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    One ‘Last Call’ as Maud’s Turns 50

    By Paris Poirier and Karen Kiss

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    As patrons heard “last call” at Orlando’s Pulse earlier this Pride month, they were ambushed by a madman. We all know the gruesome and horrific details. We are reminded that the sickening attack is the latest installment in a much larger story of how bars have been key to forming and cultivating our LGBTQ culture.

    Those of us old enough to remember San Francisco’s Maud’s, Amelia’s, Peg’s Place, A Little More, Kelly’s and other fiercely-proclaimed women’s bars feel like survivors from a far distant planet sometimes. Fifty years back seems like an eternity ago, particularly in the age of marriage equality and dating apps. We fondly remember our “sacred spaces” as secure outposts in a world engulfed by war and swift social change throughout the 1960s and1970s.

    That is when a community bar was the only place to connect as a group within our tribe. (Even if that meant grappling with surprise police raids, the threat of being unceremoniously outed, and constantly overflowing toilets.) Since the 1980s, the demise of these havens has happened in a steady trickle. With the AIDS pandemic hitting at the early part of the decade came mounting closures of gay male bars. With growing acceptance of same sex relationships and increased female earning power, lesbian households flourished in ways that no longer required the unique nurturance that the bar scene of previous decades offered. Maud’s finally succumbed to the inevitable.

    It is important for us to remember, and to tell others, that from its first night in 1966 through to its last in 1989, Maud’s was special. Though ruled by the regulars—those zany and, at times, intimidating “Maudies”—that unassuming hole-in-the-wall on Cole Street was a serenely sacred space.

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    From the onset, owner Rikki Streicher knew exactly what kind of bar she wanted it to be, and understood intuitively the major role it served for the women it served its drinks to. As Rikki said, “If it’s open every other day, it better be there for ‘em on Christmas.” For many women it was a second (or, sometimes, primary) home filled with music, laughter, and enough dyke drama to keep gossip churning coast-to-coast for weeks.

    Maud’s was a survivor, not just of historical upheaval, but of fashion trends, too. Janis Joplin stopped by for a shot and a beer. Carole Migden began her political career in a booth at the back of the bar. 1960s beehives made way for 1970s bellbottoms, which morphed into 1980s power pantsuits. The softball team usually stunk, but never stopped trying to score that fleeting home run. The “Pussies” serenaded the throngs at special anniversaries. And the proposal of “marriage” recurred with absolutely perfect timing, every night, and always before the “last call” of the early morning.

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    Through it all, there was a “sexy secrecy” to hanging out there. In her review of Last Call at Maud’s (1993), Village Voice writer Martha Baer noted: “What makes it so interesting are the intersections of the sweep of history with the smallness of one social circle. The cultural moment and the tiny bar stand off, each alternately throwing down a card across history, each card changing the game.”

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    Fifty years ago, Maud’s first opened its doors in the pre-radicalized Haight. On Saturday afternoon, June 25, we’ll gather again in that cozy bar on Cole Street to toast that milestone, honor our collective and personal histories, and just plain celebrate our lives.

    With the passage of time, Maud’s has essentially been gone longer than it was open. This Pride Weekend, which is filled with so much poignancy as we remember those killed and hurt at Pulse, we’ll raise a glass in memory of those no longer with us, including Dear Rikki.

    Everyone is welcome. Whether you frequented Maud’s back in the day, or just want, now, to soak up some of that old time dyke bar spirit, we encourage you and yours to celebrate one more last call.

    Paris Poirier and Karen Kiss are the creators of the award-winning documentary “Last Call at Maud’s.”