‘Last Call At Maud’s’ – The Documentary That Preserved the Last Drop of Our Lesbian History

on

‘Last Call at Maud’s’ – After The Last Lesbian Bars Close Down, What Does the Future Hold For Lesbian Only Spaces? 

Lesbian bars are few and far between these days. Seems every time you look up, the few left are closing. It’s sad. Sadder than it might seem at first glance, because lesbian bars aren’t just a place to drink, they are a place to be – a lesbian. These days any sort of space like that is painfully hard to come by. Not queer spaces. Not “gay friendly” spaces. But actual lesbian spaces.

Lesbian bars aren’t just a place to drink, they are a place to be – a lesbian. These days any sort of space like that is painfully hard to come by. Not queer spaces. Not “gay friendly” spaces. But actual lesbian spaces.

Why are they disappearing? Well, some say it’s because we as lesbians don’t support them enough. A depressing – and all too likely true – thought. Others say we are being phased out, that because people other than lesbians want access to lesbian spaces, we have no choice but to close them down. What’s the point if they don’t belong to us? It’s devasting to not have spaces that belong solely to us.

One need only look at one of the most famous lesbian bars of all time to get a look at how vital these spaces are. It was a bar called Maud’s and, sadly, it’s no longer in business. The good news is a documentary called ‘Last Call at Maud’s’ lets us look into the past and help us imagine our future.

The bar was an instant success from day one. “You couldn’t even move in there,” the women recall. Fans of Maud’s remember it glowing it, calling it, “The hub of everything happening. The people and the times all coming together. It just became magic…” So it’s no surprise how incredibly sad they were to hear Maud’s was closing after twenty-five years. They were sad for the loss of the bar. But they were sadder at the loss of a place to come together. “Less social gathering places [means] less of a lesbian scene,” the women of Maud’s mourned.

The bar has been described as “a down-to-earth watering hole nestled in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury since 1966.” But it was so much more than that to the lesbians who gathered there. It was home for them when there was no other.

And, in, September 1989, Maud’s called last call for the last time. The bar has been described as “a down-to-earth watering hole nestled in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury since 1966.” But it was so much more than that to the lesbians who gathered there. It was home for them when there was no other. It garnered an international reputation and served these women who, in many cases, had nowhere else they could go and be their true selves. Maud’s was home to “passionate affairs, undercover detectives, emotional arguments, and drunken brawls” and bore witness to the lesbian community’s move toward public visibility and healthy sobriety. 

‘Last Call at Maud’s’ is a documentary about Maud’s, which is hailed as “the world’s longest lasting lesbian bar.”  It’s not just about Maud’s though. It uses Maud’s and its closing as a jumping off point to examine lesbian culture and history from World War II through the 1990s.  The doc walks viewers through Maud’s farewell party and allows us to hear from many of the women of Maud’s.  The film includes rare photos, home movies, and historical archives and offers a glimpse inside an oft unexamined world. 

“To preserve and convey a piece of obscure history on what may well be today’s most ‘misunderstood minority,’” is the goal of the film and, by all accounts, it was a success to be sure. It premiered at The Castro Theatre in San Francisco and at The Berlin International Film Festival in February 1993 and went on to screen in more than two-hundred venues across the United States, Canada, and around the world.

The film is rife with lesbian voices. The owner of Maud’s, Rikki Striecher, talks about her happy first foray into women’s bars during their urban heyday of World War II. Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, founders of the world’s first international lesbian organization called the Daughters of Bilitis, talk about the fear-filled climate that permeated their underground lives in 1950s and early 1960s, taking viewers back to a pre-Stonewall world, when being in gay bar could mean a police raid at any moment; and Gwenn Craig, San Francisco’s police commissioner, discusses discrimination and gay bars in the 70s and 80s.

Sally Gearhart, teacher and activist, details San Francisco’s volatile radical feminist movement; Judy Grahn, writer, connects the early gay bar scene and the evolution of today’s queer culture; JoAnn Loulan, author, shares her thoughts on sexuality and gender, and a plethora of Maud’s customers look back on the past, consider the present, and speak to the future for themselves and the lesbian community.

The documentary looks dated, of course. It was released in the 90s. But it’s on Amazon Prime now and it’s definitely worth a watch. It’s an important reminder of our lesbian history that is vital for us not to forget at a time when so many different forces are trying to erase us in so many different ways. We need to continue to gather. We need to continue to preserve lesbian spaces as ours and ours alone. And we need to continue to tell our story – past present and future. See the film. Know where we came from and protect where we’re going.

This film is about who we are and how we must never let go of that no matter how much the world may change. We are a community, a culture, a force to be reckoned with, and won’t be unseated. As “Last Call at Maud’s” says, “Lesbians are outlaws and we’ve always been outlaws and I hope we always stay outlaws and lesbian bars are our secret hiding places.”

More you may like