by Paula Bosse
In Dallas’ pre-Stonewall days, there were only a handful of gay bars in the city, and they weren’t widely known beyond those who frequented them. Those were the days when “homosexual behavior” was illegal, and vice raids on gay bars and clubs were frequent occurrences. In an interview with the Dallas Voice Alan Ross remembered what the bar scene was like in Dallas in those days (click for larger image):
There was the well-appointed Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit (later renamed Villa Fontana), one of Dallas’ earliest gay bars, located on Skiles Street near Exall Park in the area now known as Bryan Place, and there were rougher, seedier places, generally downtown. Three of those downtown bars (which apparently catered to a “straight” clientele during the day and a gay clientele at night) were Gene’s Music Bar and The Lasso — both on S. Akard, in the shadow of the Adolphus Hotel — and The Zoo Bar, on Commerce, “across from Neiman-Marcus.”
Gene’s Music Bar (pictured above) at 307-09 S. Akard began as a place where hi-fi bugs could sip martinis and listen to recorded music played on “the Southwest’s first and only stereophonic music system.” Not only did it have the sensational Seeburg two-channel stereo system, but it also boasted one of the best signs in town.
The Lasso Bar at 215 S. Akard was in the next block, across from the classy Baker Hotel, and a hop, skip, and a jump from the elegant Adolphus. Its proximity to the impressive Adolphus meant that the Lasso snuck its way into lots of souvenir picture postcards and Dallas Chamber of Commerce publicity photos. Its sign was pretty cool, too.
The image below gives you an idea of what that block looked like at night, neon blazing. (This super-blurry screenshot is from WFAA-Channel 8 coverage of 1969’s Texas-OU weekend, here — at 6:16 and 9:13.)
The Zoo Bar at 1600 Commerce began as a cocktail lounge and often had live piano music. It was across from Neiman’s and it was 3 blocks from Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club (downtown Dallas ain’t what it used to be). It also had a better-than-average sign.
These three downtown bars, popular as hangouts for gay men, had their heyday in the 1960s and ’70s. By the mid 1970s, the LGBT scene was shifting to Oak Lawn. An interesting article about the uneasy relationship between the “old” Oak Lawn and the “new” Oak Lawn can be found in a Dallas Morning News article by Steve Blow titled “Last Oak Lawn Settlers Brought Controversy” (Dec. 9, 1979).
Sources & Notes
Top photo of Gene’s Music Bar is from the blog Old Dallas Stuff.
Color photo of the Lasso and the Adolphus is from an old postcard. Black-and-white photo of the Lasso and the Adolphus is from the Texas Historical Commission site, here.
Blurry shot of Gene’s Music Bar and the Lasso Bar at night is a cropped screenshot from daily footage shot by WFAA-Channel 8 on Oct. 11, 1969 — the night before the Texas-OU game; from the WFAA Newsfilm Collection, G. William Jones Film and Video Archive, Hamon Arts Library, SMU.
Color image of the Zoo Bar and Commerce Street is a screenshot from home movie footage of the 1966 Memorial Day parade in downtown Dallas, shot by Lawrence W. Haas, viewable on YouTube. Black-and-white photo of the Zoo Bar from the Sixth Floor Museum Collection, via the Portal to Texas History, here (I’ve cropped it). Zoo Bar matchbook from eBay.
Read more about Dallas’ gay bar scene in the article I wrote for Central Track, “Hidden in Plain Sight, A Photo History of Dallas’ Gay Bars of the 1970s,” here.
More on the the persistent arrests and police harassment that went on in gay clubs in Dallas for many, many years can be found in the Dallas Voice article by David Webb, “DPD Vice Unit Wages 50-Year War Against Gay Men” (Aug. 3, 2007), here.
Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.