Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940

By George Chauncey | Go to book overview

Chapter I
THE BOWERY AS HAVEN AND SPECTACLE

AT THE END OF THE 1890s, COLUMBIA HALL (BETTER KNOWN AS PARESIS Hall), on the Bowery at Fifth Street, was, by all accounts, the "principal resort in New York for degenerates" and well known as such to the public.1 An investigator who visited the place several times in 1899 noted that he had "heard of it constantly" and that it made no attempt to disguise its "well-known" character as a "resort for male prostitutes." Like other men, he found it easy to gain admittance to the Hall, despite the spectacle to be found within:

These men . . . act effeminately; most of them are painted and powdered; they are called Princess this and Lady So and So and the Duchess of Marlboro, and get up and sing as women, and dance; ape the female character; call each other sisters and take people out for immoral purposes. I have had these propositions made to me, and made repeatedly.2

An officer of the Reverend Charles Parkhurst's City Vigilance League, who had visited the place fully half a dozen times in April and May, added that the "male degenerates" there worked the tables in the same manner female prostitutes did: "[They] solicit men at the tables, and I believe they get a commission on all drinks that are purchased there."3

But if Paresis Hall was the principal such establishment in the red-light district centered in the working-class neighborhoods south of the Rialto ( Fourteenth Street) at the turn of the century, it was hardly the only one. One well-informed investigator claimed in 1899 that there were at least six such "resorts" (saloons or dance halls) on the Bowery alone, includ-

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