by Cherie Gordon
Written to Celebrate The Off Key Reunion in 1994
(printed here with permission)
Sacramento’s lesbian bar history is rooted in West Sacramento since the Sacramento Police Department prevented any women’s bars being established on civilized ground. West Sacramento was known as Sin City. Jean’s Place was Sacramento’s first club where a predominant number of gay women gathered, mixed with some male customers. Some early Sacramentans claim the Log Cabin in Bryte was a lesbian bar, but there are others who dispute this “fact”. By the late 50’s the Log Cabin was exclusively a men’s bar. And later Jean’s Place is replaced by the Hide And Seek, owned by Pat Avila who was adamant in keeping the bar exclusively for men. The bartender at Jean’s Place was a man named Norman, but in the late 1960’s a traveling salesman, Jack Gaylord, stumbles into the bar on the arm of his girlfriend who is a good friend of one of the female patrons. Norman had been suffering from a prior truck accident and needed some relief from working the bar, so Jack volunteers to help out, hence, Jack Gaylord’s first introduction to bartending and being in a lesbian bar.
Jack’s sales company wanted to relocate him to Idaho, but instead he found more hours behind the bar. In 1967 Beverly Watts and a friend decided to open a women’s bar in West Sacramento on Soule street and recruited Jack to work for them, hence, the opening of the OFF KEY. According to Jack the bar never made much money as the bar lived by weekends alone. There were some setbacks: Bev and her friend split up as business partners: Bev was wrongly convicted of embezzling funds at a trucking company, where she worked as a bookkeeper, and spent 15 months in prison; thus the bar was given to Jack to run in Bev’s absence; shortly after Bev’s release she died after a heart operation.
Through the 1970’s the bar was becoming more widely known by word of mouth and many college women were fast becoming patrons. There was never a sign on the building at 1040 Soule Street, but lesbians found it through fog and rain by a faint blue light.
During this time there were three major memorable trend setting groups who crowded into the dim lit building on a Saturday night: The Butches donning their slick black ducktails with their beauty parlor lipstick femmes on their arms; the young college feminists with their long straight hair hanging from their heads, armpits and legs, and the Bridge Club or Bubbleheads known for their stuck up personalities while their hairdos matched their names. Each group was insular and their paramours included only those found within their own circle, this was especially true of the bubbleheads who were quite infamous for their “daisy chain”.
In 1974 the lesbians made a huge migration to a new gay bar located on West Capitol the Hawaiian Hut- ma club with a hard liquor license and a slick dance floor. However the lesbians had no idea that the “not welcome” sign would be hanging out for them. In those days the sexes did not mix nor want to share their facilities, and the male management made it quite clear that women would be driven out.
By the time the women returned to the OFF KEY, Jack had been forced to sell, and the bar became a hangout for rednecks and bikers. Oh, there were a string of bars to follow, some were more decorative and stylish than the OFF KEY, but lest we forget the lesbian bar that served for many of us as our first stage to “come out”, drink beer, meet women, and get laid.
As for the players who once stomped across the stage- some are gone: Duke, Lu, Pat, and Simone, passed away; Larry finally got her sex change completed and now lives as a man, Frieda became the Reverend of MCC, and there were many more, too many to list, and Jack? Well, Jack is not dead! Jack is alive, well and once again behind the bar tonight.
As we share memorable stories about the good old days, lets also raise our glasses high and make a toast: To Duke, to Jack, to Us and to the good old OFF KEY.