A historic “sip-in” at a West Village bar in 1966

The Stonewall Riot on June 28, 1969 is often cited as the beginning of the gay rights movement: As police arrested employees and patrons of Christopher Street’s Stonewall Inn for serving liquor without a license, crowds threw rocks at the cops, and the event set off days of protest.


But three years earlier there was another, little-known protest one block over on Tenth Street, a precursor to Stonewall that challenged a state law about serving alcohol to gays.

It happened at Julius, the circa-1826 tavern at 156 West 10th Street. The place has operated as a bar since 1867, and it’s been called the longest-running gay bar in New York, though it’s unclear when it went from being a favorite of Longshoremen to a place favored by gay men.


This description of Julius from a 1966 guidebook has it that it’s been attracting “improper bohemians” since the 1930s, though the bar website says the 1950s. The “Dirty Julius” nickname came during its days as a speakeasy.

Juliusbar2008wikiIn any event, the protest came about because the Mattchine Society, an early national gay rights organization, decided to challenge a New York state law that prohibited bars from serving disorderly patrons.

At the time, simply being gay was considered grounds for being disorderly. So on April 21, 1966, a small group of men took action.

“With reporters in tow, four activists declared they were gay and asked to be served at Julius’,” states Off the Grid, the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation’s blog.

JuliusNYTheadline“While Julius’ was a historically gay bar, they had recently been raided, which meant they were under observation.”

“Their denial of service helped launch a court case, which declared that the New York State Liquor Authority could not stop service to gay patrons.”

Julius is still in the West Village, of course; an old-school time machine of a tavern with beer barrel tables stamped “Jacob Ruppert” (ostensibly from Ruppert’s turn of the century Yorkville brewery) and an unpretentious 1950s feel.

[Top image: Julius’; third: Wikipedia; fourth: New York Times headline April 1966]

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5 Responses to “A historic “sip-in” at a West Village bar in 1966”

  1. Walk About New York Says:

    Julius’ has a featured spot on two of our Tours: the Greenwich Village Walking Tour [http://wp.me/P47lL1-Un ] and the Gay Village Walking Tour.[http://walkaboutny.com/the-tours/gay-village-walking-tour/]. The Sip-In that was held there in 1966 is given its rightful due as the forerunner to the Stonewall Riots.

    In all likelihood the bar’s transition from a longshoreman’s hang-out to a gay one began in the late 1950s, continuing into the 1960s, as New York’s shipping industry declined. The piers at the end of Christopher St. and elsewhere along the waterfront no longer employed the men needed to handle incoming cargo. The bars in the Village that catered to these workers were forced to gradually changed their clientele to remain in business.

  2. Linkage: Future of Q Train Unclear; New Atlantic Yards Renderings | LIBERTY ALLIANCE Says:

    […] Q train out of Astoria [NYDN] · Chabad synagogue sues over Skechers signage [TRD] · Remembering the “sip-in” at Julius’ gay bar [ENY] · New buildings are hiring “lifestyle managers” [NYP] · Opening up a […]

  3. tim Says:

    Sip In photo by Fred W. McDarrah

  4. Bars in the Making of LGBT Community | The Queerest Places Says:

    […] example, at Julius, a gay-favorite bar located on West 10th Street in New York City, gay men staged a “sip in” in 1966 to challenge a state law that prohibited serving alcohol to “disorderly” people—and just […]

  5. Edward Winchester Says:

    We – early 60s college kids – were headed to a Village bar called by someone, “Dirty Julius'”

    We drank beer, the girls Whiskey Sours. I remember the waiter pitching the empty beer bottles into a trash can loudly shattering the glass. Anyone remember that.

    We sang songs, laughed and kissed the girls. if it was a gay bar we didn’t notice, nor would we have cared

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