Bar History in the Twin Cities.
Of course we all remember Discovery before it moved from Asher and University to its present location. Then there was the French Quarter located downtown with its upstairs dance floor and its second floor quiet bar and it basement restaurant.
Across the street in the basement of the Manning Hotel was the Drummers Club and for many years the only gay bar in Little Rock. As hard as the following might be for the younger gays to accept, Saturday night might consist of going to the Drummers Club; and eating dinner, maybe even with straight friends, staying in your chairs (moving around was discourage) and visiting and listening to the quiet juke box. The employees there practically make it a full time occupation to monitor your actions and any display of affections (even holding hands under the tables) was enough to get you barred. The employees quickly told you that this was not a gar bar; but didn’t you want another drink. The ? seemed to be that the gay dollar certainly was welcome but not the gay reputation. Dancing, of course, was out of the question.
Then around 1975 or 1976, due to the dwindling weekend crowds who journeyed to Hot Springs some 50 miles away either to the Royal Lion (a private club) or the Peacock Lounge (later Norma Kristie’s just to be able to dance, dancing was finally permitted at the Drummers Club. At first only after ten o’clock and only on weekends and only after a large sign was placed on the locked door proclaiming that a private birthday party was being held inside. Big David came to Little Rock around 1976 and started his shows on Wednesdays and business boomed. The gay community is credited with keeping the Manning Hotel open for perhaps 2-3 years longer because of the business it generated. A cover was later put on the door there and it seems to have become standard practice that if dancing is permitted a cover will be charged.
Women did appear at the Drummers after dancing was permitted but there was little mixing between the sexes with the men staying on the left and the women on the right. The women had their own bar called Tommie3’s on Arch, Pike and there was also another women’s bar known as Nina’s located on Fouche Dam Road.
In the early 1970’s there was the El Toro Club which was near the Rixey Road exit in Jacksonville and it was popular with men and women alike for a short time, dancing was permitted and liquor and beer served. The same owners had previously operated the Actors and Artist Club on the New Benton Highway; there was occasional shows a both bars. At the El Toro, there were problems with local authorities who used block off the two exit out of club, arrest drivers for DWI and put everyone in the car they could, regardless of the hour.
The Gar Hole located in the basement of the old Marion Hotel closed April 31, 1970. The Marion Hotel was a regal old downtown hotel and was a well know gather place for a cross section of the city. To this day formers employees deny any knowledge of gay gathering place, however, it apparently was well know through the Southwest and while maybe closeted gays apparently make up a large section of the clientele.
Also about the same time as the Gar Hole, there was the Brown Jug, in area of 13th and Scott. It was well known for its food and was certainly mixed but had a large gay following and people remember the large fireplace, the lacquered player piano. On rare occasions at closing time dancing was allowed.
Also for a short time in the late sixties, there was Brittany House on the old Memphis highway. Dancing was permitted and there were occasional shows. There were also considerable problems with harassment from authorities. It soon closed.
In the early sixties and late fifties there was the Continental and the Pit. The Pit was opened first and this was in the vicinity of 2nd and spring, and it featured live entertainment, folk singers, etc. and was well known for their food. It attracted a considerable gay following so the owners opened up the Continental next door as a private club. This was probably the first openly gay bar in Little Rock and it was popular with the men and the women. It featured a black band known as Sweet Mama Newman. After this bar closed in the 1964, the crowd seemed to shift to the Gar Hole.
Also as far back as 1940 until it closed in 1960, there was the Brass Rail, which was located next to the Manning Hotel. This was quite popular with the many soldiers stationed at Ft. Roots during the war. People still remember the patio in the back and the fishpond.
In the early seventies, there were a couple of private party clubs, which flourished for a short time, and entertaining at home was probably more popular than it is today.
We realize that this report may not be complete due to hazy memories and faulty recollections. We welcome corrections and additions.
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