From the archive
Julius’ makes a strong claim to be one of the longest-running gay bars in the city, if not the oldest, and it is housed in an 1826 building at the corner of West 10th Street and Waverly Place. The walls are covered with articles and memorabilia. Tables are made from barrels stamped with the name of Jacob Ruppert’s Brewery, long vanished from Third Avenue in Yorkville. Julius’ was ancient and charming when Mr. Bourscheidt first visited in 1965 while a student at Columbia University.
“It was not so unusual in those days to find a bar that was filled only with men,” Mr. Bourscheidt said. “It was quietly known in the gay world as a gay bar. They did everything they could to conceal that fact. In my somewhat distorted recollection from 1965, it seemed that everyone in there had gone to Yale, was dressed in a suit, and was in advertising — which was then an occupation open to gay men, unlike banking or the law.”
Around his third or fourth visit, he bought a beer and turned from the bar to look around. The bouncer came over and told him it was New York State law that he had to face the bar. “I said, what kind of law is that?” Mr. Bourscheidt said. “It was the only time in my life I’ve ever been thrown out of a bar.”
That may have been a bizarre interpretation of a provision of the state liquor law that forbade the service of liquor to disorderly people — a group to which homosexuals, in the view of the State Liquor Authority, automatically belonged, regardless of decorum. This was challenged in 1966 by an organization of gay men, the Mattachine Society. Three men from the group appeared at Julius’ with a letter announcing their sexual orientation and their intention to remain orderly. Refused service at Julius’, they brought a court case and the law was overturned.
Until recent years, Julius’ catered mostly to an older crowd in the evenings, though it also served another clientele early in the day: longshoremen who had to shape up at a union hall downtown early in the morning, and were often sent home by 7:30 a.m. They would go directly to Julius’, said Dave Hunt, who worked at bars in the Village during the 1970s and now runs Coogan’s in Washington Heights. “They’d be up at Julius’ by 8 in the morning,” Mr. Hunt said, “and they were done and dusted by 11:30.”
Ms. Buford and her husband, Eugene Buford, bought Julius’ 13 years ago, and she took over the operation after his death three years ago. It has become a stop for people visiting historic spots in the Village, and a younger group of artists and writers meets once a month there. “People are discovering this gem in the Village,” Ms. Buford said. Mr. Bourscheidt said: “I hadn’t been there for years until recently, but it has been going through a resurgence.”
Julius’ has never been known for hygiene — it was known as Dirty Julius’ for its blackened ceiling in the years after Prohibition — and was shut down two years ago by the health department. The inspection last week found mouse droppings and an infestation of cockroaches.
Ms. Buford did not argue that there were problems that needed to be fixed, and said the bar had multiple exterminations over the weekend. But the timing was unfair, she said. “Friday afternoon before a holiday,” she said, meaning she could not get reinspected or reopened until after the weekend, which included New Year’s Eve.
Mr. Hunt said he was sympathetic to the owners, and also to Julius’ as an institution. “We must all support longshoremen/gay bars,” he said. “There are not too many left.”