The North Oakland bar the White Horse Inn (now called White Hose Bar) is considered one of the oldest, and possibly the oldest LGBTQIA+ nightclub in the United States. We may never know whether it really was; official records show the venue opened in 1933, but it is believed it operated as a gay speakeasy for an unknown period of time before that during the Prohibition era.
Here’s what we do know — the White Horse Bar is getting new ownership, according to Berleyside’s Nosh. That site reports the White Horse “has a new owner: industry veteran Patty Nishimura Dingle (Club Universe, Club Q, The End Up, Mezzanine).” According to LinkedIn, Nishimura Dingle has a day job as the global head of diversity and inclusion at Riot Games.
And Dingle plans to not only preserve, but expand the venue’s rich LGBTQIA+ legacy. The White Horse said in a statement to Nosh that Dingle intends to honor that history while “also recognizing that this is a moment in time where ‘new’ history is being created, including being a place for not just the LGBT community but the QIA+ folx, too, and their accomplices.”
The White Horse Bar Instagram page shows tea dance, DJ, drag queen, and drag king events are still occurring regularly, so it seems there will be little if any interruption there. Nosh adds that Dingle “will also herald the bar’s 90th year with a celebration in May.”
The White Horse Bar is looking pretty good for being 90+ years old, particularly with the addition of rainbow crosswalks in 2018. And in a more recent historical footnote, last year’s RuPaul’s Drag Race runner-up Lady Camden (a one-time server at the Mission District’s Little Star Pizza) says her drag persona was born backstage at the White Horse.
The White Horse vies for the title of oldest gay or LGBT bar in the U.S. with Cafe Lafitte In Exile in New Orleans, with both claiming opening dates in 1933 — and both having histories that pretty clearly extend before that. In the case of Cafe Lafitte, it originally operated in the space now known as Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, a short way down Bourbon Street, which is considered the oldest continually operating bar in the U.S. That space had reportedly drawn a mixed crowd of gays, lesbians, and heterosexuals in the early part of the Twentieth Century, and was run by a lesbian. Facing homophobia in the 1950s from the landlord, the manager at the time told the regulars to grab their stools one day and they all moved to a space up the street, which is still called Cafe Lafitte in Exile — and it was a favorite hangout of playwright Tennessee Williams.
The building housing the White Horse, or just the business itself, meanwhile, was rumored to have been physically moved across the city line — moved across 66th Street out of Berkeley and into Oakland — when Berkeley declared itself a dry city just after Prohibition. Records show the building was constructed by the founder of Oakland's Grand Lake Theater, and early patrons reportedly had to abide by a "no touching" policy. Physical displays of affection remained taboo in the bar into the 1960s, but those rules were reportedly protested by the hippie students who started coming there in the late 60s and early 70s.