Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Christine de la Rosa at Velvet (2009)

Location: 3411 MacArthur Boulevard (between Midvale Avenue & 35th Avenue), Oakland, California, USA

Opened: March 17, 2007

Closed: Fall 2009

Velvet was started by "two straight guys and a lesbian"--Bob Huff and Adam Afuvai (along with Afuvai's wife Stephanie Sulivan). Okay, add a straight girl to the mix. All were veterans at the nightclub biz. As for the lesbian? That was Page Hodel, a longtime San Francisco DJ and party promoter. And as an August 2007 article on Velvet noted, Page also "had the street cred three straight people would need to pass muster with the dyke community."

Here's more about the birth of Velvet (from the same August 2007 article):

When they decided to buy the space at 3411 MacArthur Boulevard, it was a hole-in-the-wall best known as the now-defunct American Indian bar Merel's Hilltop Tavern. Before that it was a biker hangout, says Huff, who grew up in nearby Maxwell Park and remembers seeing all the Harleys outside.

Deciding that the space was well suited to serve a niche community, Afuvai did a little market research and found that the neighborhood housed a burgeoning population of lesbians who'd been priced out of San Francisco, but lacked their own watering hole. Huff corroborated his findings, and when Afuvai asked Hodel for input, she said the place was sorely needed.

Of course, reclaiming an old rundown biker bar required a lot of elbow grease:

Since the bar was a wreck, the partners gave it a facelift, straightened out the bar, added lounge furniture, erected walls, and installed Plexiglas barriers. Huff retiled the bathroom. "We called it the Extreme Dyke Makeover," Hodel says. "Like, fifteen of us went in and completely turned the place upside down. It had been a neighborhood bar that had never been cleaned, and you walked in and it smelled unbearable. We scrubbed it with Clorox." The owners invited local women to display their artwork at the bar.
Velvet patrons

But finally, Velvet was ready for her "coming out" party, which was an unqualified succcess:

When Velvet opened on March 17, the line wrapped around the block. "Around ten o'clock Adam went out and told people in the line we were at capacity, 'You can save your Saturday night,'" Huff recalls. "But people said, 'That's cool, we'll just hang out.' That showed there's a need for us."

Unfortunately, there were conflicts between the partners from nearly the very beginning.

The realities of running a business aren't so glamorous — and it wasn't long before things went sour. The male owners say Hodel resented them for, well, their unfortunate biological circumstances. She didn't want straight men going behind the bar, operating the cash register, or making decisions about how to run their own club.

"The crowd that came in there didn't think they were coming to Bob and Adam's club; they thought they were coming to Page's club," Hodel insists. She adds that she was dissed by some of the people the co-owners had hired.

There were also bitter disagreements on who to hire as staff (mostly lesbians? men?), dress codes (ban athletic wear?), and advertising. None of it really got resolved. Just a couple of weeks after the grand opening, Hodel "jumped ship," taking her sound system with her. And then the fur really started flying: who owned the Velvet name, whether Hodel was entitled to compensation for the money she had put into renovations, etc. Much of this conflict went public via Hodel's email list, so many patrons were mistakenly led to believe that Velvet had closed.

Velvet hadn't closed just yet, but the remaining owners took "a big financial hit." Plus, there was the problem of "outsiders" trying to cater to a "niche community."

By June 2008, there were public complaints about the male bouncer being physically and verbally abusive towards the women patrons, as well as the "3 men who run this lesbian bar." The "outsiders" were obviously floundering in unfamiliar waters.

At the beginning of 2009,  in what was obviously an attempt to make amends with the Oakland lesbian community, Velvet hired Christine De La Rosa as general manager. Once again, there was hope that Velvet could be brought back from the ropes--though De La Rosa's apparent peace overtures towards Page Hodel were unproductive. Still, there was a galliant effort. For starters, they spruced up the place a bit:

...Velvet is remodeling itself as a bar and club and community space due to De La Rosa, who took over management of the club at the beginning of the year. A network architect who recently relocated to the Bay Area from Dallas, De La Rosa was surprised by the lack of queer women spaces in the Bay Area. After hosting a few parties at Velvet, owners Adam Afuvai, Stephanie Sulivan, and Robert Huff decided to step into the background allowing De La Rosa to run Velvet, she said. But she said that she doesn't have plans to purchase the bar and club.

De La Rosa also brought in a lesbian DJ, which increased the bar's patronage:

Since De La Rosa took over Velvet and brought in DJ Olga T, whom she's dating, the club has received a surge of business with a steady flow of an estimated 150 women stopping in at the bar and club nightly, she said.

In addition, De La Rose attempted to refine Velvet as a queer women's "community space"--not as a lesbian bar run by a bunch of straight guys:

...De La Rosa perceives Velvet as a community space.

"I want people to own the space. It's really not my space. It's really a community space and night club," said De La Rosa.

She said that a turning point within the queer women's community came last month [January 2009] when Velvet hosted the benefit for Richmond Jane Doe, the lesbian who was gang-raped in Richmond in December.

"I want everybody to feel ownership of that place, so they can feel welcome there, they feel like they can come there and that they can utilize it," De La Rosa said. "I feel like if I can achieve that, women in the Bay Area and in the East Bay Area will have a place."

But it seems that all the effort was too little too late to save Velvet. At some point--around the fall of 2009?--Velvet closed. By the end of the year, Lounge 3411 was in business at that location.

Photo: Christine De La Rosa, manager of Velvet bar (February 2009), Velvet patrons

Delilah's Bar

Delilah's Bar
Delilah's Bar

Location: 67555 East Palm Canyon, Cathedral City, California, USA

Founded: March 2006

Closed: 2007

Here's how the (re)opening of Delilah's was announced back in 2006:

Interior, Delilah's Bar
Cindy Chaisson and Paula Huettl are proud to announce the return of Delilah's, a bar for women and their friends. Once voted the Best Bar in its first year of operation by Lifestyle Magazine Awards. Delilah's has been sorely missed by Palm Springs area locals and visitors alike. On Friday, March 31, 2006 we saw the opening of the new DELILAH'S, just in time for Dinah Shore Weekend! If you joined us these past few weekends you'll want to join us again for even more fun and friendship, and if you haven't stopped by yet, please take a few moments to check us out!

Here's how GayCities announced Delilah's homecoming:

Delilah's is a recent and welcome addition to the GLBT bar scene in the desert. Women owned and operated, Delilah's is one of the few lesbian bars in the Palm Springs area. Lifestyle Magazine awarded it the "Best Bar" award in its first year.

And then there's clubfly's usual terse description:

In a nutshell: For women and their friends with karaoke, video, food and music...

Delilah's was certainly ready and waiting for the big lesbian event of the year: the big Dinah Shore Weekend in Palm Springs, which was held in April. (Though back in 1997, the LPGA was still sticking its collective head in the sand and denying the existence of the huge "lesbian spring break" in their midst--nearly 20,000 women from around the world who gathered to drink, party, ogle...and, oh, maybe watch some golf.) Trish Owens, the co-manager of Delilah's, told Sports Illustrated that the players were skittish about openly acknowledging their sexuality, though she conceded that "we've had several players this week." The reason was clearly money: "They worry they'll lose endorsements." But skittishness didn't stop the then president of NOW, Patricia Ireland ("my sport is politics"), from selling books at Delilah's--this also according to Sports Illustrated.  

Several sites mentioned that Delilah's had been the only surviving lesbian bar in the area. Yet Delilah's hardly lasted out the year. By September 2007--if not earlier--the business was for sale:

Delilah's Business for sale - Cathedral City, California

Popular bar and dance club in Cathedral City located in busy center. Across the street from Target and Trader Joe's. Has a full 48 liquor license. They have a full patio that has been approved for alcohol with misting system. There are many attached improvements on this property. They have installed ... - Cathedral City, California

By 2009, area lesbians had the usual crumbs they have come to expect nearly everywhere:

By the way, Delilah's was once the Palm Springs area's only lesbian bar. It went out of business, but you will find women sprinkled throughout many bars in the Palm Springs area including Toucans, and Sidewinders. The Hunters nightclub has a women's night on the last Saturday of the month, 7 to 10 p.m.

And as often happens, the space formerly occupied by a lesbian bar was eventually subplanted by a (mostly male?) gay bar called Studio One 11.

Photo: Delilah's Bar (exterior), and the interior.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Black Cat Bar & Cafe

Black Cat Bar & Cafe
Black Cat Bar & Cafe

Location: 10056 Main, Penngrove, California, USA

Opened: October 2002

Closed: Fall 2010

Here's how the Black Cat described herself at Petaluma360.com:

The Black Cat Bar & Café opened its doors in October 2002. We are lesbian owned and operated, queer friendly, freak friendly and straight/ not narrow friendly. Our dress code is a smile and our theme is respect for all. Our goal is to provide a space for folks to have fun, and to create a caring and tolerant community.
One of Black Cat's friendly bartenders
Some of the cool/crazy stuff we do here is Tuesday night Strange Movie night on our big screen, Wednesday night Open mic, Thursday night Karaoke, Friday night live music, Saturday night DJ dance nights, charity clothing auctions, theme parties- Damn, we could go on and on!

The Black Cat Cafe certainly sounds like it was something more than your typical pool-and-karaoke lesbian bar. Definitely the kind of off-beat place I wish I could have visited. But what's with all those bras hanging from the ceiling?!? Here is some of the passionate customer praise from yelp.com:

June 2007: oh dear i miss those sumer sunday nights where i would go here with a few friends and we would be basically the only people in the bar. i adore this place.  i know they have live music and it gets pretty busy and lively some nights, but i think this place is best experienced on a slow night with a small group of friends.  pretty good jukebox, not pricey at all. yes bras eeeeeeverywhere. nice bartenders! this place has such character, and is super friendly and comfortable. i miss it!

July 2007: I've been to every gay bay in San Francisco and most arent half as much fun as this hole in the wall way over yonder in Penngrove (North Bay)....Everybody was dancing, drinking, having a good old gay old time when...everybody kept dancing drinking and having a good time.  There's no "then there was a fight" or some "redneck came in" or "some cokehead tied up the bathroom".  It's just an old fashioned good time at a nice joint with a best of the 90's soundtrack.  If I lived in Sonoma, id be there every day.  Next time I go to the north bay, ill visit for sure.  And while the bar is predominately lady, I had a good comfortable time with my date (for the night).

December 2007: Yes, it's a lesbian bar, but it's so much more than that.  It's one of those bars that you feel comfortable at.  Where it doesn't matter who you are or what you're wearing, everyone who works and drinks there is accepting and really awesome.  They have one of the best open mics in Sonoma county every wednesday night.  If you perform, you get a can of Hams for 50 cents.  Honestly, they serve hams and have bras hanging from the ceiling.  Why are you not drinking there right now?

August 2008: A couple people have already mentioned that The Black Cat has a magic and mystery that is all its own. Its hard to put your finger on just what it is. Maybe its the fact that on any given night you can walk in and see a cowboy in a ten gallon hat talking to a lesbian with a "dykes on bikes" t-shirt on. Maybe its the underwear and brassieres that are hanging in all manner from the ceiling.  Maybe its the awesome drink deals on random shots like snakebites and cans of Hamm's. All of these forces come together to give this bar its own character. Definitely hit it up with some friends and have a blast.

September 2008: Funny that the best bar in Sonoma County is a "lesbian bar" in the eerie backwoods on a dark and shadowly little street in a town that may or may not exist.

December 2008: Not only are the owners and workers of this little gem a delight but the prices are good, the place is clean and the people that frequent it are super nice. They have a good energy in the place and go out of their way to provide a fun, comfortable place to party and also encourage safe partying.
ALSO, their new restaurant that is connected Humble Pie is AWESOME. They have nummie treats like home made tater totes!
This is the regular stomping ground for my sister and her friends so I go occasionally and join in on their fun. I love this place and love the ladies who own it. Being a "lesbian" bar has no affect on those who decide to go party here, you can party here and be treated equally regardless of your sexual preference, age, gender or other distinguishing characters or your person.

April 2009: Bras decorate the ceiling in this small cozy place where all kinds of people converge (unlike other bars).  It can get crowded depending on the event.  They have good 'ol Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap.  Good service and great wide selection on the juke box.

May 2009: Great little spot for a cocktail !  Wine needs improving.  But we'll forgive that for friendly upbeat bar maidens!   Great hangout spot.   Love the bras hanging from the ceiling - especially the ones which are autographed or have funny things written on them - CLEVER !!!   And love the black cat figurines in honor of Toto the cat the bar is named for.  purr purr purr

June 2009: This is a great place.  Every time I visit home I have to stop at the Black Cat.  It is one of my favorite small bars.  The bartenders are awesome, the people are nice, and the decor is fantastic.  There are bands on the weekend and everyone is so damn friendly.  Step outside for a smoke and enjoy the beautiful night sky and landscape.  This is a must visit bar if you're in the area.

October 2009: And so it was scribed, there would be but one Bar to enjoy the swilling of godly nectars. Here, it was written, that the resting place of Prometheus' fire would be protected and celebrated for many eons. Sojourners would come and go, heeding on the command of the daily ebb and flow; yet, when the sun hid its cowardly face, and the freakish night began its howl, the pilgrimage of the enlightened freaks commences: a journey to the sacred pub.
Arise ye freaks! take up your oddities as sabers. Embrace your aberrations and move swiftly - to the Black Cat we ride, on ghoulish clouds we soar!
Thug love to the Black Cat

November 2009: Fucking awesome.  A bra-decorated lesbian dive bar next to a Pie-ery!  What could be better?

Black Cat's famous bra-covered ceiling
 January 2010: Penngrove is the straightalkin' ,scruffy pinky finger of Petaluma, if this bar is any indication. Bras on the ceiling, worn-through linolium, live metal played with gusto, cookies on the counter, the sentiment in the air seeming to be that this was as good a place as any to have a beer after a long day.

And then in August 2010, it was announced that the Black Cat would be shutting its doors for good in the next 3-4 weeks. Why? No explanation. Maybe somebody strangled on one of those "nearly 200" bras hanging from the ceiling???

Photo of Black Cate Cafe exterior, One of the Black Cat's famously friendly bartenders, the Black Cat's famous bra-covered ceiling 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Alabama Girls' Industrial School

Alabama Girls' Industrial School
Alabama Girls' Industrial School

Location: Montevallo, Alabama, USA

Founded: 1896

Closed: Began admitting men in 1956

From the University of Montevallo website:

In October of 1896, the Alabama Girls’ Industrial School opened its doors to some 150 young women from all parts of the state. They had come to participate in a great experiment, in an innovation in education for Alabama. They had come to be trained to be teachers, bookkeepers, artists, musicians, dressmakers, telegraphers and milliners. In other words, at last, there was a school in Alabama whose purpose was to educate women to be self-supporting; at last, here was an opportunity to escape from the drudgery of field work, mill work or from the ignominy of depending on a father or brother for lifelong support if there was no husband. At last, here was an opportunity for young women to expand their minds and dreams in a state, poverty-stricken by economic circumstances, that could provide little public education for its citizens.

The school had its beginnings with the dream of Julia Tutwiler, a proponent of education for women, and the vision of Senator Solomon Bloch, who introduced the bill in the Alabama Legislature establishing the school. On October 12, 1896, their efforts—and the efforts of scores of townspeople and other advocates—bore fruit with the opening of the school on that crisp fall day.

Of course, the first president chosen was a man (they nearly always were, even at women's schools). This despite the fact that Julia Strudwick Tutwiler (1841-1916) was an accomplished educator, prison reformer, writer, and outspoken proponent of education for women. Like many proponents of women's education, Tutwiler attended a women's college (Vassar) while also receiving additional training at Washington & Lee College and other schools in  France and Germany. Tutwiler later became the first (and only) woman president of the Livingston State Normal School (later the University of West Alabama). Though it's impossible to review her entire life's work here, it is interesting to note that Tutwiler's prison reform work included the establishment of the first separate prison facility for women in the state of Alabama.

By 1899, more than 400 students were enrolled at the Alabama Girls' Industrial School. By 1908, the school had acquired its "first ghost" when Condie Cunningham died in a dormitory fire. The tale is spun this way:

On the evening of February 4, 1908, Sophomore Condie Cunningham and her roommate were attempting to melt chocolate for fudge in a chafing dish. They missed one curfew bell and when the second bell rang at 10 PM, they tried to put away the dish. Alcohol from the burner spilled and ignited Cunningham’s dress. Startled, she ran and the flames burned her severely. She died two days later. According to the librarian, this information was gleaned from the minutes of a board of trustees meeting. This lines up with the legend.

Not long after Cunningham’s death, residents began to report the screams of cries of a young woman. The grains of the wood on the girl’s former dorm room began to show a screaming face and the door was replaced. The door still resides in storage and does bear some likeness to a screaming face.

Shortly therafter, the school underwent a number of rapid name changes: 

Alabama College students (1944)
In 1911 AGIS became Alabama Girls’ Technical Institute. The phrase “and College for Women” was added in 1919. The Class of 1919 observed that “now that our school is becoming a college, we have begun to take up college stunts,” and College Night began on March 3. High school courses were gradually phased out and, in 1923, the school became Alabama College, State College for Women, a degree-granting institution.

Of course, it was too good to last:

For 60 years, student expression had a decidedly feminine perspective at Montevallo, but in January 1956 that began to change. Backed by Alabama College’s board of trustees, administration, faculty, alumnae association and eventually the student body, the state legislature passed a bill on January 15, dropping the designation “State College for Women” and enabling the college to admit male students.

Two men enrolled at Alabama College in January 1956. By September there were 35 men on campus, and a new era had begun. Seven years later total enrollment had tripled, and more than 40 percent of the students were men.

Alabama College was renamed the University of Montevallo in 1969.

Photos: Students at the Alabama Girls' Industrial School, Students drinking sodas in the "tea room" at Alabama College (1944)

Woman's College of Alabama

Woman's College of Alabama (April 1918)
Woman's College of Alabama

Location: Initially in Tuskegee, Alabama, moved to Montgomery, Alabama, USA in 1909

Founded: 1854

Closed: Began admitting men in 1935, name changed to Huntington College

The Tuskegee Female Insitute was chartered by the state of Alabama in February of 1854. But as the Huntington College website goes on to explain, the first cornerstone on the Tuskegee campus wasn't laid till April 1855, with the college opening its doors in February 1856:

There were four students in the first graduating class in 1856, but by September 1859 the College’s enrollment had risen to an average of 216, with 29 women graduating that year.

In 1872, the Alabama Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, assumed full management and control of the College. The reincorporation created the present governing body—a board of trustees—and a change in name to Alabama Conference Female College.

First basketball team (1890s)
In the aftermath of the Civil War, it became evident that the survival and growth of the College would best be ensured if the campus relocated to a more populous, urban environment. In 1906 Dr. John Massey, who had assumed the presidency in 1876, led the plans to move the College to Montgomery while College friends in the area began the search for a suitable site. Several citizens had initiated negotiations with landowners in an effort to persuade a donation of land, but these negotiations were unsuccessful. As a result, Dr. John Sellers, C.G. Zirkle, and William Moore approached J.G. Thomas, who agreed to sell to the men 50 acres in the Cloverdale section of Montgomery. The land was then donated to the College.

On August 24, 1909, furniture, equipment, and all official college records covering a period of more than half a century were moved into a rented building in Montgomery, which was to house the College until the first building on the new campus was completed. That night, the rented building burned, destroying its contents. Other housing arrangements were made, however, and in the fall of 1910 the new campus opened under the name Woman’s College of Alabama. Since the move to Montgomery had occurred the previous year, 1909 remains the recognized founding date of the Montgomery campus.

By the early 1930s, the college's (largely male) leadership had decided to turn the school coed. Seems somewhat ironic that when they renamed the school in order to make it more attractive to male students, they named it after a woman....

In 1934, the first male student was graduated, but it was not until 20 years later—in 1954—that full-time male resident students would be admitted. Once the College became a co-educational institution, the name Woman’s College of Alabama was no longer suitable. In 1935, in recognition of its affiliation with the United Methodist Church, the name Huntingdon College was selected to honor Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, a woman who had been one of the first and most influential persons associated with the Wesleyan movement in England.

Photos: Woman's College of Alabama (April 1918), the first basketball team of the Alabama Conference Female College (mid 1890s)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Howdy Club

Howdy Club football team (1944)
Howdy Club

Location: 47 West Third Street, New York, New York, USA

Opened/Closed: 1930s - 1940s

The Howdy Club was reputedly a lesbian bar in New York's West Village. We're told that "elaborate floor shows for lesbian audiences" took place there back its heyday. Some of the names associated with the Howdy Club include "burlesque tease artist" Red Tova Halem; an Errol Flynn lookalike/entertainer identified only as Gail, who performed there before World War II; and dancer/entertainer Clover Fern Mamone, who was reportedly a "headliner" at the Howdy Club for "many years."

Lisa E. Davis observes the following about the Howdy Club:

The Howdy Club is the earliest club I know about that hired lesbians as entertainers--strippers, singers like Blackie Dennis, and chorus boys who might serve the first round of drinks, then join the floorshow. They were paid a token $10/night, but made a small fortune in tips. The Howdy dates back to the late 1930s, when many midtown operations that featured strippers and other risqué acts moved downtown to the Village, fleeing from Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's attempts to clean up the troublesome Times Square area--target of many subsequent cleanups.

Here's how the club was promoted in the New York Post in January 1936:

Howdy Club-- Continuous entertainment on West Third Street. The Village at its strangest--and not for the squeamish. 

The Howdy Club went from merely "squeamish" to downright dangerous when a New York City police officer was shot there during a robbery and subsequent gun fight in April 1938. He later died after being hospitalized. One of the robbers also struck a patron on the head when she attempted to aid the police. She committed suicide the very next night by jumping from a 12th story window. It was insinuated that a brain injury caused by a skull fracture caused the suicide, but it also seems likely that her death was fueled by panic over the press exposure. The woman, whose name was Norma de Marco, was just 22 years of age. One of the radio patrolmen at the scene later credited de Marco with saving his life.

Read here for a rather curious account regarding de Marco's final hours before she "plunged from a girl friend's apartment window at midnight." The "girl friend," who was identified as Dorothy La Marr, was a "hat check girl at the Black Cat, another Greenwich Village Club." On the night of de Marco's death, the two "girl friends" had been out "drinking in several clubs" in "the company of two young men." After returning to La Marr's apartment, de Marco apparently started screaming something about "going crazy" and her eyes "bulging out." La Marr and the "two young men" attempted to quiet her, and then the "two young men" departed. According to La Marr, "I started to put her to bed, and when she was undressed I decided a shower might help her. When I turned my back she ran to the window and jumped." The reporter tells us that de Marco's suicide "caused a new sensation in the Bohemian 'hot spots' of the Village which she patronized."

Three male GIs at the Howdy Club
As is often the case, in calling the Howdy Club a "lesbian" bar, certain complications arise regarding definition--and not just because the club admitted men. Back in this era, the law itself often barred women from gathering in a public drinking establishment without a male escort (though laws did NOT bar all-male saloons and bars). These prohibitions were stepped up during the war years, as Allan Berube explains:

Some cities and states, however, in wartime efforts to discourage prostitution, prohibited women from drinking at a bar, tending a bar, or even from entering a tavern unescorted by a man. Cities clamped down on women's public heterosexual activity, barring those who appeared to be "victory girls" (wartime prostitutes) from hanging out in bars, hotel lobbies, and bus stations. Partly because of such restrictions, lesbian GIs rarely found a predominantly female bar in any city, although "men only" bars were common. Instead, together with lesbian civilians, they carved out their own social territories in corners of bars frequented by gay men, such as the Black Cat in San Francisco or the Howdy Club in New York City, and often went out in the company of their gay male friends.

The Howdy Club floor shows were not to survive the stepped up police harassment of the war years. According to a December 1944 article in Billboard, the Howdy Club had been forced to suspend its "cabaret actvities" because of "morals charges" as of November 20, 1944. Ironically, it was a performance featuring a male dancer exhibiting "feminine characteristics" that closed the place down. The charges were brought by two policewomen--not the first time that policewomen had been used to close down a lesbian gathering place (see Eve's Hangout - also featured here at Lost Womyn's Space).

The Howdy Club was apparently out of business as a lesbian establishment by 1945, as jazz guitarist Eddie Condon (1904-1973) signed a lease for the "old" Howdy Club in July of that year. He continued to operate the Howdy Club as a jazz club for the next twenty years or so.

Photos: The Howdy Club football team, c. 1940; three male GIs at the Howdy Club

Tuesday, August 9, 2011



Location: 8730 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, California, USA

Founded: 1997

Closed: November 2005

Somehow, I suspect this will be the first (and last) time I will be doing a posting on a "lesbian" sushi place!

I first stumbled onto the nearly "iconic" Murakami at girlports:

In L.A., Murakami had long been referred to as “lesbian sushi” seeing as you could always count on finding a healthy dose of gay gals in the house.  Murakami reached iconic status when Bette and Alice mentioned the restaurant as the home of lesbian sushi in the L Word episode where Alice takes Phyllis out.  Unfortunately, the restaurant closed at pretty much the same time as when the episode aired....

Girlports notes that another sushi restaurant called Ari Ya is at now at this location, though it's not really as "gay gal" as Murakami: "The lesbians still visit, but not quite as much as they used to….though rumour has it that k.d. lang is a fan."

So let's go to the source. Here's what Guinevere Turner said about Murakami at the L Word Online back in December 2004. She included it as one of the "essentials" of the LA "lipstick lesbian" scene:

While it's not officially a lesbian place, Murakami (8730 Santa Monica Blvd., 310-854-6212) is so chock-full of lesbians all the time I've taken to calling it "Lesbian Sushi." The environment is cute and casual, the food is delicious, and the outdoor patio is lovely (although they don't let you smoke anymore). The only negative thing about the place is that you might run into your ex-girlfriend.

And then like all good things, Murakami came to an end, as blogger Sherman Way documented back in January 2006:

Whither "lesbian sushi"?

Driving home along Santa Monica Boulevard last night, I noticed that the neon green sign for Murakami, the famed sushi bar known around these parts as "lesbian sushi" for the loyalty of its Sapphic clientele, had a new name and a new white neon sign. In an intensive investigation (I looked up Murakami's Citysearch profile), I found this melancholy review:

As of late November, 2005, Murakami has been sold to a new chef/owner. A recent visit demonstrated that all is not well at our favorite Japanese sushi shop. The old Murakami ambience is completely gone. The entire wait staff is new, and very shaky. The service has now slowed down by a factor of two. It may be my imagination, but the fish itself--possibly the single aspect the chef/owner is most responsible for, on his daily buying trips--is of lower quality. The lovely flower arrangements the previous owner's wife did are gone--replaced by a cold, barren wall.

At a minimum, I would wait until things settle down before trying Murakami again, but I also think there's a reasonable chance that it will turn into just another random sushi place, hardly worth the trip.

Overall user rating: Below Average
It's a shame that "lesbian sushi" had to go out like that, but even more of a shame that I won't be able to say that I'm going to "lesbian sushi" anymore. Best of luck to the previous owner, and may "lesbian sushi" rise again.

Subsequent digging has shown that Murakami reopened at 17 North Wilcox Avenue to great reviews. They have a website, but if the lipstick lesbians of LA trailed after them to the the new location, the owners are keeping mum about it.

Photo: Exterior of Murakami