Bülowstraße 57 – Throughout the 1920s, the Dorian Gray was one of Berlin’s most famous homosexual bars. It served as a cultural and social hub for the lesbian community.
Named after the protagonist of Oscar Wilde’s novel, the Dorian Gray was one of the many homosexual bars that dotted the area around Bülowstraße in the 1920s and early 1930s. In his Führer durch das lasterhafte Berlin (1931), Curt Moreck listed it in the section dedicated to lesbian Lokale as one of Berlin’s most established bars. According to Moreck, the Dorian Gray operated separate gentlemen and ladies’ nights, the latter featuring a ‘Bunter Abend’, perhaps best translated as ‘gaudy night’. He went on to describe the special atmosphere of these occasions, when the lights were softened behind Chinese parasols and the dance floor was overhung with colourful ribbons.
The German writer Ruth Margarete Roellig also described the comfortable, tasteful feel of the Dorian Gray in detail in her Berlins lesbische Frauen (1928), confirming its role as both a cultural and social hub for the lesbian community. The Dorian Gray awoke the curiosity of Alix Strachey, who made reference to it in her letters to her husband.
Oscar Wilde’s legacy would have had a special resonance for queer English writers. Isherwood followed the hint when he drew his imaginary landscape of the city’s queer nightlife in Goodbye to Berlin (1939): Sally Bowles performs in a cabaret called ‘The Lady Windermere’, and the ‘Salome’ is a glitzy, commercialised place where tourists and customers from out of town come to see ‘stage lesbians and some young men with plucked eyebrows’. Like other LGBTQ+ venues, the Dorian Gray was forced to close down when the Nazis came to power in 1933. Stefano Evangelista
1—Curt Moreck, Ein Führer durch das lasterhafte Berlin: Das deutsche Babylon 1931 (Berlin: be.bra, 2018), p. 138.
2—Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin, in The Berlin Novels (London: Vintage, 1999), p. 471.