Trenton’s Gay Bars

Old Postcard for the Casa Lido Bar
Old Postcard for the Casa Lido Bar

 

In years after I came out in the late 1970’s the focus of most gay life in Trenton were the bars, clubs and discos that catered to our community.  I recall four bars, Casa Lido and Club 21 on South Warren Street downtown, the Wooden Indian on South Broad Street in South Trenton and the Zodiac on South Genesee Street in, what I think was, Franklin Park.  The locations of the first 3 are firm but my memory is shaky on the Zodiac.  Genesee Street seems right but the cross street escapes me and its distance from the city line with Hamilton Township at Cedar Lane eludes me.

These bars served different segments of the gay community with the Wooden Indian having a strong Lesbian slant, Club 21 tilting to older men, Casa Lido having a broader age range with a bit more macho vibe, and the Zodiac serving a younger, dancing clientele.  The Widows Watch on the corner of South Broad and Liberty Streets did at some point attempt to attract gay patronage with ‘gay nights’.  None of these establishments still exist and others took there places for differing periods of time.  Most notably, the Centre Street Pub at the corner of Centre and Cass Streets and Buddy’s Pub which took the site of the Wooden Indian across the street from the Mercer County Administration Building.  When Buddy’s closed its doors the era of Trenton Gay Bars ended with none currently operating in the city or its environs.

I’m planning on doing separate, more detailed posts on each of these establishments and would appreciate any information, photos or stories any of their customers can supply me.  Please email me at queerTrenton@gmail.com.  In particular clues to the location of the Zodiac and a timeframe for the closure for ABC violations of the Casa Lido in the 1980’s would be appreciated. 

Interesting  Website: http://www.bitterqueen.typepad.com/

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15 Responses to “Trenton’s Gay Bars”

  1. Mike Says:

    I have nice memories of the Casa Lido. They struggled towards the end to stay open. The closing evening was a huge drag show, it was a blast. I went with my friend Jon. I can’t recall the year or even the date just the warmth of the crowd. I had never seen it that packed. It was kind of like a fabulous wake for one of the last true gay clubs in Trenton.

  2. Don Healy Says:

    The building you show is indeed the first Club 21 – Charles Covell, listed as owner in 1979 was known to all patrons as “Chad”. He formerly tended bar across the street at another gay bar whose name I cannot recall, but it was the second of Trenton’s gay bars. The first was the Stagecoach in the hotel across from the train station.

    After he sold the bar, he bought the bar one the corner of Centre and Cass which he named the “Club 21” because the 21 Club in New York City threatened to sue him for copyright infringement if he kept using the original name

    Don Healy, Bisbee AZ

  3. Don Healy Says:

    Actually the Zodiac, which was open around 1973 or 74 was located at 1500 S. Clinton Ave.

    The Romano’s who owned it and changed it into a “cop bar” after daughter Patty married a Trenton police officer. Early 80s.

    The Wooden Indian as also know at times as Aladdin’s Lamp – Trenton’s first truly lesbian bar, then the Brass Rail – failed straight restaurant, the Wooden Indian which many called the Wooden Nickel Then Jaquee’s and finally Buddy’s Pub,

    During the Zodiac era, other bars were Aladdin’s Lamp, the 21 Club, the Casa Lido run by Chuck, Larry and Eddie, the Shamrock, almost directly across the street and later became an upscale black bar owned by pre-mayor Doug Palmer, The Stage Door in the Holiday Inn on State & Calhoun Sts and the 40 West in Mary Roebling’s old townhouse on State Street – it is now a red brick bank next to that big white office building on the corner of State and Barrack St

    • John Hopkins Says:

      Hi Don. The Shamrock, owned by Charlie O’Donnell, was on the same side of the street as the Casa Lido; just further up the hill before State St. The old 21, indeed owned by Charles Covell, who was known as Chaz when he was with Ralph – before he started introducing himself as Chad – was the bar directly across the street.

      I was just 18 when I went into the Shamrock the first time. At that time Charlie didn’t let his patrons kiss or dance in view from the front door! 18 was the legal drinking age then. WHEW!!! My friend Tom Caserta used to DJ upstairs at the Shamrock, and later at the Zodiac before he moved to San Franciso.

      I tended bar at the Lido from 1976 – 1986. Your name is so familiar to me, I’m sure I must have known you back then.

      John Hopkins

  4. Don Healy Says:

    How could you forget the most famous sandwich of both the Warren St and Centre St versions of the 21 Club/Club 21 – the “Day After Thanksgiving Special”, The classic cocktail was the Bloody Mary made with ground shrimp, a generous dollop of horseradish, a splash of Worcestershire SAuce all in a tall glass with a stalk of celery.

  5. Peter Says:

    The bar that brought me from North Brunswick to Trenton in 1984, just to check it out, was the “Omni” at the corner of Liberty and South Broad. All over the state of New Jersey I kept hearing about a great Wednesday night special there with great DJ’s – I’m sure it was dollar beers that brought me – as that is what always got my attention.

    A month later I had checked out “Casa Lido” on So. Warren Street and had heard about the Womyn’s bar – then called “Jacque’s” on So. Broad. I also heard men were not welcome!

    A year later I moved to Trenton in December 1985. I then checked out “21” on Cass and Centre Streets – but it was a smaller bar and much older clientel for my tastes then. “Jacques” was later known as “Rainbow Club” and then Buddies Pub when it was bought by Frank and became a mixed crowd.

    Those were the good ol’ days for me.

  6. Paul Hutchinson Says:

    Well lets see, I use to be the door man at the Lido and at the Omni, My name is Paul Its been a long time, I clearly remember the first year of the HIV….John Hopkins and I hung the Christmas trees upside down from the second floor of the Lido…. Floating in mid-air… and the Omni, oh my the Omni…. lets just say I perfered being the door person on the male side of the bar as the bar had 2 sides as you came in the main door, to the left was the guys and to the right was the fights (smiles) ….It is a damn shame that Trenton has no bars left for the gay population, but this is also a good thing, it means to me that we are accepted in more places and need less of a place to be ourselves as we once did……

    • John Hopkins Says:

      Paul,

      I can’t tell you how good it was to see your name on this blog. My cousin Jeff (Pearl) found this blog about a year or so ago, but we thought it was inactive, since I messaged the guy who put it out there, but received no response.

      Do you remember the Trenton Times put a picture of that tree in the paper? People kept coming in just to see it. Lamar said it looked like a “Big ‘ol earring”. It was beautiful and the Lido had the perfect architecture to pull it off.

      I’m not sure about acceptance; in some ways I feel gays were closer to that state of mind back then. We are certainly more mainstream visual now, but I’m not sure that hasn’t come with consequences.

      How I wish I could look over at the Lido front door, from behind that bar, and see you still standing there checking ID’s!!!!!! Hell, I practically lived there for ten years!

      John

      • Jon Scott Says:

        OMG ! One of the 4 people I hung out with in both of the bars was “Pearl” or Jeff as I know him. I always wondered what happened to the crazy crew I hung with in the Zodiac. Jeff, Jerry, Drew, and I hung out together there till it closed, then went to the Lodo. I did dance there for the time they had the strippers on the bar. I did have the most fun in Trenton. The Zodiac was where I came out when I met the fab 3.Drew was the tender there on Friday nights. I was the new face in the bar and he and the others were so much fun. WOW I feel OLD ! I was 21 when I came to the Zodiac for the first time.
        Nice thoughts
        Scott

  7. Paul Says:

    The first gay bar that caught my attention in Trenton was the Zodiac Lounge back in 1977. I drifted over to Trenton from the Pa side after thumbing thought the Damron Directory and finding a listing for the Zodiac. I can’t remember its exact location, but it was a very spirited, happening place with an incredible Macintosh sound system, a lighted dance floor with mirrored walls. The bar area was dimly lit to highlight the walls, decorated with floresent zodiac signs and symbols. This was a great bar while it lasted.

    Eventually noise complaints forced the owners to relocate to another building. They named the new place The Mirror Bar, but most of the clientele did not follow, and it eventually closed.

    In the late 70s the Casa Lido was a very busy place on weekends with a bucket sized drink specials, and chips at the door for a small cover charge, maybe $3 back then. It was home base for the Trenton Bulls, a motor cycle crowd. I suppose changes in the neighborhood lead to its eventual demise.

    People floated back and forth between several gay bars in Trenton in the late 70s, one coming to mind was the Wooden Indian on Broad St. owned by a man named Igor at that time. It had booths to sit at in the back area, and of course stools in the bar area. I remember hearing Donna Summer’s “On the radio” for the first time in The Wooden Indian in 1979. Later it underwent name changes and new ownership, eventually becoming Buddys. They began to cater to the Lesbian crowd and outlasted any other gay bar in Trenton into the mid 2000s.

    Two others come to mind, one being the Omni which didn’t really catch on or last very long, however, the “Club 21” had a faithful clientele, mostly older, but a more upscale kind of bar, something like a place where everyone knows your name. Chad, the owner was a polite and intersting man who’s tradmark was his turtleneck sweaters. He had a touch with decor, and the bar was lined with white lights and other interesting touches that made the place welcoming. Eventually the Club 21 closed do to Chad’s inability to continue.

    All these places are gone, but the memories continue.

  8. Richard Law Says:

    Hi Paul and everyone else. My name is Richard Law. David Nixon and I are the ones who went to the Allentown High School prom together in 1980. I was the manager of the Wooden Indian under Seymour Marcus, the owner/lawyer of the club. Those were wild times and it is too bad that there are no gay clubs in Trenton. They had a flavor all their own. I miss them! My friends and I use to dance at the Zodiac and sometimes go to the bar in the lower level of the old Holiday Inn. I forget the name of the very overweight but, snappy dresser who ran that bar. He was going to bring Frank Sinatra to Trenton! The name of the Patty Romano’s new club was the 2nd Precinct. They tried to open a gay bar in the hotel across from the train station but, it didn’t work. I have often wondered what happened to John Hopkins and Leroy Jones both of Allentown, NJ. My old hometown.

  9. Scott Says:

    I loved the Lido, I came out in the Zodiac first then trended to the Lido. I hung with 4 friends there all the time, I worked there for a short time as a stripper on the bar. I had so much fun there. I still have family that lives in ther area and was looking to see the OLD place again. When I am in town, I hope to be able to go in and see the old Oval bar. WOW what memories.
    Scott

  10. Julie Johnson Says:

    LOL: what a blast fromthe past I bartended at Club Omni. It was so long ago as I think I was only 19 or 20. One of the owners also had a little corner bar called Chances that he tried to run as a gay bar as well but don’t think it lasted too long. Yes to the right after you came in the front door was my side and to the left the disco and bar. The fights were mostly over the pool table and that was the norm but I met alot of interesting people working there and it was a good life experience for me at the time.

  11. John Hopkins Says:

    Richard Law! It was Richard who told me where the Shamrock was on Warren St. First gay bar I went to. I was 18. I talked my straight best friend at the time, Todd, into going with me. I am alive and well, still in NJ. So is Leroy Jones – he lives in Florida.
    The real question: does anyone remember the speak easy on Hanover Street? It was a small convenience type store in the front, but the Spanish guy and his lover who ran it also had an after hours club secretly running in the back. They had old tires in there and you could get cans of Schmidt’s beer.
    Hi Scott! (for the record, he never really stripped naked!) More of a cute erotic dancer.
    There is a Facebook page called, “I partied at the Casa Lido”. Check it out. Fun memories, pics of people you may remember
    John Hopkins

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