Site of Eve Adams' Tearoom (1925-1926)
From just 1925 to 1926, a Polish immigrant, Chawe Zlocsewer, made history by operating what was perhaps the first lesbian bar in New York City. Known as Eve Adams' Tearoom (or Eve Adams' Hangout). The basement bar, popular as an after-theater club, made no secret of its clientele. Because it was openly a lesbian bar, Eve Adams' Tearoom was targeted by police and Adams (as Zlocsewer was known) was convicted on obscenity charges and eventually deported.
Backstory and Context
Eva Kotchever, known variously as Eve Adams or Eve Addams, was a Polish Jew who immigrated to the United States in the 1920s along with her partner, the Swedish painter Ruth Norlander. She settled in Greenwich Village, which had an artsy, bohemian reputation and a population that was more welcoming to alternative lifestyles than perhaps any other part of the city. In 1925, Adams opened a bar at 129 MacDougal Street, which was then the heart of the Village's LGBT community.
Next door to the Provincetown Playhouse, the tea room became a popular after-theater spot and quickly developed a devoted following. It was a welcome gathering place for Jews and intellectuals, who were not always welcomed in other establishments. Women found it a safe space as well, at a time when women generally didn't venture into bars or clubs without being accompanied by a man. The tea room was different: a sign placed prominently at the entrance read "Men are admitted but not welcome." Despite its somewhat scandalous sign, the tea room appears to have actually been quite tame; despite sometimes being referred to as a bar, it's not altogether certain that it served alcohol. Most of the activity at Eve's appears to have been poetry readings and after-hours discussions between lesbians.
Adams, who came to be known as the "queen of the third sex," was a vital part of the fabric of the Village and was friends with many of the Village's literary and political luminaries, including Emma Goldman, Henry Miller and Anais Nin. Many of the Village's most well-known residents frequented the tea room, which undoubtedly garnered publicity for the establishment, not all of it positive. The growing popularity of the tea room apparently attracted the ire of Bobby Edwards, who wrote a society column for the Greenwich Village Quill, and whose office was directly across the street. Edwards did not approve of the growing presence of lesbians across MacDougal Street, and although he often covered events at the tea room, he had nothing positive to say about Adams or many of the events held there. By the summer of 1926, Edwards had published a number of critical pieces about the tea room, even after participating in a poetry reading there.
In July of 1926, an female undercover police officer entered the tea room and engaged Adams in conversation. She would later claim that Adams took her dancing and made sexual advances to her both in a taxi and in a hotel room. She also confiscated a book which Adams self-published, titled Lesbian Love. As far as the police were concerned, the book was evidence of indecency and disorderly conduct.
Adams was senteced to six months to the Women's Workhouse at Welfare Island, as Roosevelt Island was known at the time. In an improbable twist, Adams was imprisoned there at the same time as another, far more well-known, woman, who was also arrested on obscenity charges. Because of her role in the Broadway play, Sex, Mae West served 8 days at Welfare Island. Adams' uncle in Connecticut offered to pay her bail but the city refused it. Following the completion of her term, Adams was deported to France.
After her deportation, many in the Village remembered both Adams and the tea room fondly. A few years after her deportation, a play based on Lesbian Love was performed--albeit surreptitiously--in a basement theater on Christopher Street. A number of Village residents were resentful of Edwards and his likely role in Adams' arrest.
In France, Adams operated a cafe and bookstore and eventually became involved in the fight against Francisco Franco in Spain. Upon her return to France in 1943, she and her partner were arrested and Adams was sent to Auschwitz, where she later died. The building which once housed Eve Adams' Tea Room is now an Italian restaurant.
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