An Onscreen History of Julius’ Bar

Study up on six times Hollywood took over the historic West Village watering hole.

The Stonewall Inn in New York City—the site of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, a watershed moment in the fight for LGBTQ rights—is probably the most famous gay bar in the world. But around the corner from Stonewall is another important location in queer history: Julius’ Bar.

Julius’ opened in 1867 and was already popular with gay patrons by the 1950s, even though homosexuals were technically banned from drinking in bars. On April 21, 1966, three years before the Stonewall Uprising, three gay men decided to protest the ban by having a “sip-in” at Julius’. “We are homosexuals. We are orderly, we intend to remain orderly, and we are asking for service,” they declared to the bartender.

Cheyne Gallarde

John Timmons, Craig Rodwell, and Dick Leitsch—all members of the early gay rights group The Mattachine Society—were refused service on the grounds that having gay men in the bar would make it a “disorderly premise.” The bartender actually started preparing them a drink but put his hand over the glass, a moment that was captured by a New York Times photographer.

After the “sip-in,” the men challenged the State Liquor Association, claiming that denying service to homosexuals was discriminatory. They won, and the law was struck from the books. It was a significant early victory for the gay rights movement.

In addition to Julius’ being a popular watering hole for New Yorkers, it has also been featured on the big and small screens in numerous movies and television series. Below, learn about six times when Hollywood took over the historic queer watering hole.

  1. The Boys in the Band (1970)

    Cinema Center Films

    Director William Friedkin’s 1970 adaptation of this famous play briefly took the action out of Michael’s apartment at the start of the movie. It opens with quick scenes filmed around New York City, including a packed night at Julius’. Anyone who frequents the bar during its monthly Mattachine parties knows that it can still get packed like this—well, pre-COVID-19, at least.

  2. Keep the Lights On (2012)

    Music Box Films

    Filmmaker Ira Sachs used the bar as one of the settings in this film inspired by his drama- and drug-filled relationship with author Bill Clegg (who told his side of the story in his memoir, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man). Julius’ is the backdrop for a scene in which Erik (Thure Lindhardt) grabs an afternoon drink with an old acquaintance.

  3. Love Is Strange (2014)

    Sony Pictures Classics

    Sachs returns to the bar in his follow-up feature about Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), an aging married gay couple. Toward the end of the movie, the pair swings by Julius’ after a concert, and Ben convincingly tells the bartender a false story about how he was one of the men involved in the original “sip-in.”

  4. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

    Fox Searchlight

    The most screen time Julius’ has received was in the 2018 Oscar-nominated film Can you Ever Forgive Me?. The biopic stars Melissa McCarthy as prickly, boozing lesbian author Lee Israel, who begins to sell forged letters from icons like Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker with the help of Jack Hock, an aging gay hustler played by Richard E. Grant. Lee is a frequent patron of Julius’, which is the setting of multiple scenes as she and Jack throw back drinks and plan their scheme.

  5. Pose (2018)

    Image via Mic

    Julius’ was transformed into Boy Lounge for the popular FX series’ second episode. Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) stages her own version of a “sip-in” after she is refused service at the bar, which is known as a hangout for white cis gay men.

  6. The Boys in the Band (2020)

    Scott Everett White/NETFLIX

    In a full-circle moment, Netflix’s new The Boys in the Band remake returns to Julius. This time, the iconic watering hole is a little less crowded. Listen closely and you’ll hear “Good Lovin’ Ain’t Easy to Come By” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, which is the same song playing in the scene from the original 1970 movie. Also keep your eyes peeled for Boys in the Band playwright, Mart Crowley, who makes a cameo sitting in the front of the bar with fashion designer Paul Marlow.

I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was "just the cutest thing ever."
@chrisreindeer