Stompin' at the Savoy
In the Bars
by Mike Sher
Now that things have settled down at Oakland's Velvet, those dancing Oakland ladies can follow the example of Club Savoy, 3546 Flora Vista Avenue, Santa Clara. We talked to owner Barb Hecker, in her eighth year as owner. It was the beginning of a Friday night, and patrons were starting to filter in. They looked like members of a friendly old club, chatting with each other and the bartender. The semi-circular bar extended back on the left. To the right were two pool tables. If anyone wanted a smoke, she could lounge outside on the swing and light up.
Club Savoy opened in 1969 in San Francisco. It offered a nightclub, saloon, 40s and "Savoy Style" dancing. It was also one of the nation's first women's nightclubs. The Savoy discreetly catered to female clientele who frequented the club to dance and socialize with other women.
Club Savoy takes its name from a style of dancing that originated in the nation's largest dance hall, the Savoy Ballroom, in New York. (Remember the monster jazz hit, "Stompin' at the Savoy?") According to legendary Savoy dancers, if you want to dance Savoy style, you shouldn't be concerned about correctness. Savoy Style is the constant personal creation of new moves. The dance style is more accurately thought of as glorious, creative, free-swinging freedom!
When Club Savoy opened in San Francisco, it offered a dance hall that featured a huge dance floor where its patrons could dance "Savoy Style" in a nightclub atmosphere. Although Savoy Style dancing has little to do with homosexuality, Club Savoy provided a venue where freedom of expression was accepted. Women often went out dancing with their female companions, and it was not uncommon in those days to see a dance hall where women danced with each other.
In the early 1970s, Savoy moved to the city of Sunnyvale, 45 minutes away from SF. In 1976, the Savoy moved to its current location in Santa Clara, where it has remained for the last 29 years.
Although Club Savoy has experienced different owners in different locations over the last 30+ years, it has maintained its original heritage and is one of the oldest lesbian nightclubs in the US.
By the time this column sees the light, the Savoy will have celebrated San Jose Pride. On June 14, the club kicked it off with their "Sexie Pride Party," with live music, food and fun. June 15 was the big event — late in the afternoon, everyone flocked to the parking lot outside the club. There was a barbecue and a wet T-shirt contest, dancers and disc jockeys. On the Pride Stage, Savoy and Lavender Liaisons co-presented a Women's Music Festival.
During the rest of the year, things are a bit more laid back. The club is open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. There's karaoke Wednesday and Friday, with $1 off everything. You can select among gourmet beers like Fat Tire, Stella Artois, Newcastle and more. Try some pear cider for a change.
The club participates in a pool league and a softball league. Savoy has the only gay club in a predominantly straight league.
Charity is important. Both patrons and staff took part in the AIDS bike ride, which stretched from one part of California to the other. They had a fundraiser to support breast cancer research, where a number of women bands played for free.
There's holiday fun, too. A New Year's party had champagne at Midnight, and there was a costume party for Halloween. You could also celebrate St. Patrick's Day, Valentine's Day and Thanksgiving.
So visit the very friendly ladies and their friends at Savoy. They're near El Camino and Lawrence Expressway, carrying on a fine tradition of lesbian freedom and fun for many years.
Club Savoy, 3546 Flora Vista Ave., Santa Clara. (408) 244-6909. Open from 5 p.m.-2 a.m., Wed. & Fri.; from 8 p.m. Sat. www.clubsavoy.com