Mona’s 440 Club was the first lesbian bar to open in San Francisco, California in 1936. It continued to draw a lesbian clientele into the 1950s. Mona’s and the gay bars of that era were an important part of the history of LGBT culture in San Francisco.
Mona and Jimmie Sargeant opened Mona’s in 1936, taking advantage of San Francisco’s liberal attitude, endless supply of tourists, and the end of prohibition. It was modeled after other successful female impersonation or drag clubs like Finnochio’s and originally opened in a basement in the North Beach District of San Francisco. The bar was the first openly lesbian club that was geared towards the local gay community as opposed to gay tourists. Mona’s marketed itself as a place “where girls can be boys” and featured female wait staff and entertainers dressed in tuxedos.
Due to its popularity and growth in patronage, the bar moved to 440 Broadway Street in North Beach and was subsequently renamed Mona’s 440 Club. The new space quickly became popular with both straight and gay patrons, including straight women looking to relax and unwind and tourists looking for a show. Mona’s 440 Club was considered to be a part of the San Francisco Sex tourism culture, however the bar stuck to cross dressing in order to remain lawful.
In 1941, Mona relinquished control of the club to new manager, Babe Scott. Babe Scott was known as “the woman who plays baseball like a veteran.” Scott’s legacy was the performers she brought to the club. Once Mona sold the club, entertainer Ann Dee, Angela DeSpirito, took over Mona’s 440 Club in the mid 1950s and completely changed the direction of the club- starting with a new name, Ann’s 440 Club. While the club still employed lesbian waitstaff and had lesbian clientele, its main focus was no longer on the queer culture and woman empowerment, but more focused on entertainment. Ann Dee wanted a place to be able to showcase her talents when she so desired and booked performers that fit her preferences. While under Ann Dee’s ownership, the club gave Johnny Mathis his start.