In the 1890s, the Black Rabbit was one of two Bleecker Street “dives” (the other being The Slide, located a block away) where “fairies” – described as “flamboyantly effeminate” – worked. Fairies were often entertainers who solicited well-paying customers in their booths. Historian George Chauncey, in his book Gay New York, identified this decade as one of the earliest periods when this aspect of the emerging gay male community became noticed by a wider public. (For further explanation of “fairies,” see The Slide.)
As with The Slide, the Black Rabbit was subject to frequent police raids. It was closed by the police, in 1899, but re-opened, and was then personally raided in 1900 by Anthony Comstock of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. An October 6th New York Times article noted that Comstock had “never before raided a place so wicked” and was quoted as saying that:
“‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ would blush for shame at hearing to what depths of vice its habitués had descended.”
“Dives” such as The Slide and the Black Rabbit, however, offered a rare haven for the so-called fairies and for the men who regularly frequented such spots. They are among the few surviving 19th-century bars in New York City of the LGBT community.
An unrelated gay bar also known as the Black Rabbit later operated at 111 MacDougal Street in the 1920s.