“Never a Cover”: The Lexington Club Archival Project celebrates the history of San Francisco’s last lesbian bar

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I regret that I’ve never gone into the the Lexington Club‘s bathroom. I’ve been to the San Francisco dyke bar only twice in my life, but apparently I never had to pee. (Blame it on my huge bladder, but anyway.) The beloved Mission spot is closing after 18 years of serving the LGBTQ community and apparently the bathroom is part of its iconography. 

In Lauren Tabak and Susie Smith‘s new film Never a Cover, people who have spent time at the Lex have fond memories of the bar (and its bright blue bathroom), themselves included.

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The film is accompanied by a Kickstarter campaign for the Lexington Club Archival Project, which was inspired by the memories and emotions shared once owner Lila Thirkield announced she’d be closing the bar. Now 43, Lila was just 25 when she opened the bar in 1997. Since then, both the surrounding neighborhood and the city has a whole has changed immensely.”

“All the dykes lived in the Mission,” Lila told the San Francisco Chronicle, saying she was inspired to open up The Lex because there were no other lesbian-specific bars in the city at the time. (Maud’s closed in almost a decade before in 1989.) From the Chronicle:

When she found 3464 19th St., on the corner of 19th and Lexington, she was 25. The rent there was cheaper than what she was paying for her apartment. It would need some work. So would she — she didn’t even know how to bartend (a friend would wind up training her in exchange “for covering some shifts nobody else would work” at a bar that’s now a check-cashing place). None of that mattered.

In the 2000s, though, Lila said “the rent doubled …. everybody moved out of the Mission.” And when the community left for cheaper parts of the Bay Area, it became more difficult to make the money necessary to keep the Lex open seven days a week, never charging a cover.

It’s not just San Francisco that is having these issues: Bars for queer women have been shutting down all over the U.S. in the last decade. Several major cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Portland are now without a lesbian bar, although their LGBTQ population continues to grow. (Male gay bars, however, are able to thrive in the same places.) 

There’s a lot of speculation as to why this trend is happening, and it seems that there are many different reasons as to why lesbian bars cannot sustain themselves like they once could. For one, it’s becoming easier for queer women to find one another with the ease of technology and the mainstreaming of outness. Secondly, women tend to go out less once they partner up and settle down. Women also make less money than our male counterparts, which means it’s more difficult to go out and spend, and ultimately, makes it harder for women business owners to stay afloat.

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What Lauren and Susie are doing with the Archival Project, like Last Call: New Orleans is doing in Louisiana, is helping to keep the history of our community alive. While lesbian bars might not seem as “necessary” as they once were—providing safe and accepting spaces to women looking for others like them, seeking friendships, romantic or sexual relationships or someone to talk to without judgment—what they have provided for us should not be forgotten. As each bar closes, we mourn the significant loss, but should also look for the ways we can keep it as a part of us moving forward. The Lexington Archival Project is collecting “stories, sounds and images” and looking for “old photos, videos and ephemera” from those who might have them on hand. 

The Lex will throw its final party on April 30th, the same night Lauren and Susie’s 1o-minute film, Never a Cover, premieres at the San Francisco Film Festival. The short features interviews with patrons, performers, bartenders, DJs and Lila herself, memorializing the events that have taken place in the tiny bar that so many queers have called home over the last 18 years.

As Michelle Tea tells The Chronicle of the Lex’s importance:

“It wasn’t only just getting drunk and having sex in the bathrooms. It was also people trying to make queer culture. To have a space that’s actually yours is really powerful.”

 

 

The Lex is having closing parties tonight and tomorrow from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Stop by and take a selfie in the blue bathroom. There’s no cover. There never has been.

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