On Friday, December 7, 2018, the Metro Historical Commission, with support from The H. Franklin Brooks Fund of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, will erect a historical marker on Seventh Avenue at Commerce Street. What is notable is the history they recognize:The Jungle and Juanita’s, Nashville’s first gay bars.
The marker will read:
Warren Jett opened The Jungle, a restaurant and cocktail bar, at 715 Commerce Street in 1952. Next door, Juanita Brazier opened Juanita’s Place, a beer bar, in 1956. By the early 1960s, both were known as the first gay bars in Nashville. Jett sold The Jungle in 1960, after his brother, L.E. Jett, was elected sheriff. In 1963, 27 men were arrested for “disorderly behavior” in a raid at Juanita’s. Gay men continued to gather at both bars until 1983, when the block was leveled.
John Bridges emailed some of the historical detail to O&AN in advance of the event:
The story behind these two bars is fascinating. Warren Jett – who was straight, as was Juanita – had been running bars all over downtown for years. He opened The Jungle as a bar and a successful restaurant at the corner of 7th and Commerce. Customers came from Capitol Hill for lunch daily.
Next door to it was a little sliver of a space known as “The Leopard.” He hired Juanita to run it, as a beer joint, in 1954. She’d been waiting tables around town, and had had her own run-ins with the Police and the Sheriff’s department. (This was before Metro Government was set up.) In 1955, Juanita got her own beer license, and renamed the place and opened Juanita’s Place in 1956.
Warren’s brother, Leslie C., was running for sheriff in 1960; so Warren had to get out of the business. In those pre-Metro days, he was already having trouble with the police and the sheriff. He sold the bar to Rodney Rhodes, but I bet he kept his finger in the pie. Rodney remained involved with The Jungle until the 1970s, when his son took the place over.
Leslie C., as sheriff, turned out to be trouble. He was taken to court for cutting deals under the table. His defense included John Jay Hooker and William Willis. He got off, but he got thrown out of the sheriff’s office. He ended up where all embarrassed elected officials end up — selling cars.
It turns out that Warren and Leslie had a niece, Bobbie Jett, who was the mother of Hank Williams’s posthumous daughter. Hank died on January 1, 1953; the baby was born eight days after his funeral in Montgomery, but he and Bobbie weren’t married. Bobbie was given a flight to California and never saw the kid again. Her grandmother adopted her, but after her death, her step-father didn’t want her, so she was put up for adoption again. And there by hangs another tale.
It’s hard to say when the two bars went gay. I have a suspicion that Juanita may have brought some of her friends with her. By the 1960s, her bar was a hangout for gay guys, as was The Jungle, although it continued to do business as a restaurant. Both places attracted men (or white men) of all types. The bars became meeting places for anybody who wanted to go there, as long as they were white, of course. Juanita’s was a piano bar.
Twenty-seven men were picked up in a raid in 1963 at Juanita’s. In 1970, James Edward Crabtree, a taxi cab driver, got into an argument with John Calvin over his fare and shot him dead on Commerce Street, in front of The Jungle. While he out on bond, Crabtree and his girlfriend were arrested for selling drugs. He had shot and killed another guy, the year before.
Crabtree served only four months in jail. He went on work release, and ended up being shot in his back by his girlfriend, while working in a bar on Fifth Avenue. Joe Casey, then a ranking officer in the Police Department, had some explaining to do.
Both The Jungle and Juanita’s continued in business until 1983, when they had to relocate because of the widening of Commerce Street to make room for the Renaissance Hotel. Juanita’s reopened on Fourth Avenue, briefly, but eventually moved to the Fairgrounds area. (Another highly interesting story; it replaced an after-hours bar frequented by prostitutes.) The Jungle moved out to First Ave.
Show bars opened after 1970, when Watch your Hat and Coat opened on Second Ave.
The event, on December 7, 2018, at 11 a.m. is open to the public – if you have time Friday, it’ll be a great time to see LGBT history in Nashville honored.