Julius’ is a tavern in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village at West 10th Street and Waverly Place. It might possibly be the oldest continuously operating gay bar in New York City. Yet, its management was actively unwilling to operate as a gay bar, and harassed queer customers until 1966, although it was the favorite bar of Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Rudolf Nureyev.
It was established around 1867, the same year as the Jacob Ruppert Brewery in the Yorkville neighborhood on the Upper East Side. Barrels stamped “Jacob Ruppert” are used for its tables. A butch looking place, with vintage photographs of racing horses and boxers on the wall, plus drawings of Burlesque dancers and an picture signed by showbiz columnist Walter Winchell saying that he loves Julius on the wall. The bar was a popular watering hole in the 1930s and 1940s, part of the Jazz club scene in the Village.
In the late 1950s, it began attracting gay patrons. At the time the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) had a rule that ordered bars not to serve liquor to gay men. Bartenders would often evict known queers or order them not to face other customers to stop them from cruising. Still, gay men continued to be a major part of the clientele into the early 1960s, but the management unwilling for it to become a gay bar, continued to harass them.
On April 21, 1966, members of the Mattachine Society, an early Gay Rights organization, staged what became known as the “Sip-In”. They wanted to challenge the SLA regulations that denied drinks to gay men. The SLA regulations were one of the main methods of governmental 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 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, Randy Wicker and John Timmons, along with several reporters, went to bars, announced that they were “homosexual”, and asked to be served a drink. At their first three stops, they were still served, but at Julius’, which had recently been raided, the bartender refused their request. This refusal received publicity in the New York Times and the now defunct 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 New York State Liquor Authority and the new New York City Commission on Human Rights resulted in a change in policy and the start of an open gay bar culture. The Sip-In at Julius’ was a key moment in the growth of legitimate gay bars and the development of the bar as the central social space for urban gay men and lesbians.
I am rather certain that there isn’t a gay New Yorker over 50 who doesn’t know the place.
In 2016, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its significance to LGBT history.
Julius’ was featured prominently in the Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) starring Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant.