I coulda been a bartendah!

—with apologies to Marlon Brando

On the eve of PrideFest here in Denver I thought I’d reminisce by telling about a particular visit to a lesbian bar in the Los Angeles area.

I started hanging out with Judith1 in 1959 or 1960 when we both worked at a North Hollywood manufacturing plant, Borg-Warner, making electronics for aeronautics.2 One night she convinced me to go on a double date and I agreed. But I could tell that my guy wasn’t really into me; he seemed to be interested in her. And Judith’s guy wasn’t really into her, so we swapped partners. (The three of them had gone through school together and at some point the district allowed girls to wear pants. These same two boys—our dates—had been so angry at this change that on the day it went into effect they attended class in dresses.)

After a bad experience with a guy, Judith told me she was swearing off men and she’d occasionally invite me to go with her to lesbian bars. At the time, North Hollywood and Studio City were known for having several that catered to women and to men. Later she (and her son) and I got a two-bedroom apartment together in North Hollywood.

One night Judith asked me out to a lesbian bar in North Hollywood on Lankershim, frequented also by local gay men. We walked in and she introduced me to other women. While we were sitting there having beers and chatting, there were three men sitting at the bar, which was normal; it was like an unwritten code of protection. We were having a good time talking when these four guys walked in, sat down at a table, and ordered beers. They all looked around the room, looking at us. If they seemed out of place, we didn’t discriminate; no one was going to throw out these looky-loos.

One guy in particular appeared to be on drugs or off his rocker; he just wasn’t right. He suddenly leaped up and ran over and kicked in the jukebox, breaking its cover. His friends, knowing the police would be called, grabbed him and started carrying him out. He then kicked out the glass front door. The three guys at the bar jumped up and ran after them. I was scared; everyone was scared, even the bartender. They got their license plate number, returned to the bar, and called the police, who wouldn’t do shit! When the cops came, witnesses tried to give them evidence, but the police said the license plate was from Bakersfield and there was nothing they could do. It was a quiet night, not a lot of people; guys at the bar, women at the tables. The broken jukebox continued to play. I’ve had a suspicion ever since that the fellow’s three friends brought him to that bar just to get a reaction out of him—they did!

I got tired of factory work and a cousin told me about openings at her job, so I worked at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank about eighteen months. But I burnt myself out with all the deaths of patients who had come there to die. When I quit in February or March of ’66. I quickly got a job at a beer bar, Lion’s Paw, on Sepulveda at the north edge of Van Nuys. I’d had so much fun at the women’s and men’s bars that I was hoping to learn enough to manage a lesbian bar myself. But I didn’t achieve my goal. A few nights after I started, I met a man who worked down the street, and who would become my first husband. I wasn’t at all interested but he was up for the challenge.

Andrea Carney photo image
Me and my new husband Norm at the reception thrown for us on December 11, 1966, two months after our marriage.

Header image:
Andrea in Sylmar, Calif., before
getting the Borg-Warner job

Notes
  1. Judith is a pseudonym.
  2. The company, which manufactures automobile parts, still exists, but the plant I worked at does not.

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