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Longest-running lesbian bar in Ohio history gets historical marker recognizing rich LGBTQ+ history

 LuSter Singleton (left) and Julia Applegate (right) stand beside an Ohio Historical Marker commemorating Summit Station, the first and longest-running lesbian bar in state history.
George Shillcock
A new Ohio Historical Marker commemorates the first and longest-running lesbian bar in state history. LuSter Singleton (left) and Julia Applegate (right) are two former patrons who helped organize the effort to recognize this important piece of LGBTQ history in Columbus. The marker is the third in the state recognizing LGBTQ history and the first in Central Ohio.

LuSter Singleton can still remember the creak of the door at Summit Station when they were a regular patron at the lesbian bar in the 1980s and 90s.

Singleton said the light would flood into the dive bar off Summit Street and those inside would look up to see who was entering and shout "hi" to the newcomers.

While Summit Station, known as Jack's to many others, is now closed, Singleton and fellow bar patron Julia Applegate are helping make sure its rich history isn't lost and lives beyond their fond memories.

"I was born in 1970, but for the lesbians and the dykes that were living in the 70s, 80s. You came here to be with your people. You did not have to be alone," Applegate said.

A historical marker commemorating Ohio's first and longest-running lesbian bar will be unveiled this weekend at the site of the former LGBTQ+ watering hole on Summit Street thanks to their efforts.

Summit Station, also known as Jack's A Go-Go, is now Summit Music Hall, but its rich history as a watering hole for lesbians in Columbus stretched from even before bar owner Petie Brown bought the bar in 1980, until it closed in 2008. Brown helped establish it as a first-of-its kind safe space for the lesbian community in Ohio and the third nationally.

The bar's rich history is still remembered by Applegate and Singleton and they are celebrating by unveiling the plaque, which reads as follows:

2210 Summit Street once housed one of Ohio’s longest-running lesbian bars. In 1970, the owners of Jack’s A Go Go recognized that while Columbus had bars for gay men, it needed one geared toward LGBTQ+ clientele. Patrons knew the bar as “Jack’s,” Logan’s Off Broadway, and Summit Station. Staff welcomed women from small towns, women working in trades, women of color, butch/femme lesbians, and transgender people. Regulars recall that stepping through the door felt like finally entering a place of true belonging. Women could dance, “get together,” break up, sing karaoke, party with friends, and celebrate birthdays and holidays. Summit Station remained a safe public space, despite ongoing police harassment of its gender non-conforming regulars. A sign posted outside declared: “Ladies Night, Every Night. Men $5.”

By the 1980s, Summit Station was considered “the largest women’s bar in Columbus.” It regularly hosted lesbian musicians, comedians, DJs, an all female dance troupe, dart and billiards leagues, drag king and dyke queen performers. In efforts to give back to its community, Summit Station held benefits for the Children’s Hospital FACES program to support women and children affected by HIV, BRAVO, Stonewall Union (now Stonewall Columbus), and the Columbus AIDS Task Force. The bar also sponsored local sports teams as well as the Pacesetters, the longest-running team in the National Women’s Football League. Although the Short North Gazette declared Summit Station the city’s “longest-standing gay and lesbian bar” in 2007, it was closed by 2008. For nearly forty years, Summit Station provided the LGBTQ+ community a welcoming space in Columbus.

Singleton said when they first saw the sign, they entered "nerd euphoria." Both describe themselves as history buffs and Applegate is a senior lecturer with The Ohio State University's Department of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies.

"We're doing this thing as basically a kick off for Pride. If I can take a moment and break my own arm off and pat our back, it's like really amazing," Singleton said.

Singleton remembers their days visiting the bar fondly, but also said they were intimidated as a young person figuring out their identity as a transgender, nonbinary person. It was helpful seeing the multitudes of gender expression with masculine lesbians and others who were comfortable expressing themselves in the bar.

"They were so out. Unapologetically. And they were dykes, they were lesbians and they didn't care. They'd dare you not to see that about them," Singleton said.

Applegate said she started going to the bar in 1993 after she moved to town and Singleton became one of her first friends in town. The bar not only pushed the boundary as a place for LGBTQ+ people to gather, but as a place where feminist activism flourished.

"And this is activism," Applegate said. "We're carrying on that history of activism. But so many things started in this building. National anti-violence, LGBTQ anti-violence work, Women Against Rape, Take Back the Night. I mean, God, just the list goes on and on and on."

Applegate said there are only two other Ohio Historical Marker plaques commemorating LGBTQ+ history in the state and she wants to push for more. The other two are in Dayton, recognizing Ohio-born Natalie Clifford Barney, a lesbian writer who hosted a literary salon in Paris, and one in Cleveland, near the first Lesbian-Gay Community Service Center.

Whether it's more lesbian history or helping others in the LGBTQ+ community discover and get their history recognized, Applegate said she wants more plaques placed in the state soon.

"Lesbians, you know, partly because of misogyny, patriarchy. You know, (lesbians) get pushed to the side. We have historically, and that doesn't stop us," Applegate said.

The official ceremony unveiling the plaque will take place Saturday at 1 p.m. at the bar. There will also be a brunch with a drag show and celebration on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. at Rumours Bar.

More informationcan be found at the GoFundMe page for the plaque.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.