At the end of the month, San Francisco will say goodbye to the Lexington Club, its only lesbian bar. But not before some parties.
“I’m scared of how it’s going to feel to miss you,” someone said at the bar, which has been packed shoulder to shoulder during the last few days of it being open. The community had come out to say goodbye to the 18-year-old bar with love stories, ghost stories, stories of fights, and games.
Despite San Francisco’s Mission area being in the ‘90s like “Paris in the 20s” for “dykes and trans guys,” founder and lead singer of the homocore band Tribe 8, Lynn Breedlove, said there hadn’t been a lesbian bar in the area since Maud closed in 1989.
“We were like sponges in the desert,” she said.
Lila Thirkield, a 25-year-old tattooed and spike haired drummer decided to change that on January 31, 1997.
“It was such a big deal that you actually couldn’t get in,” Michelle Tea said of the opening. “It was crazy. I just remember thinking this is as close as we have gotten, may ever get, to a sort of gala.”
Former bartender at the Lex, Robin Akimbo, said, “queers were born” at the bar right in front of her eyes, usually in a similar cycle.
“A lonely little gay nugget” would walk into the bar and order a beer without looking up. Bartenders would make small talk, remember her face and drink to show some effort into getting to know her. Then one day, she’d finally look up and make eye-contact with a regular. They’d shoot pool and a friend was made.
“They would get a crew,” maybe change their outfit, talk about a tattoo, “and then, they would land the official rite of passage: the attention of a really hot girl,” Akimbo said. “This would happen again and again before my eyes. It is just such a f—ing beautiful thing.”
Thirkield, who originally didn’t even know how to bartend, said she had not expected the kind of popularity the Lex had.
“I expected it to be – I don’t know – a very gradual thing,” she said. “And it just wasn’t.”
The bar was open even during holidays and never had a cover. People could use the space for fundraisers, to put their art up on the walls, to do lit readings.
“It wasn’t only just getting drunk and having sex in the bathrooms,” Tea said. “It was also people trying to make queer culture. To have a space that’s actually yours is really powerful.”
The Lex was able to transition with the community. What was once “Your Friendly Neighborhood Dyke Bar,” was changed to “Your Friendly Neighborhood Queer Bar.”
Mission changed as well. Rents started to double and everybody started to move.
Last year, Thirkield had to announce she was going to have to close the Lexington Club.
“It was very hard for me to put out,” she said. However, with the reputation the Lex built, “the love that came back really bowled me over.”
Thirkield has already opened up a second bar with two others called Virgil’s Sea Room in the Mission, but this is a bar open to everyone. However, she is planning to have a few parties under the Lexington Club name.
“I feel like there’s a big part of me that wanted it to go on,” she said. “But I also feel like I’m super proud. I feel great about this place. I love it. I still love it.”