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The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s: A Gay Life in the 1940s

Ricardo J. Brown
Edited by William Reichard
Foreword by Allan H. Spear
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s
    Book Description:

    The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s is a compelling memoir of the author’s experiences as a young gay man during the 1940s. In an engaging and open writing style, and through stories both humorous and tragic, Brown introduces us to the companions and friends he met at Kirmser’s, a working-class bar in downtown St. Paul that became an unofficial home to gay men and lesbians at night.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9180-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-2)
    Allan H. Spear

    The second world war was a watershed in gay and lesbian history in the United States. Thousands of gay men and a smaller, but significant, number of lesbians served in the military, and countless others left their homes to work in war plants and other civilian services related to the war effort. This mass mobilization, according to Allan Bérubé, whoseComing Out Under Firefirst documented the gay and lesbian war experience, “propelled gay men and lesbians into the mainstream of American life” (299). Young men and women were torn away from constricted lives on farms and in small towns,...

  4. 1 Kirmser’s
    (pp. 3-10)

    We never just walked into Kirmser’s, nothing as simple as that. We scouted the terrain first to see who might be watching us. If the coast was clear, we stepped forward quickly, yanked the door open and lunged inside, head down, moving toward the cover of a booth or the safety of a bar stool out of range of that small, oblong window in the front.

    If there were too many people on the street or too many cars, we might walk right past Kirmser’s, as if we didn’t know it existed, down to the corner, then double back and,...

  5. 2 That Old Gang of Mine
    (pp. 11-26)

    It was unthinkable to tell anyone, family or friends, and especially not family, that you were homosexual. There was no greater horror than having our own families shut us out. We were aliens in our own homes, without history, without ancestors, isolated even from one another. The only point of reference we had was Oscar Wilde, a man destroyed by the public discovery of his homosexuality, a scandal so great that it came down to haunt even people like us half a century later, despite the conspiracy of silence, censorship, and hypocrisy.

    My friend Lou told me that homosexuals could...

  6. 3 The Promised Land
    (pp. 27-34)

    When i first found kirmser’s, I Couldn’t believe it. A queer bar in St. Paul? I was astonished when Red Larson and Chester finally told me about it. I knew there were queer bars in cities like New York—I’d been to one—but I never dreamed a place like that could exist in St. Paul.

    I’d met Red and Chester at work, when I took a part-time job three nights a week in the circulation department of thePioneer Pressafter my discharge from the navy. Red was a blustery, chubby guy who seemed to have just two expressions:...

  7. 4 The All-American Boy
    (pp. 35-46)

    I never had much to do with Chester after that, although we always spoke whenever we met in Kirmser’s. We’d buy drinks for one another and I’d ask about his folks and he’d tell me I was looking good.

    I got in the habit of stopping in Kirmser’s after my night job and hanging around until I had to catch the bus home. It was always pleasant in Kirmser’s; it was never busy, but there were always a couple of decent guys to talk to. It was a relief to sneak into the familiar bar and peel off the hypocrisy,...

  8. 5 The Girls
    (pp. 47-60)

    I liked tony. I liked all the women who frequented Kirmser’s. We didn’t like to call them lesbians; that sounded too clinical. Sometimes we called them dykes, a strange nickname whose origins we never knew, but at least it sounded nicer than lesbians. They were a good bunch of girls, wholesome, honest, down-to-earth, full of comradeship and good humor, never as bitchy as some of the men. Ruth and Helen. Flo and Miriam. Barb and Donna. All of the girls in Kirmser’s were paired off, except for Tony. All of them were young, too.

    A couple of them were pretty...

  9. 6 The Survivors
    (pp. 61-76)

    We weren’t too comfortable with anybody else’s perversions, either, particularly those of the steady little trio—two men and a woman—who stopped by on most Saturday nights. I never knew their names, but I did know that the woman was married to one of the men, and the other man was her husband’s lover.

    They were small, countrified people, shy, polite, unremarkable in appearance. They would sit there on saturday nights, ensconced in one of those old wooden booths, smiling at anyone who even glanced their way. They always looked snug, content just to be there, sipping at their...

  10. 7 Lucky
    (pp. 77-92)

    Lucky was something right out of theWish Book, the name we gave to the big Montgomery Ward mail-order catalog that our families got during the depression. “I wish I had that” or “I wish that was mine.” That thick, glorious catalog—almost eight hundred pages and weighing at least five pounds—was a winter’s entertainment when I was a boy.

    We’d often sit around the kitchen table near the stove those cold winter nights and page through that enormous book. Its slick polished pages, finished in a fine brown tone the color of new pennies, was crammed with beautiful...

  11. 8 The Guy with Crabs and Other Visitors
    (pp. 93-102)

    Visitors stopped in kirmser’s once in a while, sometimes long enough for us to recognize them, sometimes long enough for us to get to know a first name or identify some personal peculiarity. For instance, the Guy with Crabs. We also had occasional strangers, especially during Winter Carnival, men who made discreet connections, then disappeared forever. We were suspicious of these one-night stands, unknown men who left behind nothing more tangible than memories.

    Still, we liked some of these irregulars, like Louie, the theater student from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and Tom Clark, a business major there. Both...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. 9 The Coney Island
    (pp. 103-114)

    All of us who did not want to go home Saturday night after the bars closed came to the Coney Island, the “after hours” place on St. Peter Street in downtown St. Paul. The odor in the Coney Island was overwhelming, a mixture of cold grease, bitter coffee, sour beans, and raw onions, a stiffened, sudden assault on the nostrils, like smelling salts.

    Featured on a big, blackened sheet grill that took up almost the whole greasy front window were rows of brown, sweaty, turd-shaped wieners that were cooked in close rank, in almost military precision, as if they were...

  14. 10 Flaming Youth
    (pp. 115-124)

    Flaming youth had a secret life. It wasn’t his homosexual activity, nothing as obvious as that. The man we all knew as the biggest whore in town, an icon of homosexuality in St. Paul, the man who traveled through the toilets of the city like the convict Jean Valjean traveled through the sewers of Paris, this man was a gentleman. It was true. The biggest whore in town was a gentleman. Joe was that rare human being, no man’s toad and no one’s master. He had hidden charms. The body had a soul.

    I learned this when I got to...

  15. 11 Winter Carnival
    (pp. 125-134)

    Winter carnival brought people, money, and excitement into the city. A few out-of-town queers even managed to slip into Kirmser’s, eagerly crossing into our forbidden world, bold and almost reckless away from their small-town prisons. There were usually a few school teachers, students, white-collar workers, and even an occasional minister or rancher. They filtered into Kirmser’s, bundled up in overcoats, galoshes, earmuffs, and hats. Their eyes were bright, their cheeks flushed, and they were agog with anticipation, anxious to sample for a night the forbidden pleasures that they dared not even hint of knowing about in their offices, classrooms, lodges,...

  16. 12 The Picture in the Window
    (pp. 135-148)

    When the weather warmed up in the spring Lucky invited Pete, Ned, and me on a Sunday trip to Red Wing. We planned an all-day affair, leaving right after Lucky brought his mother home from church, and returning early Sunday evening. It was a pleasant day for an outing: clear, sunny, fresh, and full of promise as the drab country turned green again with that earthen, urgent recklessness of spring. The most important thing we had to think about was where we would eat lunch. We agreed that if we saw any roadhouse that looked “kicky,” we would stop for...

  17. 13 Dinner at the Ryan
    (pp. 149-154)

    It was a small celebration, just Meg and me. We were in the Ryan Hotel dining room, eating lobster, baked potatoes with sour cream and butter, fresh rolls, and crisp, colorful vegetables from an elaborate cut-glass relish tray, artfully arranged with pickled mushrooms, pimiento-stuffed olives, baby sweet pickles, celery, and slender reeds of carrots. We were stuffing ourselves on foods that we seldom had, giggling and laughing at our extravagance. This was no sour bean soup.

    I had thought of ordering wine, but the only wines I knew by name were “Dago Red” and muscatel and I was sure they...

  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 155-157)