By Jacqueline Kirk

JK: To start, can you tell me how and when you came to own the bar?

HB: My husband and I decided to buy the bar in 1999. It was a business venture, we had other bars and heard about Julius’ and decided to go ahead and purchase it.

JK: How has your experience owning it changed?

HB: I’ve certainly seen a change in clientele. It used to be mainly older gentlemen coming in, but now it’s a more inclusive bar, with women coming in, transgender people, everybody comes in, and everyone hangs out and creates new friendships, and there is certainly a younger generation than previously.

JK: Is that because of the national historic registry designation and it becoming more well-known? Or do you think it’s a natural change?

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HB: I think it’s a natural change. I think all of those designations of course help because now we’re on a national level. The bar is also becoming a landmark and the news media carrying the story of course brings it to the attention of a lot of people. And I think another reason is the Mattachine party that John Cameron Mitchell started 16 years ago, which was for the purpose of rejuvenating the bar and bringing in new, young clientele, and that was a great success. It’s a party that we still have today, it’s actually coming up on the 15th of June. It just brings a very eclectic mix of people and everyone has a great time.

JK: The party is inspired by the movement, right? Can you walk us through the history of the bar?

HB: Yes absolutely. 57 years ago, which is not that far back really, 57 years ago, gay people were not able to go out and freely have a drink and be openly gay. Even though the bar and bar owners knew that the bar had gay clientele, you couldn’t be open about it, because the bar would be shut down and the people could be arrested. If you think about it, it’s just coming in to have a drink and have a conversation. To me, it boggles my mind that that’s something gay people just couldn’t do.

The Mattachine society at that time, which was led in the New York chapter by Dick Leitsch, wanted to stage a ‘Sip-In’. They went to three different places, and they told them were gay and wanted to be served. They weren’t getting any opposition. One place they were planning to go to got a hint they were coming and didn’t open. So, they decided to go downtown and go to Julius’. They walked in, at the time in suits and ties, they were well dressed, certainly not how we go out now very casually, and they walked in and went to the counter and said we’re gay, we’re orderly and we would like to be served. The bartender began to make a drink, and then iconically put his hand over the glass and said we can’t serve you. Fred Mcdarrah, who was the photographer of the Village Voice at the time, took that picture of the hand over the glass, and it became the iconic picture of the Mattachine society and the ‘Sip-in’. The ‘Sip-In’ was a turning point in making it legal for gay persons to go out and have a drink. After that, there was a new human rights commission established which also helped the women’s rights movement, so it kinda helped both the women’s rights and gay rights movement. That was the turning point, and by the time you get to Stonewall three years later, there was still harassment. It all ties in together, but you have to start with little movements and that leads to bigger movements for change. It became legal to serve persons who were gay. It still amazes me when you think about it.

JK: It’s so cool that you know the story so well. It’s so important.

HB: Right. There was an interview that I heard of Dick Leitsh. And I don’t remember what the question was but I remember him saying, “We’re gay people, we don’t have children, so we have to pass on the history ourselves.” Now of course things have changed and gay couples have children and are wonderful parents, but in his generation, it wasn’t there yet. So yea, storytelling for the younger generation and saying what happened was so important, and yea I think it makes a lot of sense.

JK: That makes so much sense. So, obviously, Julius’ Bar has been a large part of the gay rights movement, and you’ve had many notable NYC figures walk through these doors, including Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. In the spirit of recognition, are there any regulars or people you’ve met through owning the bar that you want to shine a light on?

HB: So, we bought the bar 23 years ago, and 15 years ago my husband passed away. Prior to that, he was taking care of the bar. I came to the city maybe three times a year. And then once he passed away, I decided to continue to hold onto the bar. I honestly did not know the history of the bar, until, there was a customer who still comes in, his name is Tom Berardin. He was an official tour guide for the Statue of Liberty history of New York and so forth and he’s been coming in for a long time. One time he came in and I was in the back doing paperwork, and I laugh when I say this, but I remember he said, “Come here little girl can I talk to you for a minute?” And I said sure. And he goes, “You’re not gonna change this into a coffee shop, are you?” I said “No why would I do that? The only thing I know about coffee is that I love it and need it every day.” So we sat down and there started a great friendship and history with him, and he told me the whole history and why it was important to the gay community that this bar remain. And throughout the years we’ve become very very good friends, and now lovingly he’s Mr. Smartass. So ya, he told me about it and I said to him listen I never knew the story and I’m so happy you told me, and that I got to learn more about this beautiful bar, and as long as I am here it will always be Julius’s and it will always be a gay bar.

So that was my promise and here we are 15 years later, and it’s going strong and it’s getting better, and you’re seeing all these wonderful people coming through, famous people, people from all over the world.

During the pandemic, which was horrible for so many businesses, one thing that was wonderful and shows that things have changed is that straight people and allies are supporting the bar and saying they want Julius’ to continue, because people now knew the history. That’s the proof that things are changing. The more unity we have amongst the LGBTQ community and allies, the stronger we are.

JK: Do you guys have plans for Pride weekend and being part of the parade?

HB: We’ve never been a part of the parade but we’ll certainly be open and just enjoying the day and the people who walk through.

JK: My last question, is I notice you guys serve food and drinks at an affordable price, especially for the village, and I’m wondering if that’s an important part of your business?

HB: Yes, ya know, this bar is like the old English pubs that you don’t find here in the United States. The purveyor of the meats is the same as the one with the previous owner and the one before. It’s delivered fresh every day, and the French fries are cut fresh every day. Once people have tasted our burgers, they love them so much that they are amazed. And I don’t want to make it so unaffordable that only a few people can come in and eat. Intergenerational people come to the bar and a lot of them are on fixed incomes. And to be able to come and have a drink with a friend and have a yummy affordable meal, I think that’s important. As long as it doesn’t bring me into the red. It doesn’t have to be so expensive that it’s untouchable to the regular people who are gonna come in. It adds to it. People will have more drinks, they’ll stay longer, they’ll have better conversations, in my opinion, it adds to it.

JK: Well that’s all my questions! Thank you so much for your time!

HB: Of course!

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