Part 1: The Story… (Part 2: The Food)
For nearly 22 years, from 1975 to 1997, The Brick Hut Café was a popular destination for the LGBT community in the East Bay and beyond. It was for most of its life a lesbian-feminist owned and operated community café. I was one of the founding members.
BRICK HUT 1
In February of 1975, the Brick Hut Café Collective was a worker-owned, feminist collective located at 3017 Adeline Street in Berkeley, CA across the street from the Berkeley Flea Market. The original members of the collective were Cheryl Jones, Claudia Hartley, Helen McKinley, Karen Ripley, Marshall Berzon (left in 1977 to open the Homemade Café), Randi Hepner, Sharon Davenport, and Wendy Welsh. By 1976, the collective included Joan Antonuccio, Cynthia La Mana, and Teresa Chandler.
The first Brick Hut was small: three booths and nine counter seats. We welcomed everyone who was an ally in our common cause of social justice and inclusion. The weekend crowds spilled out into the street even after we built a backyard patio where we served a limited menu of blueberry muffins, coffee, and tea.
We were a haven for lesbians and gay men, an information center for LGBT activists, an anchor for a diverse community that included working girls, bad-boys, suburban queens, transmen and transwomen. We were the Dyke Diner: the Lesbian Luncheonette: the Chick Hut: the Brick Hug. When AIDS hit a group of customers affectionately named the Shattuck Street Fairies (SSF) we became a refuge and an information outlet for AIDS awareness. Sometimes we were the last stop: as when Ron, one of the SSF housemates, was lovingly carried in on the arms of his friends for his last Brick Hut meal.
We always closed on what was then called Gay Day and we closed to attend political demonstrations and rallies. We left a sign on the door, JOIN US AT the parade, rally, or demonstration. We supported through contributions of food and energy to anti-nuclear demonstrations, anti-war rallies, and the feminist causes of Inez Garcia, Norma Jean Croy, Joan Little, and Yvonne Wanrow. We closed and attended the vigil for the assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. We closed to protest the Dan White verdict.
We worked to maintain the Brick Hut as a viable business in spite of threats and intimidations. We invited all our customers to cross the demoralizing barriers of class, race, and gender differences, and join us at the community table. We had our share of broken windows, vandalism, and public harassment. In one instance, we placed a poster in our window announcing we were boycotting Florida orange juice because of the Anita Bryant Campaign to repeal the anti-gay discrimination law in Dade County and our windows were broken.
These were politically active times for lesbians. “We are the women that men have warned us about” (Robin Morgan, 1970, Goodbye to All That (pdf)).
There were other women-owned and operated collectives and businesses:
- The Olivia Records collective located around the corner from the Hut. The Brick Hut song with words by Pat Parker and music by Mary Watkins was part of Mary Watkins first album with Olivia, Something Moving, which featured the enormous talents of Vicki Randle and Linda Tillery. We fed some of these musicians and cultural activists and were sometimes repaid with a song. Customers still remember the day Linda T. spontaneously sang a cappella for the masses. The women of BeBe K’Roche, an all woman electric rock band worked at the Brick Hut from time to time.
Listen to Brick Hut:
- Seven Sisters Construction, a feminist collective, would help us with carpentry projects — sometimes in exchange for breakfast.
- A Woman’s Place Bookstore and the Women’s Press Collective were sources for books, publishing, and networking with artists and writers like Judy Grahn, Wendy Cadden, Willyce Kim, and Pat Parker to name only a few of our customers and allies.
- There were the bars: Ollie’s Bar, the Bacchanal, and the Jubilee and across the street from Mama Bear’s Bookstore, Thursday nights at the White Horse.
There was a brief appearance of the Night Hut, with Chef Amy Shaw making her culinary debut cooking and serving dinner.
Between 1976 and 1983, Brick Hut collective members Karen, Helen, Randi, Cheryl, Teresa, and Wendy left to pursue other careers and interests as cultural activists, healers, and educators. Marie Della Camera joined the collective around 1983.
BRICK HUT 2
In 1983, with the financial help of the Cheese Board Collective, and the efforts of customers and friends, the Brick Hut moved to a new location at 3222 Adeline Street. Seven Sisters Construction, a feminist collective helped remodel the new space. The Brick Hut became a community gathering spot for local merchants, Berkeley City Council members, writers, musicians, and artists. We also continued to support feminist and queer causes and activities like the Lyon-Martin Clinic, Queer Nation, and East Bay Act Up. KPFA Radio broadcasted their International Women’s Day program directly from the Brick Hut. With our larger wall space, we featured community artists’ work. Amana Johnson, Grace Harwood, Barbara Sandidge, Kyos Featherdancing, Cathy Cade, and Wendy Cadden were some of the artists who filled our walls. Once a year, we featured the work of the children of Berkwood-Hedge School to benefit their program.
In subsequent years, Cynthia, Claudia, and Marie left the collective to pursue other careers. At the second location, the Brick Hut was robbed and vandalized over 17 times in eleven years. With the ownership of the Hut left to Joan and Sharon and the neighborhood falling to the ravages of crack, we initiated plans to move the Hut to a safer location.
BRICK HUT 3
In 1995, the Brick Hut moved to a new, expanded location at 2512 San Pablo Avenue. The new space was constructed primarily by O’Malley and Latimer Construction (formerly members of Seven Sisters) and included a performance, meeting, and gallery space. We also opened for dinner. Our first salon featured writer Dorothy Allison and singer/songwriter Alix Dobkin hosted a regular open mike night. Women artists once again filled our walls: Franna Lusson, Mariella de la Paz, and Grace Harwood to name a few. We wanted the new, larger Brick Hut to be an attractive and active space for our community. Other women-owned businesses opened on the same block: Good Vibrations, West Berkeley Women’s Books, and It’s Her Business. Collectively we were known as Girl Town.
In 1996, the Brick Hut fell into serious financial difficulties; we filed for Chapter 11 status. In 1997, we filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and closed our doors for the last time at 2pm on March 24, 1997. We had a big, crowded, raucous party.
At the Brick Hut, I believe we celebrated difference. We were visibly different, we forefronted difference, we encouraged difference, we hosted difference. We did not try to assimilate, disappear into conformity, or become mainstream. We did not build The Brick Hut Cafe so we could have jobs, although that was good. We did not build it to have careers, or support career-moves, although that was a possibility. We did not build it only to make money for ourselves, although we wanted to maintain a viable business that supported our friends, our fellow workers, our causes, and ourselves. We built it to create the possibility of a workplace and a community where no one’s politics or cultural affiliations were left at the front door. We built the Hut to celebrate difference, to celebrate YOU. It was a home for a while and we still mourn its passing. Thanks to everyone who contributed to and supported the Brick Hut (1975-1997).
Join the Remembering The Brick Hut Cafe group on Facebook. Share your memories, thoughts and photos.