Friday Flashback #197

June is Gay Pride Month. Which means it’s a great time to look back — with pride — on the decades when our little suburb was home to a gay bar.

And not just any gay bar. But the oldest continually operating gay bar in the country.

Today the Brook Cafe has been replaced Patio.com. Almost exactly 10 years ago — on June 10, 2010 — I wrote this:


Once upon a time, Westport had both a gay bar and a strip club.

Right next to each other.

The gay bar was The Brook. It sat on the Post Road near the Exit 18 connector — directly across from the state police barracks.

The strip club — Krazy Vin’s — was next door, directly across Cedar Road.

Today the state police barracks is Walgreens. Krazy Vin’s is Starbucks [and now, Earth Animal].

The Brook — now called the Cedar Brook — is still there. The gay bar outlasted them all.

But it won’t last much longer. A closing party is set for June 26.

The building has been sold. The new rent is out of bar owner Clem Bellairs’ reach.

I’m sure whoever owns it will tear it down. It’s a ramshackle old building — scary, almost — and whatever is erected there will be much more profitable than a gay bar. (I don’t pray often, but please God, don’t let it be a bank.)

Before it goes, let’s pay our respects to a bit of Westport lore — and, believe it or not, a nationally historic place.

At 71 years old, the Cedar Brook has been called the oldest continually operating gay bar in the United States. (The former record holder, it’s said, was in New Orleans — and demolished by Katrina.)

For 7 decades, every gay boy growing up in Westport has told the same story.  Knowing there was a gay bar right down the street created both tremendous excitement (there are people like me!) and abject fear (what if someone sees me looking at it?). Wondering who — and what — lurked behind those ramshackle walls consumed gay teenagers. (Straight kids wondered too.)

One summer in the 1970s, a college friend visited. To show off my town, I decided to take her to every bar from the Norwalk line to Fairfield.

(Note to young readers: Yes, Westport had many bars. Still, don’t try this today. The world was a different place then.)

These trees — at the intersection of aptly named Cedar Road and the Post Road — were cut down to make way for Patio.com.

By the time we made it to the Brook, it was 1 a.m. The place was packed. The music was loud; the dance floor looked amazing. This was my chance to finally get inside!

A bouncer blocked the way.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re fine” — he pointed at me — “but the lady can’t enter.”

What?

“The lady cannot come in,” he replied. “This is a gay bar.”

So we went next door, to Krazy Vin’s.

The view from what is now Earth Animal.

Like an aging drag queen, the Cedar Brook is now past its prime. Crowds are down; even the traditionally huge Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving party — when newly out college guys discovered with glee who else had recently come out — lost its luster in recent years.

The crowd became mixed — lesbians “integrated” the Cedar Brook in the ’80s, and a few straight people (drawn by the powerful sound system and large dance floor) followed.

But it was hard to sustain a gay club in suburban Fairfield County in the 2000s.

Times change. Westport no longer has a police barracks — or a strip club.

Soon it will no longer have a gay bar, either.

The disco ball will spin for the last time.

The bartenders will put on their shirts.

And some other place, somewhere, will say with pride: “We’re the oldest continually operating gay bar in America.”

9 responses to “Friday Flashback #197

  1. From what I was told, when I lived in Westport, the Cedar Brook was built in1938, and was the second oldest gay bar in the country, that was continuously run as such. I can’t remember the name of the guy who ran it, or owned it, 50 or 60 years ago. Can anyone remember his name?

    • The name may be Eddie Bowes? It’s probably spelled wrong.

    • Ray O'Sullivan

      Cafe Lafitte in Exile in New Orleans, dating back to 1933 and the end of Prohibition, claims to be the oldest continuously operating gay bar in the United States.

  2. Where Starbucks is, there was a bar called Ann Suburbans, or Ann’s Place. Ann would sit at the bar every night, like a customer, and coax guys to buy her drinks. She was there to keep lonely bar flies, like Norm and Cliff from Cheers, drinking and feeling wanted.

  3. Tom Feeley Sr

    One night we were driving down the post Road looking for a place to buy cigarettes and we pulled into the Brook. I told the bouncer at the door I was just gonna go inside to get a pack of cigarettes city he laughed said “you know how many times I’ve heard that” he said give me the 10 bucks if you come out here in a couple of minutes with a pack of Marbro in your hands I’ll give you $10 back

    Inside I went up to the bar to try to get enough quarters to pump in the cigarette machine and of course there are a lot of lovely people there who are very friendly and so it was great trip😎 I got my quarters got by Marboro and the guy gave me my $10 back when I walked out the door
    nice place
    So was the strip joint across the street
    But that’s another story 😂

  4. Laurie Crouse

    I was living in Colorado in 1979 and came back to my hometown of Westport, to marry my late husband, Martin. A couple of dozen of our friends from Colorado traveled East to join us. After the wedding Martin and I were hanging out at my parents home, when we got a call from our friends asking us to join them. We asked where they were, and they said they were at a bar called The Brook. After asking if they were sure that was the place (it was men and woman alike) we said “absolutely! ” and off we went It was a crazy wonderful night.

  5. A really nice piece, Dan; and an important one for the town. Thanks .

  6. I appreciate the coincidental similarity that The Brook and I are the same age. Given this wonderful account of a place I never entered but appreciated Westport’s acceptance and even support of, I am moved/saddened by the loss of an instance of what was the Westport I loved.

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