Water Colony


The Sea Colony was one of the most popular lesbian bars in Greenwich Village by at least 1955 through the 1960s.

A popular of author and activist Joan Nestle, and others, it had been a sanctuary specifically for working-class lesbians during the time, in spite of being Mafia-run and often raided because of the authorities.

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The ocean Colony, very first floor of 52, 50, and 48 Eighth Avenue (left to right), 1964. Picture by John Barrngton Bayley. Due to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Approximate Water Colony flooring plan. Drawn by Gwendolyn Stegall for the NYC LGBT Historic web Sites Project in discussion with water Colony bartender Preston Mardenborough.

Women’s home of Detention (demolished), Greenwich Avenue between western Street that is 10th and Street, 1945. Thanks to the Museum of this populous City of brand new York.


Initially exposed as a restaurant c. 1950, the ocean Colony had turn into a hangout that is lesbian at minimum 1955, when Ann Bannon, composer of lesbian pulp fiction, visited it with Marijane Meaker, composer of lesbian-themed fiction. Overview of the restaurant through the exact same year mentioned “a recently added celebration space that handles 75 people. ” The review would not point out that the room that is new a location for ladies dancing together, a work which could get somebody place in prison through the bar’s presence into the 1950s and 1960s. The Sea Colony was Mafia-run and frequently raided by the police, like many bars of the era, most famously at the Stonewall Inn although it was an important gathering place, especially for white working-class lesbians at the time.

The clients mostly match a “butch-femme” dynamic, where in actuality the “butch, ” or higher masculine-dressing for the set, would make the “man’s” role into the relationship – purchase drinks, lead in dancing, available doors, etc. – and also the “femme, ” or even more feminine-presenting of the set, would use the “woman’s” role. Preston Mardenborough, a bartender in the water Colony into the 1960s, recalled that this dynamic also extended to where clients typically congregated: into the front room, the back end for the club had been where in fact the “butches” usually sat and also the front side ended up being where in actuality the “femmes” sat, both gossiping in regards to the other team. The butches had been particularly a target of authorities brutality, as dressing in clothing associated with “opposite intercourse” had been unlawful in ny during the time; especially, the “three article” rule claimed which you did not seem to be that you could be arrested for wearing three or more articles of clothing that were traditionally associated with the gender. Raids on homosexual pubs had been regular through the entire 1950s and 1960s, but had been especially violent, frequently intimately violent, at lesbian pubs. Females arrested in club raids had been delivered to the nearby Women’s home of Detention (demolished), which Joan Nestle, writer and co-founder associated with Lesbian Herstory Archives, said had been sardonically referred to among the list of club clients whilst the “Country Club. ”

By the 1960s, the ocean Colony had been a full-time lesbian club with three primary areas. The space that is first in which the primary entry at 52 Eighth Avenue ended up being positioned (presently Art club), had the bar’s just operating egress with uncovered windows, which makes it the absolute most general general public. The bar was on the left and small tables were on the right as one walked in; two single-stall bathrooms were behind the bar in this room. Nestle, whom frequented the ocean Colony and it has written extensively about this, recalled that just one girl had been permitted when you look at the restroom at any given time, a guideline which was implemented because of the Mafia “because they thought we were therefore sexually depraved, if two of us went in we’d probably have sex, and that could bring the vice squad. ” In conformity with this particular guideline, she noted:

“Every evening, a brief, handsome, butch woman with toilet paper wrapped around her hand, had a work to allot us toilet paper. … This butch girl would stay at the front end regarding the line and then we each got two wraps of wc paper. ”

The room that is second50 Eighth Avenue), when you look at the previous restaurant area, had been available through the trunk associated with primary club and supplied dining dining table solution. The “back space” (48 Eighth Avenue) ended up being accessible through this center room and ended up being in which the dancing that is illegal spot. Mardenborough recalled that after the authorities raided the club, which happened regular, a switch will be pushed that fired up a light that is red the “back space. ” Then, he stated, “Everything would freeze and folks would cost their tables and just stay like they’re having drinks. ”

Regardless of the raids, females proceeded visiting bars that are lesbian. One former regular said of her experience during the water Colony (her punctuation), “my first bar when you look at the town was at the sixties in the SEA COLONY…………. Its as if you come in a film as the brain starts a lens into the……. This is certainly previous sluggish danced on the ground. Lights had been dim…. And Maria ended up being the bar maid/butch…who everyone else wanted…. She had been ALL THAT. …. ”

This entry ended up being compiled by project consultant Gwendolyn Stegall.