Lysistrata: A Haven for Lesbians and their Friends

A feminist cooperative restaurant and bar in Madison, Lysistrata, named after the Aristophanes heroine who united the women of Athens, provided lesbians a safe space of community and support.

Lysistrata: A Haven for Lesbians and Their Friends. Madison, Wisconsin, 1976 - 1982
Lysistrata was a feminist cooperative restaurant and bar in Madison, Wisconsin. Fueled by idealism and run on a shoestring budget, it provided a safe space for women, lesbians and feminists of all genders to socialize. Photograph of two women relaxing in a bar.
Lysistrata was the project of five founders and one silent partner who saw a need in their community. After they raised enough funds for the co-op, it opened on Dec. 31, 1976, ringing in the New Year. Illustration of women laughing and smiling in a bar.
By day, it was an open, airy restaurant serving lunch crowds. At night, the bar opened and patrons danced the night away – finally in a space where they could openly be themselves and feel safe. For so many of them, home for the first time. Illustration of people dining outside surrounded by plants.
Lysistrata was recognized in the larger Madison community as well. Both the Madison fire and police departments came to Lysistrata to recruit their first female officers and firefighters. And for a few years, Lysistrata’s softball team regularly played against a team from Taycheedah Correctional Institution for women, a collaboration that many remember fondly. Photo of grinning softball players.
But more importantly, Lysistrata was always a haven for those who needed it. When the outside world shoved them into the closet, the co-op put a loving and supportive hand on their shoulders. Unfortunately, despite its beautiful ideals, Lysistrata was never completely financially stable. The group wanted to provide customers with affordable prices, but it never made enough money to cover the daily operations. Photo of three smiling women dressed in tuxedo jackets and ties.
Illustration of a burned building. Lysistrata was set to be sold, although the paperwork had not yet been signed, when the building burned down on Jan. 8, 1982. It was such a cold day that the firefighters couldn’t use water hoses to douse the flames. Lysistrata board members were cleared of any wrongdoing, but the cause of the fire is still a mystery. Lysistrata’s community — including some of the firefighters who had to watch it burn down — mourned the loss of this feminist oasis.
The building may have burned, but the community that was built in Lysistrata was never lost. Even today, those connected with the co-op in its heyday refer to it as “Lys,” reminiscing about an old friend they are still in touch with. Photograph of eight people standing and sitting with historical artifacts related to Lysistrata.