About Sahara Nightclub
Sahara was the first bar in New York City owned and operated by women for women.
"Sahara represented a milestone along the arduous and ongoing road to gay and lesbian liberation, a turning point between the representation of gay people as perverse and sick to the beginning of acceptance and inclusion."
- Leslie Cohen
#Sahara Club #Sahara Bar #Sahara Nightclub #Lesbian Bar #Lesbian Club #LGBTQ+ #Butch #Femme #Dyke #Bisexual #Trans #Nonbinary #Disco #Womens Club #Feminism
Photo Credit: Beate Nilsen
The success of Sahara was all in the timing. Up until 1974, the DSM listed homosexuality as a mental illness. This classification was the basis for laws criminalizing queer intimacy. The criminal element, the Mafia, ran the gay clubs by paying off the authorities. The clubs that existed for women were seedy and uninspired. But in 1974, under pressure from lesbian and gay activists, the DSM designation of homosexuality as a mental disorder was removed.
As four young lesbians still in our twenties, we were influenced by the second wave of feminism and the gay rights movement. It was a groundswell of change and Sahara represented it in all its glory. It was the first club owned by women for women. We were determined to make a difference --to open a women’s club that was elegant, a place where women could feel proud of who they were.
When the women entered the club for the first time at our opening in May 1976, their mouths fell open and their eyes filled with tears as we handed them a rose at the door. They were being respected and appreciated in a way that they had never been before. Elegant furnishings and impressive large contemporary paintings by women artists, many of whom now hang in the Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art, greeted them.
The women came in droves. They glowed, they laughed, they loved and they danced to the flashing lights in the disco on the second floor. It was a celebration of love, freedom, and pride.
Memories of Sahara
Writer, lecturer, political activist, and feminist organizer
"I remember Sahara as a spring in the desert of the time!"
L to R: Bella Abzug, Alix Kucker, Elaine Lafferty, Louise Lasser and Gloria Steinem at Sahara
"At Sahara, women were free to do whatever we wanted because for the first time we held the purse strings. Women before us who fronted the lesbian clubs for their Mafia bosses might have had the best intentions for their clientele but were undoubtedly hamstrung by the men who controlled them."
- Leslie Cohen
"Singers performed at our live music night on Thursdays or appeared in our DJ booth to promote their latest records—Pat Benatar, Nona Hendryx, Grace Jones, Patti Smith, Linda Clifford, the Savannah Band, Sylvester, and others. Politicians like Bella Abzug, Carol Bellamy, and Elaine Noble held fundraisers at Sahara and celebrities came to this lesbian club for the first time to endorse them—Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Warren Beatty, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Ntozake Shange, Rita Mae Brown, and Adrienne Rich."
- Leslie Cohen
Pat Benatar at Sahara