising. The Heights Supper Club appears to have been one of the first bars in Brooklyn to have catered to a gay male clientele. Opening at a time when members of the LGBT community were subject to arrest on a morals charge for “solicitation” or “disorderly conduct” and a bar could lose its license for serving drinks to known or suspected gay men or lesbians, the new owners installed a system of lights that would flash when a someone suspected of being a police officer entered the premises.
The club soon drew complaints from straight Brooklyn Heights residents and became the target of police undercover operations. In September 1963, The Brooklyn Heights Press reported that within a period of three weeks there had been three morals arrests at the bar and a bartender had been charged with third degree assault for blocking and shoving a policeman who was attempting to see what was happening in the men’s room. The club closed in October, and in December the New York State Liquor Authority revoked its license finding that it was “a notorious congregating place for homosexuals and degenerates.”
Though only briefly a gay bar, the Heights Supper Club gained notoriety when its closing was the inspiration for a long New York Times front page article that examined gay life in the city and then current theories on homosexuality, concluding despite interviews with leaders of the Mattachine Society and Randy Wicker, in the words of historian Charles Kaiser, that “the only good homosexual was one who was determined to become a heterosexual.”
This entry, written by project consultant Gale Harris, is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.