The Lexington Club: A look at San Francisco’s last lesbian bar
Currently on its last week, an exhibit of the Lexington Club called “19th and Lexington: Images from San Francisco’s Last Lesbian Bar 1997-2015” is at the Qulture Collective in Oakland.
The iconic Lexington Club in San Francisco’s Mission District was the place to be for lesbians, queers, and (later on) trans men.
Part of the “gay Mecca” landscape of San Francisco, the Lex– as it was known– was part of the queer community such that it became an LGBTQ institution before its closure in 2015.
Newcomers to The Lexington Club
First opened in 1997, the Lexington Club was established by owner Lila Thirkield. Prior to the Lex, the last lesbian bar in San Francisco was Maud’s, which closed in 1989.
“It really meant something to have a place that was always there, in a really functional way, not to mention a bigger sense,” Lila told SFGate.
The bar served as a welcoming safe space to shy lesbians who were looking for the promised gay Mecca that was San Francisco.
“They probably have long hair, an oversized white T-shirt, hoodie, ball cap, all of the above,” said Robin Akimbo, who was the bartender from 2003 to 2006.
When these visitors started coming in more often, their shyness would fall away as they started making friends with other regulars. They would change their looks, Robin said.
“And then, they would land the official rite of passage: the attention of a really hot girl. And the queer is born,” she added.
The Lexington Club through the ages
As the years passed, the community and the neighborhood around it changed and with it, the Lex. From a “dyke bar”, it became a “queer bar.”
However, despite the changing patrons and customers, it was still the same. Thirkield said: “In some sense there wasn’t really a change at all. We were still the same space.”
Unfortunately, as rents started rising in the neighborhood, the community around it began moving out. Because of the increasing rent of the building, Thirkield decided to close the bar as well.
“I feel like there’s a big part of me that wanted it to go on,” she said. “But I also feel like I’m super proud of it.”
The GLBT Historical Society later set up a commemorative plaque to recognize the bar’s contribution to the LGBTQ community in San Francisco.
The Lexington Club exhibit
To commemorate the Lex, Lauren Tabak and Susie Smith decided to set up the Lexington Club Archival Project (LCAP) not only featuring the bar but also the community that formed around it.
One of the projects of the LCAP was the exhibit at the Qulture Collective, which opened last September 2 and will finish on October 7.
Tabak and Smith documented over 150 images of the bar with the faces and the emotions of the patrons who had come to say goodbye to the place.
“While reviewing the selections, we realized that we unwittingly also captured the bar as it physically disappeared,” the two noted in their press release.
“When viewed chronologically, it becomes apparent that the small hole in the bathroom wall is slowly growing, until a large piece is missing,” they added.
Other artists whose shots were used in the exhibit include Ace Morgan, Molly DeCoudreaux, Elizabeth Beier, and Rebeka Rodriguez and Cody T Williams.
These shots range from black and white documentary images of the opening night to promotional materials.
For more on the Lexington Club Archival Project, check out the video below: