overview

Remembered by author Ann Bannon and writer/activist Audre Lorde, the Bagatelle, or “the Bag,” was a popular lesbian bar from 1952 to 1959.

Like other gay and lesbian bars in Greenwich Village at the time, it was Mafia-run and frequently raided by the police.

Header Photo
Credit: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2017.

History

In the 1930s, Barney Gallant, a lifelong bachelor, ran a lively restaurant at 86 University Place.

“Danny’s Bagatelle” opened at this location on Friday, December 28, 1951, and had a similar atmosphere to Gallant’s establishment with a floor show for at least the first six months of the restaurant’s existence. It soon became a lesbian hangout, however, dropping the “Danny’s” from its name, closing the second-floor banquet space, and transforming the back candle-lit dining room into a dance floor.

The Bagatelle, or “the Bag,” remained one of the most popular lesbian bars in Greenwich Village throughout the 1950s, and was especially a favorite among white, working-class women who adhered to butch/femme gender roles. [For an explanation on butch/femme, see the entry on the Sea Colony]. Most pre-Stonewall gay and lesbian bars were run by the Mafia and frequently raided by the police, and the Bag was no different. Ann Bannon, a 1950s lesbian pulp fiction author, explained that a raid was likely imminent if one had not happened within the last month.

It was the most popular gay-girl’s bar in the Village, but…the bouncer was always asking me for my ID to prove I was twenty-one… Of course ‘you can never tell with Colored people.

Audre Lorde, Black lesbian feminist, writer, and activist, 1982

Lorde also described the mixed relationship the patrons had with the Mafia bouncers, who were meant to protect them, but often were a threat in themselves. Lorde remembers, “I walked down those three little steps into the Bagatelle on a weekend night in 1956. There was an inner door, guarded by a male bouncer, ostensibly to keep out the straight male intruders come to gawk at the “lezzies,” but in reality to keep out those women deemed ‘undesirable.’ All too frequently, undesirable meant Black.”

The Bagatelle closed in 1959 and was replaced by Dardanelles Armenian Restaurant.

This entry was written by project consultant Gwendolyn Stegall.

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: Unknown; William Graul (cornice and raised roof); George Dress (storefront)
  • Year Built: by 1846; 1889-90 (cornice and raised roof); 1920 (storefront)

Sources

  1. Ann Bannon, June 15, 2018, personal interview with Gwendolyn Stegall for the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project. [source of Ann Bannon pull quote]

  2. Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (New York: Crossing Press, 1982). [source of Audre Lorde pull quote]

  3. Blair Chotzinoff, “Going Out Tonight?,” New York Post, January 7, 1952.

  4. Cobb Tries Nitery Stint,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 15, 1952.

  5. Esther Crain, “A Village eccentric’s popular 1920s speakeasy,” Ephemeral New York, June 23, 2016, bit.ly/2utmU9b.

  6. Eugene P. Lambinus, “Table Topics,” The Villager, December 31, 1959.

  7. New York City Directories (1951-1958).

  8. On the Variety Stage,” New York Post, December 30, 1951.

  9. Tom Miller, “The Mittelstaedt House – No. 86 University Place,” Daytonian in Manhattan, October 19, 2012, bit.ly/2Lt2CTt.

Other Sites in the Neighborhood

157 Bleecker Street
The Slide
Bars, Clubs & Restaurants
39 Fifth Avenue
Vernon “Copy” Berg Residence
Residences
117 MacDougal Street
Swing Rendezvous
Bars, Clubs & Restaurants