The Lexington Club is gone, but a new commemorative plaque ensures it won’t be forgotten.
A landmark historical plaque has been permanently embedded outside the former location of the legendary lesbian bar the Lexington Club. The plaque commemorates the Lexington’s nearly 20-year tenure as San Francisco’s only lesbian bar, following its closure in April 2015.
The landmark was unveiled at a Monday afternoon ceremony that drew nearly 100 of the bar’s nostalgic fans and about a dozen of its former bartenders. Video of the unveiling moment is available on YouTube.
“I wrote a speech. It’s seven pages long,” said the Lexington Club’s longtime owner Lila Thirkield at the unveiling ceremony. “I can’t tell you how I honored I am to have this plaque commemorating the Lexington Club placed permanently outside the original location.”
“The people who came in and had a drink are the people who really kept it alive for those decades,” she acknowledged to the crowd of former Lexington regulars.
The Lexington was the longest-surviving stronghold of a 1990s era when the now-bougie Valencia Corridor was an internationally known low-rent, dive-bar lesbian microhood.
“Unapologetic dykes would come with strong political views,” former GLBT Historical Society co-chair Amy Sueyoshi said at the unveiling. “Women could open beer bottles with their bare hands. Folks would scribble messages or even phone numbers on the bathroom wall while they were still sitting on the toilet.”
The Lexington Club played other notable parts in San Francisco history, establishing what is considered the city’s first non-gendered bathroom when it opened January 1997. The Lusty Lady dancers held meetings at the Lexington that led to their successful unionization that same year, and the Lexington’s closure indirectly led to the Stud’s purchase by a cooperative this year.
“For a lot of us in the queer community, we were watching as the Lexington was closing, and we were looking for the person who would have the money to come along and buy and and save the Lex,” Stud co-op co-founder Nate Albee. “Eventually we realized that person was never going to come, so when the Stud was closing we realized that person we were waiting is really us.”
Individual contributors paid for most of the plaque’s $5,500 cost, with Supervisor David Campos’ office doing the lion’s share of legislative work to get the sidewalk installation approved by City Hall. “As men in the LGBT community, in many respects we have it easier,” Campos told the crowd. “I can only imagine for women in this community how challenging it must be to see San Francisco change.”
Supervisor Jane Kim was also on hand for the unveiling. “We know, particularly after the Pulse [shootings] in Orlando, how important these spaces are and what it’s like when these spaces are violated,” she said. “It’s more than just a place to pick up someone. It’s a place where you can express who you want to love and who you want to flirt with.”
A cocktail mixer after the unveiling was very pointedly not hosted at the Lexington location’s new occupant Wildhawk, the new concept from Gavin Newsom and Gordon Getty’s PlumpJack Group. Drinks were instead thrown down around the corner from the 19th and Lexington Street location at The Phoenix Bar.