1962 Clamp Down On Rochester Gay Bars

In 1962 the State Liquor Authority cancelled the licenses of three gay bars in Rochester, NY — Patsy’s Grill licensed to Pasquale and Katherine Lippa at 278 Allen Street, Dick’s Tavern licensed to Dominic Gruttadauria at 63 State Street and Martin’s Restaurant licensed to Harry Martin at 12 Front Street — according to articles from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

The charges against the three bars were announced in January 1962 following a year-long investigation in which “the SLA sent its agents in inconspicuous dress into the bars as a result of public complaints,” and “after observing conditions, the investigators did not reveal themselves but wrote reports to the SLA.” The reports accused the establishments of “permitting ‘open and notorious’ homosexual activity without action to curb or halt the practices.” Within months the licenses for all three were quickly cancelled after their respective SLA hearings.

Dr. G Harold Warnock, the deputy county health director in Monroe County responsible for tracking venereal disease, was happy to see the Liquor Authority shut down the gay bars. He told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that “there were other areas in the city ‘just about as bad’ as Front Street,” and “he branded homosexual activity as a contributory cause of spreading infection but not the chief cause.”

The clamp down on the gay bars should be of little surprise given the homophobia that was pervasive throughout the United States well into the 1960s. In 1964 the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle ran a four-part series by Pat Ziska called “The Outcasts” in an ugly campaign against the “national movement . . . to relax the laws against homosexuals.” The first article from March 15 explored “the extent of the community’s involvement in this growing problem,” and the Rochester Police Bureau provided the paper with a list of nearly 300 known homosexuals it was tracking. The list was compiled by policewoman Joan V. Mathers who headed the Morals Squad, and it “showed that the known deviates range in age from the mid-sixties to under 13”:

She [Mathers] produced pictures of two attractive girls, one a blonde, the other a brunette. Then she displayed a picture of two 21-year-old youths. The two “girls” in the photos were really the two boys dressed in feminine attire complete with expensive wigs. They had been stopped recently by police for a traffic violation and their true identity was discovered when the arresting officer looked at the driver’s license. “We now have their names, pictures and other vital information on file,” policewoman Mather said, “and we’ll keep track of them.”

According to the March 15 article the Rochester Police Bureau “makes an effort to answer complaints and suppress solicitation in places like taverns, downtown bridges, parks and lavatories in public buildings.” Indeed, from 1958 through 1963 “there were 119 arrests for sodomy, many involving homosexuals,” and “besides these charges, hundreds of arrests have been made for loitering, intoxication, disorderly conduct, vagrancy and other charges in which the principals are homosexuals.”

The following day on March 16 the D&C ran its second article in “The Outcasts” series which provided a voyeuristic look into the gay “cult” including a Friday night visit to one of the downtown bars which was crowded “with more than 100 persons” and “the floor was jammed with 12 pairs of dancers, mostly men”:

A young man named Jimmy was the most active of the dancers and kept up a near marathon, changing partners frequently. Jimmy wasn’t difficult to follow with the eyes. Like most of the younger men, he wore tight fitting khaki trousers. But his shirt was red and white peppermint striped. He received many compliments on the shirt, described as a “blouse” by some of the habitues.

In further educating readers about the gay world the March 16 article reported that “Halloween is the national homosexual holiday,” and “it is on this day that many of them dress in female garb or ‘drag’ and attend parties, usually in private homes or buildings.” The Rochester Police Bureau learned about the Halloween phenomenon in the gay community by attending a “seminar on homosexuality” provided by the FBI “for local police bureaus and departments,” and told the D&C that its undercover vice officers had infiltrated “such parties.”

The third article from March 17 interviewed a 24-year-old married gay man with four children who “admitted that he married only to have a family and also to cloak himself in respectability,” and he told the D&C: “I seek out male companions from one to three times a week. It varies. When I go out, my wife thinks I’m working. I have that kind of job.” The married man attended private parties or gay bars but said he loathed the homosexuals who publicly cruised “Broad Street or Court Street bridges or in Maplewood Park”: “I know some who are on the prowl. They should be put behind bars. * * * If they bother people, I say put them away. They aren’t our kind. They’re out for money. Otherwise they’d join our group.”

The concluding March 18 article in the four-part Outcasts series focused on psychiatric problems, and closed with a warning by policewoman Joan Mathers from the Morals Squad:

“Parents should be made aware of the problems and should warn their children against homosexuals and other types of molesters. Anyone who has read The Democrat and Chronicle series should now be aware of the danger of this unhappy and undesirable way of life. I would say the next step is up to parents.”

The D&C conveniently timed its four-part series just as state legislators in Albany were proposing to reform the sodomy laws, and Rochester Police Chief William M. Lombard and Monroe County Sheriff Albert W. Skinner publicly objected to any changes in a March 19 article:

“As a law enforcement agent I would be against any change to reduce the law,” said Lombard. “It would give the true criminal homosexual another out and create one more defense for such persons. It would then be difficult to establish ‘consent’ and thus be tougher to prosecute criminally active homosexuals.” Skinner said he, too, was against any mitigation of the law for the same reasons. “It certainly wouldn’t help,” he explained, “we’re having trouble enough with them now.”

In response to the series the D&C received many letters from readers which “described the bitterness and loneliness of their outcast experience,” and the paper reprinted one from “an older homosexual” on the “very lonely life”: “As I sit at the gay bar night after night, I can’t help wondering to myself what will happen to these (younger) boys 20 years from now. Today they think it is all a big blast, but believe me it isn’t.” That letter was anonymously signed “Just another outcast.”

Excerpted from Queer Joints, Wiseguys and G-Men

Queer Joints, Wiseguys and G-Men by Phillip Crawford Jr.

Author of “The Mafia and the Gays,” “Railroaded: The Homophobic Prosecution of Brandon Woodruff for His Parents’ Murders,” & “Queer Joints, Wiseguys and G-Men”