The Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement, survived the coronavirus pandemic and remains open as a space for all members of the LGBTQ+ community to live out the legacy of those who fought for their equality. Following riots that ensued in the early hours of June 28, 1969, many members of the LGBTQ+ community found the courage to speak out against legislation and leaders who oppressed them. This encouraged a movement for LGBTQ+ rights that continues today.

More than fifty years after the riots, New York City celebrates Pride Month by flying Pride flags and holding a parade. Those who want to visit Stonewall Inn can celebrate with New York City residents and tourists who are proud to be part of or an ally of the LGBTQ+ community.

1. The Club Began as Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn

Secrets of the Stonewall Inn
Alcohol has been a centerpiece of the Stonewall Inn. However, it has only been sold legally for part of its history.

Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn was initially located at 91 Seventh Avenue South. Here, owner Vincent Bonavia opearted the inn as a Speakeasy during the Prohibition era and sold light meals and beverages. The police raided in 1930, shutting it down. Prohibition would later end in December 1933.

When Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn reopened at 51-53 Christopher Street in 1934, it finally legally served alcoholic drinks. Popular myth says that a lesbian named Bonnie owned the joint, but this has been proven false. It was only years later that the hidden tavern became a safe haven for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

2. Stonewall is the First LGBTQ+ National Monument

Secrets of the Stonewall Inn

When policemen raided Stonewall in the early hours of June 28, they did not realize a riot would ensue. As officers started to make arrests, few people cooperated. After escorting all patrons outside of the bar, around 150 customers stood their ground. When a woman refused to enter the police wagon, one of the eight police officers on the scene hit her in the head.

As chaos grew, the crowd increased to 600 people. Rioters threw pennies, beer bottles, and bricks at the police wagons and at Stonewall Inn. At this point the policemen entered the bar for safety. Hours after raiding the bar, backup arrived and freed the policemen inside.

In 2016, 47 years after the Stonewall Riots, Stonewall Inn became a National Monument. The Inn is now commemorated within the National Park System as the birthplace of the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer civil rights movement. A visitors center at 51 Christopher Street is set to open on the 55th anniversary of the riots this year. Stonewall Inn was designated as a New York City Landmark in 2015.

3. A Concrete Wishing Well Greeted Stonewallers

Secrets of the Stonewall Inn
The Wishing Well no longer exists in his Greenwich Village bar.

Before Stonewall Inn was a gay bar, a restaurant stood in its place. However, a fire destroyed the restaurant and forced it to go out of business. When a man named Tony reopened Stonewall, he kept the concrete wishing well in its place as another way to make a profit. Although everything within the bar was destroyed during the Stonewall Inn Riots, veterans of the bar recall the wishing well at the entrance.

4. The Mafia Owned the Bar During the 1960s

Kurt Kelly, Tony DiCicco, and Bill Morgan currently own The Stonewall Inn.

Gay bars were not legal in New York City until 1967. During this time, members of the Mafia were willing to run gay bars (for business reasons predominantly, not altruistic ones ). In order to stay open, the Mafia would pay the police to ignore them or give them alerts before raids. This price only took a small amount of their profits from the drinks, coat check, and jukebox.

When Stonewall visitors arrived, however, they had to sign their name on a list. This list allowed the owners of the bar to keep track of their customers and command a sense of exclusivity. This only worked so well, as the names “Judy Garland” and “Donald Duck” often appeared on the list. Guests rarely used their real names.

5. The Three-Article Rule Allowed Policemen to Arrest Individuals in Drag

Fifty years after the Stonewall Inn Riots, Drag Queens performed in celebration.

Homophobia and transphobia permeated New York City during the 1960s and preceding decades. This fear sparked the revival of the Masquerade Laws, which punished those who had their face painted or concealed. The United States government created these laws in 1845 after farmers disguised themselves as Native Americans in order to avoid tax collectors.

When policemen arrested individuals on account of the now “three-article rule,” it was because they were cross-dressing. According to law enforcement, individuals wearing fewer than three articles of clothing were subject to arrest. The law was not taken off the books until 2020 when New York State Attorney General Letitia James supported the push to repeal the law, in connection to public health mandates in the coronavirus pandemic.

6. Rioters Started a Rockette Kickline

When the rioters linked up into a kickline, they were not as synchronous as the rockets.

Although many who remember the Stonewall Riots disagree on the details of the night, some can recall a kickline breaking out amidst the chaos. Many rioters joined arms and attempted to imitate the Rockettes. As others threw bricks around them, they sang “We Are the Village Girls” as their legs rose in the air.

7. Homeless Youth Frequented The Stonewall Inn

Stonewall Inn pride rally

Homeless LGBTQ+ teens in the late 1960s often had no place to go. Thankfully, for $1 on weekdays and $3 on weeknights, these teens could spend the whole night in The Stonewall Inn. Although they had to sign in like all the other customers, once they entered the bar there was no pressure to leave. A limitless jukebox and dance floor also made the space desirable.

These homeless teenagers were important contributors to the Stonewall Riots. Fueled by their personal struggles and frustrations, they fought alongside trans men and women, drag queens, gay men, and lesbians. Many of these teenagers are now part of the Stonewall Veterans Association.

8. Some Say Judy Garland’s Funeral Sparked the Riot

Pride flags now line the streets where customers once threw rocks for recognition.

The LGBTQ+ community revered actress Judy Garland because they felt many of her struggles with addiction and love paralleled their own. When her funeral occurred on June 27, 1969, many members of the LGBTQ+ community showed up to mourn her death. Following the funeral, some went to The Stonewall Inn to mourn or try to lighten their mood. It is for this reason that many believe her funeral is one of the reasons the police raid turned into a Pride riot in late June.

Although her funeral is not the only reason the riots occurred, the increased emotions on that day may have sparked the rally for gay recognition. Whether her funeral contributed to the riot or not, the changes for the LGBTQ+ community that would follow were long overdue.

9. The Original Stonewall Inn Closed Shortly After the Riot

Stonewall Inn
The Stonewall Inn returned in 1991.

The Stonewall Inn closed shortly following the riots. Although the closing was only loosely related to the riots, it would be years until the LGTBQ+ could safely let loose in their sacred place. Until 1990, various venue owners occupied the space, including a bagel shop, a Chinese restaurant, and a clothing store.

In 1990, a new bar opened in the space called New Jimmy’s at Stonewall Place. Following a year of business, the owner changed the name to Stonewall Inn. Since the name change, the Stonewall legacy has lived on. On June 24, The Stonewall Inn will unveil the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor that will honor the “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” of the community.

10. “Songs of Stonewall” Commemorates Songs Played from the Original Stonewall Inn Jukebox

Stonewall Inn became a national monument in 2016.

Although the original Stonewall jukebox no longer exists, members of the Stonewall Veterans Association compiled a list of songs that customers often played from it. This playlist, called “Songs of The Stonewall,” contains 40 of the most popular songs from the jukebox.

Many of the songs champion feelings. of happiness, love, and promiscuousness. Regulars at the bar often changed lyrics to reflect aspects of their sexual identity. Popular artists from the playlist include The Foundations, The Flirtations, The Temptations, and Diana Ross & The Supremes. To celebrate Pride Month, anyone can listen to this playlist or visit Stonewall Inn themselves.

Next, check out 10 notable LBGTQ+ landmarks in New York City!