The Black Cat Bar
The Black Cat Bar or Tavern was the site of a riot between the police and the customers who were gathered together to ring in the new year, on the night of December 31st 1966. Undercover police entered the establishment and attacked gay customers who were celebrating the new year. Without identifying themselves, they proceeded to beat customers and file charges against them. Additional violence took place at a bar across the street in which a woman was pushed to the ground by the police and left bleeding. A man, who was a bartender, was badly beaten and required hospitalization and surgery. This police violence against the gay community resulted in a riot. This event in history is an important marker in the LGBTQ civil rights movement. This site is documented by the Cultural Heritage commission of the City of Los Angeles as the first LGBT civil rights demonstration in the nation.
Backstory and Context
The Black Cat Bar located at 710 Montgomery St., San Francisco California, was first established in 1906. During the time in which this bar was established, the gays in Los Angeles and New York were building communities to gather and express their sexuality and express their lifestyle choices, including apparel. The Black Cat was a social place of gathering for the gay community and their cultural expressions. Though the name changed over the years, the gay community continued to gather at the bar.
In 1955, a law was passed allowing the ABC to shut down any “resort for sexual perverts” (1). Because of this, the ABC license was lifted and the business was closed. Re-established in 1966, it once again became a social gathering place for the gay community. It was only a short time after this re-establishment that the customers would be violated and a history making riot would occur.
On New Year’s Eve, kisses were shared and celebrations were in the air as police in plain clothes entered the establishment and proceeded to beat the patrons of The Black Cat Bar. Thirteen customers and 3 bartenders were arrested and had charges filed against them. Across the street additional people were badly injured. The owner of the bar, a woman, was pushed down and left bleeding outside, and 2 bar tenders were beaten unconscious. One was hospitalized and required removal of his spleen. Because of kissing, two of the arrested were registered as sex offenders. Though they appealed, the US Supreme Court did not accept their case (2).
Days after the attack at The Black Cat Tavern, which took place prior to the famous Stonewall riots in New York, a demonstration took place which protested the police brutality. This marked history as the site of the first documented LGBT civil rights demonstration in the nation by the Cultural Heritage Commission. This demonstration was organized by PRIDE (Personal Rights in Defense and Education). It was because of this event in history that “The advocate” began as the newspaper for PRIDE (3).
On November 7th 2008 this site became a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. Though the name has changed and is no longer The Black Cat or a gay bar, it is now under the name of a previous bar that existed on the same site known as Bocadillos (4).