By Tim Murphy
The party's name is a bow to the Mattachine Society, the gay activist group of the 1950s and 1960s, which had one of its most pivotal moments at Julius'. The bar dates back to the Civil War period, and it attracted actors, jazz musicians, boxers, and all sorts of locals through Prohibition and World War II. By the mid '60s gay men were also gathering there discreetly. At that time New York's state liquor laws forbade establishments from serving openly gay men. There were more freewheeling gay hangouts, but they were mostly run by the mob and avoided raids thanks to police payoffs.
Julius' was not among them. 'It was not a place where anybody flamboyant or obvious would go,' recalls Randolfe Wicker, who was a Mattachine member. Then in April 1966 a handful of Mattachinists, including Wicker, decided to hit some gay haunts, declare their homosexuality, and demand to be served. They'd stage not a 'sit-in' but a 'sip-in.' Yet they were served, with a laugh, at their first two or three stops.
Finally, midday at Julius', they were denied service. (Hence the iconic Village Voice photo, which Mitchell and DeBoy used on the kickoff party's invite, of a Julius' bartender with his hand over a glass.) The case went to court, where it was ruled that denying openly gay people service violated their right to assemble. It was far from the end of police harassment against gays and gay establishments -- the Stonewall uprising occurred three years later -- but in many respects the openly gay bar as we know it was born that afternoon at Julius'.
Though aware of the bar's history, Mitchell and DeBoy don't feel they're hosting a nostalgia-fest. 'It was more 'Let's remember the past but think about the future and have a good time,' Mitchell says. 'The purpose was to have a place to hang out with our friends where we weren't caught in a K-hole of bad gay music.'
Mitchell, DeBoy, and Bond have lived near the bar and hung out there for years. Mitchell says that when he was preparing to play a hustler in a mid-'90s play, he'd hang out with the real-life hustlers who once (more overtly) frequented the bar. Says DeBoy of the bar, 'It's a no-attitude kind of place. It's just always been romanticized in my head. It's haunted but in a good way.'
Wicker, 72, attended the kickoff party as an honored guest and says he had a great time. Dick Leitsch, 73, another former Mattachinist who did the sip-in, says he hasn't heard about the party but would like to go. Is nostalgia for the pre-Stonewall era weird, I ask Leitsch? 'I had a good time in the '60s,' he says. 'There was a pressure [on us], but you learned to live with it and work around it.' Besides, he adds, 'everything becomes nostalgia after a while, doesn't it?'