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Downtown Drag + Performance in the 1990s — the Jillian Jonas Collection

The Village Preservation Image Archive highlights the history of the people and built environment of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo, as well as New York City in general. It has been assembled over the years through generous donations, and consists of thousands of photos in several dozen different collections.

Lady Bunny at Boy Bar, 1994

Our most recent addition is the Jillian Jonas Collection. Jillian Jonas was the house photographer in the early 1990s at the legendary Boy Bar, located at 15 St. Mark’s Place, where she captured thousands of images of drag performers who mixed gender-bending and illusion with downtown in-your-face attitude. This gay bar was been described as “a sweatbox of a club” and a “playground” frequented by drag queens, New Wavers, East Villagers of all stripes, and LGBTQ+ people from across the City and the world, for whom it was a mecca of sorts. The bar was recorded by writer David Leavitt in his novel “The Lost Language of Cranes.”

L-R: Flotilla Debarge The Empress of Large, Aphro-dite, Raven O, and fellow performer at Boy Bar, May 26, 1994

This collection includes images not only from Boy Bar, but the Pyramid Club, Wigstock, the Gay Pride Festival, and dozens of other downtown nightlife and performance venues of the early-to-mid 1990s.

Hedda Lettuce at Wigstock, Christopher Street Waterfront, September 4, 1994

Jonas’s pictures capture a golden age of LGBTQ+ nightlife and performance. Her behind-the-scenes access and thick-of-the-action perspective provide a window into an era when drag and blurred boundaries of gender were just beginning to make inroads into the broader public consciousness, largely through this vibrant local scene.

15 St. Mark’s Place via 1980s tax photos, as it appeared in the era of Boy Bar

Boy Bar operated in the 1980s and 90s at 15 St. Marks Place, a two-story former garage dating to 1949. After Boy Bar, the site was home to Coney Island High, one of the most popular punk venues in New York through much of the 1990s. In 2004 the building was altered and a four-story addition was added, according to the Office for Metropolitan History.

15 St. Marks place as it appears after renovation

Click here to see the full Jillian Jonas Collection — Downtown Drag+Performance in the 1990s. Do you have have historic photos you wish to share? Please contact us.

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