The History Project's Bar Collection


The History Project's Bar Collection


Boston’s gay subculture developed in tandem with Prohibition, where speakeasies became natural gathering places for gay individuals who were already leading a clandestine life. The History Project’s Improper Bostonians notes, “Bars and other gathering places gave previously isolated individuals the opportunity to experience a modicum of freedom, which helped offset the constant threat of arrest, extortion, or loss of employment and the strain of leading double lives,” (p. 162). At this time, bar exteriors were usually discreet, with unmarked doors and anonymous facades. When Prohibition was repealed, gay patrons continued to frequent many former speakeasies, along with hotel lounges, neighborhood bars, and nightclubs, drawn to places where sexual preference was openly acknowledged. Patrons, however, visited such establishments under constant threat of police raid and arrest, which served to foster the solidarity and sense of community that characterized the bar scene of the late 1940s and 50s. By the 1960s, gay and lesbian bars grew in number and patronage, reflecting a larger cultural shift of oppressed groups rising up and demanding recognition. By the 1970s, the disco scene served to bring gay lifestyles into the mainstream, as disco-owners recognized the buying-power of the gay community and sought to encourage gay patronage.

The material from the Bar Collection has been gathered by patrons and employees of local bars and has been donated to The History Project with the intention of providing a more comprehensive history of the social life of gay men (and, to a smaller extent, women) via the bars they frequented.


Bill Conrad
Jim McGrath
Harry Fullerton
The History Project

Collection Items

Legendary Boston drag performer Sylvia Sidney in a white dress
Sylvia Sidney was a legendary drag performer in Boston.
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