I was 19 the summer I graduated from Cass Tech. I flunked courses, staying an extra two-class semester. Once free from studies, living at home, taking time off before job hunting, I was keen to explore Detroit’s gay scene.
I weighed 175 lbs., buff in my penny loafers, was 6′ 2″, had a 30-inch, bona fide Levi’s waist. I was told I looked like actors Carleton Carpenter and Troy Donahue. (See photo above.)
I heard from queer friends about the infamous Hub Grill, located on Farmer at Bates, inconveniently within a short trek of the 1st Police Precinct Headquarters, Wayne County Circuit Court, Old City Hall.
The Hub Grill was a greasy spoon (knife and fork) with large windows, angled on the corner. To enter was to be self-identified as a fairy. To stool sit in sight was thumb-your-nose-at-straight-tourists brazen. Nearby was a flea bag hotel. For ten bucks you could have a squeaky-bed quickie.
“Let’s go to the Hub for a bowl of chili and a trick,” was our weekend quip. Two sisters, Fran and Flo, a scruffy cook, Uncle Jimmy, held bicarbonate-of-soda court. Fran rarely smiled, smoked nonstop. Flo, her hair worn in 1940s upsweep, was all winks, confidential tease: “Miss Thing, don’t you look all Hollywood. You gonna snag husband number five tonight, or is it six?”
I hadn’t sat down five minutes (far from outside viewing), when a talkative number – he called himself Marshmallow – asked, “Are you a Browning King or Queen?” Not knowing what he meant, and wanting to be polite, I answered, “Is there such a thing as a Browning Prince?” “How about Princess?” he clucked, daintly sipping a cherry Coke.
A jukebox took up a far corner. Six plays for a quarter. Whenever someone chose my favorite Doris Day song, “Secret Love,” from the movie Calamity Jane, I let myself go hormonally romantic. Soft in the head and heart for an as-yet-unidentified shining knight in tight-fitting armor (codpiece optional).
After several weekend trysts I got to know the regulars by face and nickname. (Nicknames were protection against “known homosexual” exposure or, as sometimes labeled in Confidential magazine, “avowed homosexual” status.)
Many regulars gave themselves the honorific title of Miss. As high campy, swishy gays, a few merited it. They took the brunt of ostracism, both straight and gay.
I mooned over Rich, a blond stud – nicknamed PK, Polish Kielbasa – who wore high-collar, pastel Mr. B shirts (B for black singer Billy Eckstine), 13-inch peg pants. He combed his hair in a pomaded ducktail. He was usually with a stylish brunette, Sharon, her thirties-something sister, who called herself Big Mamoo.
It was the custom summer nights to cruise onto the crowded streets to watch who paraded in and out of the gay bars: The 1011 (formerly the Rio Grande), Silver Dollar, LaRosa’s.
I had heard about LaRosa’s when I was 15. “It’s a fairy bar,” snickered a buddy one Halloween when we spotted skag drags getting into a Checker Cab. Curiously, I never once set foot in the place. A half-century later, the building’s still there. Without an Historic Marker.