This tour samples current and historic gathering sites for lesbians and queer women in San Francisco. While many of these businesses have since closed, they demonstrate the various neighborhoods where lesbian communities have flourished.Less
This small cottage was the residence of Phyllis Lyon (1924–2020) and Del Martin (1921–2008). Two of the founding members of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the nation’s first lesbian-rights organization, they hosted countless meetings in this home. The DOB sought to establish networks among lesbians and to challenge society’s perceptions of lesbians in the 1950s and 1960s. In 2021, the house became the first lesbian landmark in the western United States.
A local lesbian bar in Bernal Heights, the last bar of its kind in San Francisco. Originally located in North Beach from 1968 to 1976, it was founded by two lesbians, Pat Ramseyer and Nancy White, and moved to this location in 1976. People in the neighborhood originally protested its opening by dumping broken household items, including toilets, in front of the bar, but in defiance, the bar’s owners repurposed these items as décor. The bar continues to be lesbian owned and operated.
In 1974, a group of lesbians and feminists opened Full Moon Coffee and Books at this location, which now houses MaMa Ji's. The coffeehouse and bookstore maintained an explicitly women-only admission policy and was the first such establishment in the city. It served food and hosted poetry readings and performances until its closure in 1977. Various pioneering feminist musicians performed here, including Meg Christian and Rosalie Sorrells.
This building housed Maud’s, a lesbian bar that opened in 1964 in the Haight neighborhood. A local, neighborhood-based establishment, many of its patrons knew each other and were regulars at the bar. It was first known as the Study and Maud’s Study, which allowed patrons to pretend that they were going to the library instead of a lesbian bar. When it closed in 1992, it was likely the longest continuously operated and owned lesbian bar in the United States.
The Artemis Cafe was a lesbian-owned and operated restaurant at this location in the 1970s and the 1980s. Originally it was called the Artemis Society and had a women-only admission policy that provided an alternative space to bars where lesbians could socialize. Management later changed its name and admission policy, welcoming everyone. It sponsored several lesbian sports teams in the city, and hosted various benefits in support of women’s issues.
Old Wives’ Tales was a women’s bookstore opened in this space by Carol Seajay and Paula Wallace in 1976. It was one of the early lesbian-owned and oriented businesses in the Mission district. The owners selected this location because it was in a neighborhood with many women of color and easily accessible via public transit. The bookstore was the longest-operating lesbian feminist bookstore in San Francisco when it closed in 1995.
Known for the colorful MaestraPeace mural on its façade, the Women’s Building is one of the first and longest-lived women-owned and operated women’s buildings in the United States. It has housed various nonprofit and community-based organizations including ACT UP/San Francisco, as well as many exhibitions and events. The building has been an important resource for women and the organizations that support them since the 1970s, and also supports the LGBTQ community and racial empowerment.
The Paper Doll was the first queer “supper club” to exist in San Francisco, opening in this space in 1949. It drew a mixed crowd of gay men and lesbians. Its restaurant atmosphere was an alternative to bars and taverns, and as a restaurant it was also less likely to suffer from police raids and harassment than drinking establishments. The Paper Doll closed in 1961.
Tommy’s Place opened here in the early 1950s and was the second bar run by Tommy Vasu, a woman who had been the first lesbian to own and operate a bar in San Francisco. A nightclub called 12 Adler Place was located downstairs in its basement. Police raided the bar in a famous sweep in September 1954, with newspapers running lurid headlines and sensational copy about the establishment. Closed shortly after, the space remains nearly unchanged, but is now operated as Specs’ 12 Adler Museum Cafe.
Mona’s 440 Club, opened here in 1939, was the third bar opened and operated by Mona Hood, a heterosexual woman. Mona's became an institution for lesbians, and was the only lesbian establishment in the city until after World War II. The marquee of the building featured a sign reading “where girls will be boys,” hinting at the club’s popular male-impersonating waitresses. Hood sold her share of the club in the mid-1940s but it kept the Mona's moniker until 1948.