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Gay bars once served as the centre of gay culture and were one of the few places people with same-sex orientations and gender-variant identities could openly socialize. Other names used to describe these establishments include boy bar , girl bar , gay club , gay pub , queer bar , lesbian bar , drag bar , and dyke bar , depending on the niche communities that they served.
Gathering places favoured by homosexuals have operated for centuries. Reports from as early as the 17th century record the existence of bars and clubs that catered to, or at least tolerated, openly gay clientele in several major European cities. The raid led to the executions of John Hepburn and Thomas White for sodomy. It is not clear which place is the first gay bar in the modern sense. In Cannes , France, such a bar had already opened in , and there were many more in Berlin around In the United Kingdom and the Netherlands gay bars were established throughout the first quarter of the 20th century.
The very first gay bar in Europe and probably in the world was the Zanzibar in Cannes on the French Riviera. The Zanzibar was opened in and existed for years, before it was closed in December Paris became known as a centre for gay culture in the 19th century, making the city a queer capital during the early 20th century, when the Montmartre and Pigalle districts were meeting places of the LGBT community. In the s and s the police and authorities tolerated homosexuals as long as the conduct was private and out of view, but gay bar raids occurred and there were occasions when the owners of the bars were involved in facilitating the raids.
Lesbians rarely visited gay bars and instead socialized in circles of friends. Lesbians who did go to bars often originated from the working class. Since the s, the Le Marais district is the center of the gay scene in Paris. In Berlin , there was gay and lesbian night life already around , which throughout the s became very open and vibrant, especially when compared to other capitals. There was also a relatively high number of places for lesbians. Within a few weeks after the Nazis took over government in , fourteen of the best known gay establishments were closed.
After homosexuality was decriminalized in , many gay bars opened in West Berlin , resulting in a lively gay scene. In the 18th century, molly houses were clandestine clubs where gay men could meet, drink, dance and have sex with each other. One of the most famous was Mother Clap's Molly House. The first gay bar in Britain in the modern sense was The Cave of the Golden Calf , established as a night club in London.