The Past I Heard …

By Buddy Early, August 2019 Issue.

To celebrate Echo’s 30th birthday, this

year I will be catching up with some of Arizona’s LGBT personalities from past

and present to revisit the people, places and events that helped shape our

community.

When I started

writing this series earlier this year my intention was to focus on my own

memories of gay Phoenix, or at least people, places and times I had heard of. I

came out in the 1990s and have some fond memories. But that was not that

long ago. Through people in my circle I learned a lot about gay Phoenix in the

1980s. And sometimes Steve Schemmel and Miss Ebony would even tell me stories

about the 1970s. Details of anything before that always seemed scant and fuzzy.

Recently,

however, I was made aware of a lesbian bar on Phoenix’s south side. Not only

was this bar pre-Stonewall, it was pre-Everything. Thanks to a tip from

Arizona’s unofficial gay historian, Marshall Shore — screw that, I’m just going

to make that title official — I have been made aware of Phoenix’s first-ever

lesbian bar. Kaye’s Happy Landing Buffet opened in 1941 and operated at two different

addresses on south central

Avenue: 3815 (an address that no longer exists) and 4405 (now a bus stop).

Kaye Elledge

and her girlfriend, a married and soon-to-be-widowed Violet Brand, opened the

bar and ran it together for several years before Violet remarried and left

Arizona. Of course, you didn’t expect this severing of a relationship to be

drama-free. Violet attempted to recoup her investment, lawsuits were filed,

blackmail letters were written (supposedly), a large bouncer named June

cold-cocked Violet (allegedly), and somewhere along the line one woman slept

with another woman’s girlfriend (undoubtedly … although I just made that part

up myself).

Nonetheless,

Kaye’s Happy Landing Buffet — no one is certain if the place actually served

food or, as I surmise, if the “Buffet” part references lesbians’ fondness for

potlucks — stayed open into the 1960s serving a surprisingly large underground

lesbian scene in Phoenix. At one point Kaye even ran advertisements in The

Arizona Republic; the ads were vague and wholesome, touting piano artists

and what I’ve learned was a very robust shuffleboard circuit in town.

“During that

time, it would’ve been the only lesbian bar in town,” Marshall told me, adding

that it was basically a beer joint that didn’t attract a professional

clientele. “It was not people coming in in business attire. People came in

dungarees and a flannel shirt.”

The bar, like

the other gay bars of the era (among them: The South Seas at Central &

Monroe; Roy’s Buffet, the precursor to 307 Lounge, on Roosevelt; Captain’s

Table at 7th Street & Missouri, which was the outskirts),

survived thanks to a strong word-of-mouth. According to Marshall, pretty much

all the folks around during that time who he interviewed said “There were only

two bars in town.” It was usually two different bars they mentioned, however,

since apparently each person was only aware of the ones they frequented.

Kaye’s

benefited from visits by celebrities, such as famous softball player Dot

Wilkinson and nationally-renowned female impersonator Ray Bourbon, who brought

his act to the bar. Bourbon was known for risqué material, including songs like

“Mr. Wong Has Got the Biggest Tong in China,” and toured hundreds of clubs from

coast to coast. Landing at Kaye’s would’ve put the bar on the map. (Bourbon

listed Kaye’s on one of his albums, and even let the eponymous owner sit in

with his orchestra.)

Kaye Elledge,

a bull dyke who romanced numerous lipstick lesbians before and after Violet

came along, died in 1977. Not much is known about Violet Brand, except that she

remarried a few times and never collected more than $200 from Kaye, a

reimbursement for the hospital visit after June knocked her to the ground.

Weird thing is, we have only one more true lesbian bar in Phoenix in 2019 as we had in 1941. At least, as far as the word-of-mouth tells us.


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