The Gay 90's: An oral history

The famed Minneapolis bar bears witness to a city’s coming of age

The Gay 90's: An oral history
Sasha Landskov

A murder. A ghost. A vaudeville dance show. The original Victorian stage bar of the Gay 90's has been the backdrop for more than a half-century of transforming civil liberties in the Twin Cities.

Though the Gay 90's was a target of prejudice and harassment, it was also a living celebration of family ties, of close friendships, and of profound camaraderie, helping to take gay rights from taboo to mainstream. And it was instrumental in spawning an approachable and accepting community of broad-minded people.

This is not just the story of a bar. This is the story of a city's coming of age.

The Beginning

Robert Parker, general manager: The Gay 90's was called the Casablanca back in the '40s. It was a strip club that had famous strippers on the stage behind the bar. The place was renamed the Gay 90's in the '60s — this was before the vernacular change in the word "gay" and before the bar was a gay bar.

Michael Bloom, owner 1977-2008: Dick Gold owned the Gay 90's before we did. Al Cohen owned the Happy Hour and Dick and Al merged the two places together.

Parker: In the '60s there was only one bathroom at the Happy Hour. The Happy Hour was an underground gay bar and people that came to the Gay 90's started to hook up with people at the Happy Hour.

Bill, customer: I've been coming to the Happy Hour next door to the 90's since 1960 — 54 years. When I first started coming, the 90's was not a gay bar. It was a popular local dining spot and had live vaudeville and famous strippers, like Sophia Tucker. There was even a murder at the 90's around 1946 — a big union guy.

Parker: Above the little stage and the bar, there's a hallway that runs from a tiny room above the kitchen to the front of the building. In the '40s, it's rumored the room is where people would get a hooker and take the hallway out the door and not be seen inside the dining area.

Michael Bloom: The underground tunnels when we owned the place used to go all the way to the courthouse. When we first bought the bar, we walked through the tunnels. I won't comment on a ghost.

Corey Bloom, bartender and Michael's son: When I was little, I'd take a flashlight and my friends and we'd walk through the tunnels. I didn't ever see a ghost.

Parker: Yes, supposedly there's a ghost in the 90's. People have reported seeing her in the tunnels underneath the building. The tunnels connect all over the city. In the 1940s, deliveries would be dropped from the river and the tunnels connected up to the Lumber Exchange building and delivered. Now, the tunnels aren't connected anymore across Hennepin Avenue, but people who work here will say they see her down there or up in the hallway above the bar.

Karin Hartigan, assistant manager: I didn't believe it [the ghost]. I don't believe in those types of things. Until last year, I got a photo. The woman is in a full-length, turn-of-the-century gown standing on the bar. She is dark and everyone else on the bar is lit up with lights.

Late 1970s-1990

The Gay 90's grew from a small bar with a tiny stage into one of the biggest clubs in Minneapolis after the Blooms purchased it in 1977. As the bar grew in size, the gay civil liberties movement gained momentum.

Michael Bloom: My dad, Mort, bought the place and we were the third owners. When we bought the bar in 1977 it was already a gay bar. Right away, I had the vision to make it one of the biggest bars in Minneapolis. I bought the office spaces upstairs and the surplus store next door. We built the annex first — the dance area. Then we built the leather and piano bars.

Corey Bloom: My grandpa Mort, at 15 he escaped concentration camp from Lithuania with scarlet fever. He was honorably discharged after serving in the war at 17. He played baseball for the Cleveland Indians. There was nothing he didn't do. And then there's my dad. My dad wakes up super early between 4 and 5 a.m. and would head straight to the 90's and work until 2 a.m.

Don Waalen, 1990s drag queen show director: It was a gay man's bar in the '80s. No heterosexuals would step foot in the bar — no faghags either, typical females who are friends with gay boys. People would drive by the 90's and shout obscenities.

Tony Bouza, Minneapolis police chief 1980-1990: I respected the business they were doing at the Gay 90's and it was my job to make sure no one was being harassed by the Minneapolis Police Department. One of the outrages, the Minneapolis PD was at war with the gay community — certainly from 1970 to 1980.

Michael Bloom: There was so much prejudice in the police department, and now we have a gay police chief.

Corey Bloom: When you look back, you realize you were part of this huge movement and you didn't know it at the time. People yelling "Fags!" and even worse. It was so ugly. We had good security protecting our customers. Adam — our 7-foot-1 drag queen — he'd make cookies as big as my head. He took care of us and he did it all nonviolently.

1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
29 comments
hardrockminer
hardrockminer

Early 80's- best danceable music in town. Friendly strangers surprised me frequently with amyl nitrate poppers to make dancing even more intense.

clamlakegary
clamlakegary

Having been practically a life long customer of the 90's and Happy Hour since 1971;  working in the gay community I could always go to the 9...0 for support in doing fund raising or having a place to hang my hat.  I've sat across the desk in that office from Dick Gold and of course, Mike Bloom with a request for the gay bowling leagues or tournament fundraising. I even brought a card club into the place.  Lord knows it was the only place I ever had worn high heels in....I'd do anything for raising a few dollars for charity.  Mike, Corey and the whole Bloom family were familiars.  I'm now a retired old man in the north woods and often think of those days when I was young and handsome trying to find the love of my life in that venue.


Gary R. Hillstrom

helinske
helinske

OOOOO do I remember-these were such good times!!! I started going when I was 16-- a young twink and well good looking helped. had my 18th celebration there, then told Cal-- he said they knew but we were good for business lol. Now; with my husband, whom I met there at dinner one night- we go occasionally for an early dinner, they happen to be on Sunday nights and NO ONE IS THERE????? What happened? or are we going on the wrong nights or is like everybody gone.

raw.truth
raw.truth

HAW! Oral History of Sex, a play on words. I have better place to spend my hard-earned money than in a perv joint like this. I'd rather hang out at the big library kitty corner across the street for nothing.

catherinealamar
catherinealamar

 I quit working at shoprite to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $45 to 85 per/h. Without a doubt, this is the easiest and most financially rewarding job I've ever had. I actually started 6 months ago and this has totally changed my life. For more info visit my user name link.......................




➨➨➨➨➨➨➨➨➨➨➨➨➨➨➨  http://www.Jobs75.com

➨➨➨➨➨➨➨➨➨➨➨➨➨➨➨  http://www.Jobs75.com

GO TO THE SITE AND CLICK NEXT TAB FOR MORE INFO AND HELP.

jgawrych
jgawrych

"Marriage was never a possibility, so I never dreamed of marrying the man of my dreams. Now, 20 years later, it is accepted. But I didn't spend the last 20 years looking for my husband or thinking about that future."


I feel the same way

john_eschenbaum2003
john_eschenbaum2003

I first entered the Happy Hour in '70-71.  It was quite the place with the large long oval bar.  I forget the names of the two bartenders that made their careers there. I was there their last night.  I remember the cops coming in, big guys with their gear on looking as if they had just sucked on a lemon staring out as the walked the circle.  The voices became hushed.  Luckily the toilets were beyond an accordion type door just to the back and we entered the 'Gay 90's,' 


I do remember when the 90's and the Happy Hour were combined with a double archway doorway broken in the common wall.  In the 80's I worked early hours and my scenereo changed whereas I didn't frequent it as much.  But, as the 90's grew to the 'private club' upstairs to opening it up as a piano bar and then later the various theme bars it did become a mecca.  The st8's came in and I heard of fights.  I thought, why do they come in if they didn't expect to get hit on.  The drag shows became what we said was a 'freak show' for the st8's to come in and laugh about.  I felt like money superseded our safe place. 


As the time went I went there less and less and now since moving out of the area haven't returned in years.  But, this read was a good trigger to my memories of what was and the good times of my youth. 

dpleaf
dpleaf

don't forget about the famous bouncer Cal Taylor....and Big Momma...memorable people

georgeholdgrafer
georgeholdgrafer

This is a superlative article. However, I noticed one error. Mike Bloom stated that his father, Mort Bloom, bought the Gay 90's in 1977. Actually, it was 1979. The first issue of the GLC Voice in November 1979 contained a front-page article with the headline "Mort Bloom Buys Gay 90's for $1 million."

pmbrent
pmbrent

I Remember the first time I visited the bar, in 95. Really a hoot for a straight crossdresser. but it was just one of many visits, as I grew I became a woman, and by 2002 found a husband. He was still a CD, the stories I can tell about the state drivers license dept would leave you on the floor. He was the best thing to ever happen to me. He passed in 04 from colon cancer, I still miss him today. 


Back to the 90's, the womens room had a female cop gaurding the door, the stalls had no doors and only half high walls. While all the other CD/TS got turned away, the cop never even asked me. I either passed or was so bad they felt sorry for me. I bet the latter.

Now no one mentioned the food. It was great, and reasonably priced.



Pauline

lund519
lund519

It's really gone downhill because it's such a large, open, dark place without enough security that does anything - every time I was there I saw more drug dealers waiting around the bathrooms for people than any actual entertainment happening. It's like a big place for people with no money to sit around all night for free, or beg for money or try to sell drugs. The Saloon isn't much better. Just a bunch of little thugs that aren't gay trying to set up gay guys only to rob them by the time they get around the corner from the bar.

Alirox
Alirox topcommenter

The only thing 'offensive' about a gay bar is the shitty music.

Thehophead
Thehophead

Glad to read the history off the 90's. I really wish the owners could remodel the outside of this building. One of the worst exterior on the street.... I bet the building has some hidden charm under the canopy...

Joel O'Brien
Joel O'Brien

And now it's a dump on the dumpiest downtown corner

Shawn Taylor
Shawn Taylor

I thought they changed the name to the 90's years ago.

Bob Fletcher
Bob Fletcher

...I remember Dee quite fondly...she made 2 dresses for me back in the '80's...and I went to HS with Adam the bouncer...wow...such great memories...

Romeo
Romeo

@raw.truth you got that right. She could have what she wanted just had to work for it

 
Minnesota Concert Tickets
Loading...