Jacques Article… Boston Weekly Dig

Reprinted with permission (see end of article)…

Jacque’s, the oldest drag bar in the country, a David Lynch-ian velvet dream come true, opened during the Depression years and by the 1960s became the pounding heart of Boston’s gay nightlife. Located in Bay Village, a six-square block nest of streets and alleys in the South End, Jacque’s is “one of the few true freak-bastions in Boston,” according to Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer, who, like many avant-garde musicians and performers, got her start as an artist at Jacque’s, “playing for six friends and seven surly drag queens on Monday nights with the fabulous Rick Berlin (The Shelley Winters Project, Orchestra Luna).” Jacque’s was voted Best Gay Bar of Boston and is listed as a hotspot by Gayopolis Travel and Let’s Go alike.

In October 2002, the Bay Village Neighborhood Association (BVNA) sent a letter to the Licensing Board for the City of Boston asking the board to consider revoking Jacque’s liquor license, effectively shutting the place down, claiming that “the drug dealers and prostitutes who linger around Jacque’s both during and after its hours of operation for the purposes of serving its customers intimidate neighborhood residents who, by virtue of employment in such positions as emergency room physician, must come and go from their residences late at night.”

As loaded with classism as that statement, and the entire letter, is, the BVNA does have a point: “No one wants their kids picking up dirty condoms,” says Rick Berlin, who’s been performing at Jacque’s for some 20 years, “[but] the fact that prostitution is a problem in the neighborhood is a policing issue and Jacque’s shouldn’t be punished for it.” In fact, much of the drug dealing and prostitution happens well after Jacque’s closes at midnight – an already early closing time for any Boston bar.

Like other urban neighborhoods before and since, the influx of gay male residents (and artists) rejuvenated Bay Village and started the ball rolling for gentrification, resulting in the current catch-22 between Jacque’s and the BVNA.

At one time Bay Village was one of the few places open to “alternative” sexuality, because it was the rough kind of neighborhood where anything goes; now, it is home to doctors, lawyers and other professionals of all genders and sexualities. The Boston Globe recently reported that “across the country, economically strapped cities are starting to look hard at the contributions that gays can make.” The article is a gem, making this process seems mystical, neglecting to explain that gay men, as a population, have a lot more disposable income than most because women still only make 72% of what their male counterparts make – imagine a dual male-wage earning family. (I’m curious if that wage discrepancy is found in the business of sex work, and if so, where transgender folks fit in – but I digress.)

Approximately 700 people live in Bay Village, and roughly one-quarter of them are members of the neighborhood association, which seems like a model community organization, proud of their quaint cobblestone streets (http://www.bayvillage.net). But Rick Berlin pointedly asks, “Why do the uppity mobile inevitably want to shrink the guts of the hard spit we all come from?”

John Shope, president of the BVNA, is a lawyer who does pro bono work for gay and transgender rights, and he just doesn’t want a place like Jacque’s in his neighborhood. “If anyone is self-loathing, it is the patrons of Jacque’s who believe they are entitled to urinate and defecate on our streets,” he said regarding criticism that for a gay neighborhood to close a gay bar that has been at the center of their community for years, is, at the very least, peculiar.

Last week, the Licensing Board for the City of Boston announced the Board’s decision, which followed more than a week after the hearing, that Jacque’s will remain open with six conditions including instituting a no readmittance policy, hiring a uniformed security guard from 11pm until 2am and, in with what seemed like a little ironic twist tacked on by the Board, Jacque’s must send one representative to the monthly BVNA meetings. “With these sanctions, and good will on both sides, I think this will work out,” said Daniel Pokaski, chair of the Licensing Board.

Donald Richards, Jacque’s manager, says the sanctions pose no problem, and in fact they had already been hiring a police officer to patrol weekends from midnight to 4am. “I put myself way out there on the olive branch,” said Richards.

Says Amanda Palmer, “If people don’t want to deal with the side effects of nightlife, let them move away from downtown Boston and into a nice house in Concord. Boston needs more places like Jacque’s, not less of them.”

Reprinted with permission from:
Joe Bonni
Boston’s Weekly Dig
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