Fond Look At Landmark Lesbian Bar

Posted: April 16, 1993

Like a certain celebrated TV taproom about to make its last call, Maud's was a place where everyone knew your name. Not to mention your sexual preference. On the fringe of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, itself on the fringe of the Bay Area social carpet, Maud's was a gals-only bar - a Sapphic Cheers that from 1966 to 1989 catered to San Francisco's lesbian community.

The pretext of the affectionate documentary Last Call at Maud's is to chronicle the 23-year history of this watering hole where everyone from singer Janis Joplin to San Francisco Police Commissioner Gwenn Craig tossed back a few. But the subtext of this modest production is to provide a thumbnail sketch of the civil rights indignities endured and protests waged by the lesbian community since the postwar period.

Despite the limited means of filmmaker Paris Poirier, she accomplishes both in her potpourri of talking heads, home movies and archival photographs. So what does it matter if the soundtrack is not always in sync with the person talking? As Poirier's film illustrates, Maud's was both a social club and a political networking forum.

Or, more symbolically, Last Call is the story of a sorority reflecting on its past while preparing to stage its last bash. Rather than focusing on the younger pledges, it emphasizes the contributions of the sorority's foremothers, now in their 50s and 60s.

Perhaps the most significant sorority sisters are Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin (who in 1955 founded the international lesbian organization, Daughters of Bilitis, and its magazine, The Ladder), reminiscing about the prehistoric era of homosexual bars. A woman who knew she was "different" - and was suicidal because she thought herself unique - was surprised and gratified to find bars where there were dozens of women who, like her, were erotically interested in the same sex.

This was an era when, as novelist Mary Wings fondly recalls, "lesbians were outlaws and lesbian bars our hiding places." But the early bars catered to both gays and lesbians. Witnesses remember bars where lesbian and gay regulars danced with same-sex partners until they were alerted that the police were coming, and changed partners to create the illusion of heterosexuality.

When Rikki Streicher opened Maud's in 1966, lesbians wanted a taproom of their own. Soon Maud's became the hub of the lesbian community, fielding everything from a softball team to a political agenda.

Many contribute personal anecdotes that give Last Call its particular flavor. The archetypal reminiscence is of a lonely and stigmatized woman who first walks into a lesbian bar and feels that, for the first time in her life, she was "home."

Maud's opened in the era of bouffant hair and black stretch pants, and would soon witness the invasion of acid-dropping hippies with their Indian- print blouses and bell-bottom jeans. Although during the '70s Maud's entertained hard-drinking radicals dripping with silver jewelry, by the time it closed its doors, patrons were soberer in dress and demeanor. In fact, the sobriety and chastity that swept the Bay Area homosexual community after the onset of the AIDS epidemic may have been the cause of Maud's demise.

With some bitterness, some of Maud's denizens retrospectively criticize the Bay Area gay male scene during the '70s as "a giant white-guy frat party" that was discriminatory and devoted to hedonism. Their fond reminiscences of Maud's make the bar stand out as a sorority equally dedicated to good works and good cheer.

LAST CALL AT MAUD'S* * 1/2

Produced by Paris Poirier and Karen Kiss, directed by Poirier, photography by Cheryl Rosenthal, music by Tim Horrigan, distributed by Bay Area Video Coalition.

Running time: 1 hour, 15 mins.

With Rikki Streicher, Phyllis Lyon, Del Martin, Judy Grahn, Mary Wings and Gwenn Craig.

Parent's guide: No MPAA Rating (sexual candor, homosexual themes)

Showing at: The Roxy Screening Rooms

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