There has been a bar on the corner of Waverly Place and West 10th Street since the mid-19th century. The name “Julius’ dates from c. 1930 when the bar began to become popular with sports figures and other celebrities. By the 1960s, Julius’ began attracting gay men, although it was not exclusively a gay bar.
On April 21, 1966, members of the Mattachine Society, an early gay rights group, organized what became known as the “Sip-In.” Their intent was 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. The Sip-In was part of a larger campaign by more radical members of the Mattachine Society to clarify laws and rules that inhibited the running of gay bars as legitimate, non-mob establishments and to stop the harassment of gay bar patrons.
Dick Leitsch, Craig Rodwell, and John Timmons, accompanied by several reporters, went to a number of bars, announced that they were “homosexuals,” and asked to be served a drink. At their first stop, the Ukrainian-American Village Restaurant, the bar had closed, while at their next two attempts, at a Howard Johnson’s and at the Hawaiian-themed Waikiki, they had been served. They then moved on to Julius’ and were joined by Randy Wicker. However, at Julius’, which had recently been raided, the bartender refused their request. This refusal received publicity in the New York Times and the Village Voice.
“…when we walked in, the bartender put glasses in front of us, and we told him that we were gay and we intended to remain orderly, we just wanted service. And he said, hey, you’re gay, I can’t serve you, and he put his hands over the top of the glass, which made wonderful photographs.”
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.