The Black Cat Cafe, Montgomery Street
At this location, one block from the Transamerica Pyramid, the Black Cat Cafe opened in 1933. From the beginning it attracted a bohemian clientele of both straight and gay writers, artists and musicians. Artists Maynard Dixon and Ed Corbett would hangout here as did writers John Steinbeck and William Saroyan. The Cat even provided the backdrop for part of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. In the 1950s the Cat began to feature female impersonators and poet Allen Ginsburg described it as a honky-tonk “everyone” went to: “All the gay screaming queens would come, the heterosexual gray flannel suit types, the longshoremen. All the poets went there.”

But soon the police began to repeatedly raid the bar and the city's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control threatened to shut it down for being an openly gay hangout. Owner Sol Stuman appealed to the California Supreme Court and in a landmark decision the court ruled that an establishment could not be closed down simply because homosexuals were the usual customers. While this ruling did not end harassment of gay bars and patrons, the ruling broke the barriers that prevented overtly gay bars from existing freely.

The Cat continued to operate until 1963 and when it finally closed, the attorney for the club said, “That place is like an institution. This is like closing the cable cars or the Golden Gate Bridge.” TRIVIA: The Black Cat was not San Francisco's first openly gay bar, that distinction went to The Dash which opened at Pacific and Kearney in 1908.
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