JULIA STREET WITH POYDRAS THE PARROT
THE PURSUIT TO ANSWER ETERNAL QUESTIONS
Madame Francine, 440 Bourbon
I am trying to find out info on one old gay bar in New Orleans that was called The Galley House, run and managed by Mary Collins and Alice Brady. It was lovingly called “The Wrinkle Room” because of its clientele of mature men, and was later taken over by a German man, Hans, whose last name escapes me now, and is closed now. I know it was open at least from the late 1950s through the ’70s or ’80s, and was famous on Mardi Gras Day, as it was the meeting place of all the drag queens to start out their day – and usually end. Also, could you direct me to a listing and description of other older gay bars that are no longer around? One I’ve heard of was Tony Baccino’s. I’d like to go around and see what these places are today.
The problem with finding descriptions of New Orleans earlier gay and gay-friendly bars is that they didn’t openly proclaim that they welcomed or tolerated homosexual patronage. Raids and entrapment for morals charges and b-drinking were frequent and, for this reason, newspaper accounts of such places are skewed toward those establishments which ran afoul of the law.
The club name “Galley House” was a misinterpretation of the original building owner’s name, which was spelled “Gally.” In 1830, architects Gurlie & Guillot designed three adjacent houses for Louis Gally; the Chartres Street properties would remain in the Gally family for more than a century.
Miss Mary Collins, long associated with Lafitte’s, ran the Galley House bar at 542 Chartres St. from 1957 until her death a decade later at the age of 66. “Hans” was Helmut Stuhlmann, who managed the Galley House in the mid-’70s and early ’80s. Alice Brady managed a number of lesbian bars.
Tony Baccino’s, 738 Toulouse St., was notorious in its day and, in the 1950s, was off-limits to Navy personnel. It is now The Dungeon.
A Baby Boomer friend of mine recalls that, when the New Orleans-based Western television series “Yancy Derringer” was on air in the late 1950s, tourists would often go searching for the show’s fictional gambling establishment, Madame Francine’s. Finding Madame Francine’s at 440 Bourbon St., some would innocently marvel at the establishment’s lack of female patrons. It is shown here as it appeared when photographer Arvin Pelle shot it on May 3, 1962.
Although it doesn’t discuss the Galley House or Madame Francine’s, the book In Exile: The History and Lore Surrounding New Orleans Culture and Its Oldest Gay Bar (ISBN 9781905091997), by Frank Perez and Jeffrey Palmquist, recalls a large number of gay and gay-friendly establishments active between the early 1930s and the turn of the 21st century. It includes a bibliography, timeline and appendices. Still in print, it’s readily available as a paperback or e-book.
Years ago my wife and I honeymooned in New Orleans. We were instantly taken in by the history and magic of the city, and we return to visit as often as we can. There is a beautiful Greek Revival-style residence that caught my attention in the French Quarter on our first visit, located at 1025 Saint Louis St. Ever since then I’ve been curious about the structure. Would you be able to provide some details regarding its history and use? Any special historical significance? Thank you for your column – it’s our connection to New Orleans when we’re away
The two-and-a-half story townhouse at 1025 St. Louis St. is a shining example of Greek Revival style. An unknown builder built the structure around 1840 for Pierre Sindos and Severin Latorre, both of whom were free men of color. Known as the Sindos-Latorre-Boucvalt House, the building is considered notable for its architectural integrity and African-American heritage. It is noted as number HABS LA-1244 in the Historic American Buildings Survey.
When growing up shopping on and around Canal Street, there were several buildings with below-ground level basements. As I recall, they were: Sears at Baronne and Common streets; the Roosevelt Hotel between Baronne Street and O’Keefe Place; McCrory’s (or was it Kress?) in the 1000 block of Canal Street; maybe Maison Blanche Annex on the downtown river corner of Iberville Street; and the Saenger Theatre between N. Rampart Street and Basin Street.
Were there others of which I wasn’t aware? Are all of these still functional? What were the conditions allowing such unique construction in this one area of the city? In what time span were these built?
I love your columns; it’s the first thing I look for when I receive New Orleans Magazine! My family and I have had wonderful conversations remembering some of the things that are mentioned in the questions asked and your answers. Keep up the good work!
Linda Naquin Deslatte
Shucks, thanks for the compliments, Linda, but I know that it’s really Poydras that people worship.
Below-ground basements, through scarce in New Orleans, do exist but aren’t exclusive to public buildings downtown. Some residences have them.
Improved drainage in the first two decades of the 20th century certainly made basements more practical and popular.
The Audubon Building, the old Hotel Grunewald (now the Roosevelt), the Tulane Theatre and the colored Knights of Pythias building are a few other prominent early 20th century structures that were built with subterranean basements. Usually, basements housed building infrastructure, but the one at the Grunewand was famous as the elaborate nightclub The Cave. By the 1950s, some basements, including those at City Hall and the Main Branch of New Orleans Public Library were designated as Cold War-era fallout shelters. The library’s basement, incidentally, didn’t flood in the aftermath of the post-Katrina levee failures.
Win a restaurant gift certificate
Here is a chance to eat, drink and have your curiosity satiated all at once. Send Julia a question. If we use it, you’ll be eligible for a monthly drawing for a Jazz Brunch for two at The Court of Two Sisters. To take part, send your question to: Julia Street, c/o New Orleans Magazine, 110 Veterans Blvd., Suite 123, Metairie, LA 70005 or email: Errol@MyNewOrleans.com. This month’s winners are Chip Duncan, Opelika, AL, and Linda Naquin Deslatte, Mandeville.