Film Reviews

Last Call at Maud's

Tired of the typical bar scene? Then check out Paris Poirier's Last Call at Maud's, a witty yet serious, entertaining yet informative, intimate yet historical documentary about the closing of the oldest lesbian bar in America. If you thought the Cheers of Boston was something, wait till you experience real-life Maud's in San Francisco.

Combining photographs, home movies and archives with scores of perceptive, good-humored interviews of patrons and employees, first-time director Poirier uses this moment of fond farewell (Maud's opened in 1966 and closed in 1989) as a touchstone to explore the postwar history of American lesbianism. Neither a tract nor a lament, Last Call at Maud's shows how the bar was, as one customer puts it, better than home.

Run-of-the-mill regulars and more famous clientele such as Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin -- founders of Daughters of Bilitis, the first international lesbian organization -- talk knowledgeably and appealingly about the Hollywood gay bars of the '40s that lesbians had to frequent because lesbian bars didn't exist then. They talk about the vice raids of the '50s in which same-sex dancers would switch partners to simulate heterosexual socializing just before the coppers arrived. About how in the Flower Power '60s bouffantish butches and femmes let their hair grow. How in California, women couldn't tend bar until 1973. How AIDS sobered lesbians to the thrills of the bar scene.

Why did Maud's -- which celebrated patrons' birthdays, anniversaries and graduations and had a slow-pitch softball team -- close down? Rikki Streicher, the bar's practical, unsentimental owner, says there are now other places besides a lesbian bar for lesbians to meet, gather, feel community.

"Its time is over," observes writer Judy Grahn. "Now it will become a story." It certainly will -- it already has. It's the toast of the town, any town.

--Peter Szatmary

Last Call at Maud's will show at 8 p.m. Fridays, January 14, 21 and 28, at the Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7515.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Peter Szatmary