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The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s

A Gay Life in the 1940s

2003
Author:

Ricardo J. Brown
William Reichard, editor
Foreword by Allan H. Spear

The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s

A surprising and vivid remembrance of gay life in the wake of World War II

The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s is a compelling memoir of the author’s experiences as a young gay man during the 1940s. In an engaging and open writing style, and through stories both humorous and tragic, Brown introduces us to the companions and friends he met at Kirmser’s, a working-class bar in downtown St. Paul that became an unofficial home to gay men and lesbians at night.

Whimsical, insightful, and compellingly readable, Ricardo Brown’s memoir offers a remarkable portrait of the life gay men built for themselves after the Second World War in small cities far from the coastal meccas of gay life. A fascinating portrait of working-class gay male life in the postwar period.

George Chauncey, author of Gay New York

It is often difficult to imagine gay gathering places in the decades before the Stonewall riots of the 1960s, and nearly impossible to think of such communities outside the nation’s largest cities. Yet such places did exist, and their histories tell amazing stories of survival and the struggle for acceptance and self-respect.

Kirmser’s was such a place. In the 1940s, this bar in downtown St. Paul was popular with blue-collar customers during the day, then became an unofficial home to working-class gay men and lesbians at night. After Ricardo J. Brown was discharged from the navy for revealing his sexual orientation in 1945, he returned home to Minnesota and discovered in Kirmser’s a space where he could develop his new self-awareness and fulfill his desire to find people like himself.

The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s is Brown’s compelling memoir of his experiences as a young gay man in St. Paul. In an engaging and open writing style, and through stories both humorous and tragic, Brown introduces us to his family, companions, and friends, such as Flaming Youth, a homely, sardonic man who carried the nickname from his youth ironically into middle age; Dale, who suddenly loses his job of six years after an anonymous note informed his employer that he was gay; and Bud York, an attractive and confident man with a fondness for young boys.

Awards

Winner of the Publishing Triangle's Randy Shilts Award for Gay Non-fiction

The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s

A lifelong journalist, Ricardo J. Brown (1926-1998) was born in Stillwater, Minnesota. During his long career, he worked for the Alabama Journal and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner of Alaska, and as the Minneapolis bureau chief for Fairchild Publications.

William Reichard is a poet and fiction writer, and author of An Alchemy in the Bones (1999) and To Be Quietly Spoken (2001).

The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s

Whimsical, insightful, and compellingly readable, Ricardo Brown’s memoir offers a remarkable portrait of the life gay men built for themselves after the Second World War in small cities far from the coastal meccas of gay life. A fascinating portrait of working-class gay male life in the postwar period.

George Chauncey, author of Gay New York

This posthumous memoir is by a GI who, after being discharged from the navy for his homosexuality in the 1940s, returned to his hometown, St. Paul, Minnesota, where he became part of the community centered on a gay bar.

Washington Post Book World

Brown colorfully if sparingly depicts the claustrophobic atmosphere of one seedy, ill-kept workingman’s bar, heterosexual by day and gay by night. Kirmser’s itself is the major character in this lively, intimate book.

Gay and Lesbian Review

Ricardo J. Brown's The Evening Crowd at Kirmser's: A Gay Life in the 1940s is an extraordinary memoir of postwar, pre-Stonewall Midwestern gay life is as historically crucial as it is eloquent. While Brown's life is the spine of his brief narrative, its flesh is in the stories of the women and men who frequented Kirmser's, the working-class bar run by an old German couple that was ‘a fort in the midst of a savage and hostile population.’ Never glamorizing or waxing sentimental, he convincingly, honestly and intelligently portrays the pain and the deep sense of community he and his friends experienced in the face of persecution, in a major contribution to gay and lesbian as well as urban studies.

Publishers Weekly

This remarkable little book touches on the lives of a small group of gay men and lesbians in St. Paul, MN, during World War II. The author, a naval recruit drummed out of the service shortly after enlisting for being gay, returned home to find a small, close-knit community centered around Kirmser’s, an inner-city dive run by two German immigrants. This book is as much about class and race prejudice as it is about homophobia, and the men and women portrayed are as much products of their lower- and working-class backgrounds as of their sexual orientation. Living at a time when an anonymous phone call to one’s employer could be grounds for dismissal, the real men and women portrayed here display extraordinary courage and emotional resilience. Some, sadly, were unable to overcome their circumstances and became victims of murder or suicide. But all in all, this is a story of ordinary people whose lives were led, for the most part, in total silence and denial. Recommended for most collections.

Library Journal

In a direct—and sexually frank—style reminiscent of the hard-boiled detective novels of the 1940s, Brown tells stories about himself and ‘the small brotherhood and sisterhood at Kirmser’s.’ Tales of first dates, living arrangements, family dynamics, holiday outings and falling in love are filtered through Brown’s engaging style, which combines enthusiasm for his subjects with occasional flashes of anger and indignation and a fine eye for social strata. One reason The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s is such a good read is Brown’s way with the telling detail. The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s is an important piece in the ever-growing jigsaw puzzle of books and movies demonstrating that there was gay life, love and even a tenuous sense of solidarity before the famous 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York that signaled the beginning of the contemporary gay-rights movement.

Claude Peck, Minneapolis Star Tribune

A landmark book on the history of gay life in America just happens to come from our region.

Dave Wood’s Book Report

Here is a look at a St. Paul that has seldom been documented, and at a moment in gay history that is usually shrouded in silence. Those who experienced the history had so much to lose if they were exposed.

City Pages

A fascinating and engaging memoir of post-WWII, pre-Stonewall gay life. Remarkable because of its compactness, its commitment to detail, and its attention to the emotions of people living in a sexual police state.

Rain Taxi Review of Books

The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s is a reminder of how life was in the bad old days; and warning that we must do all we can to keep them from coming back.

The Weekly News

This lively and readable memoir is an important addition to the history of the region.

Michigan Historical Review

It's a revealing, poignant journey into a fascinating past.

Ralph

The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s

Contents

Foreword' Allan H. Spear ice

1. Kirnuer'j
2. That Old Gang of Mine
3. ThePromised'Land
4. The Ail-American Boy
5. The Giri,
6. The Survivors
7. Lucky
8. The Guy with Crabd and Other V'uitorj
9. The Coney Lland
10. Flaming Youth
11. Winter Carnival
12. The Picture in the Window
13. Dinner at the Ryan