The Stonewall Inn located on Christopher Street along with a few other establishments in the city were run by the Genovese family. During 1966 a few members of the Mafia invested $3,500 to turn the Stonewall Inn into a gay establishment after it had been a nightclub and restaurant for straights.
Every week a police officer would stop in to collect cash as a payoff because at the time The Stonewall Inn had no license to serve liquor. There was no running water behind the bar and used drink glasses were run through vats of water and reused. During that whole time there were no fire exits and the toilets consistently overan. Though there was no signs of prostitution, drug sales and other “cash transactions” were taking place. This was the only gay bar for men in New York City where dancing was allowed and dancing was its main attraction since it reopened as a gay club.
People that visited the Stonewall in 1969 were viewed first through a peephole by a bouncer who inspected them before entering. You had to be eighteen to enter, and to avoid plain clothed police officer, who were called “Lily Law”, “Alice Blue Gown”, or “Betty Badge”, patrons of the bar would have to be known by the bouncer, or look gay.
To get in on the weekends was $3, that included two tickets you could turn in for two drinks. Guest were required to sign their name in a book to show that the bar was a private “bottle club”, but rarely signed their real names. There were two dance floors in the Stonewall Inn, the interior was black, making it very dark inside, and hard to see with pulsing gel lights or black lights.
When police were spotted, plain white lights were turned on, signaling that everyone should stop dancing or touching. In the back of the bar there was a smaller room commonly filled by “queens”; it was one of two bars where effeminate men who wore makeup and teased their hair (though dressed in men’s clothing) were welcomed.
Only a handful of transvestites, or men in drag, were allowed in. Customers were “98 percent male” with a few lesbians sprinkled in. Younger male hustlers, who slept in nearby Christopher Park, would often pursway customers to buy them drinks. The clientele usually consisted of people in their upper teens and early thirties, there was a even mix of whites, blacks and Hispanics. Stonewall Inn was known by many as “the gay bar in the city”.
Police frequently raided gay bars occurring on average once a month for each bar. Most bars had a secret panel behind the bar which held extra liquor, or in a car down the street just in case alcohol was seized. Bar management usually knew of the raids before due to police tip offs, and raids usually occurred early in the evening that business could go on after the police had finished.
A typical raid would consist of, the lights being turned on, and customers were lined up with their identification cards out. Customers without a identification card or dressed in drag were arrested; some were allowed to leave. Few of the men, including those in drag, used their draft cards as identification. Women were arrested if not found wearing three pieces of feminine clothing.
Employees as well as management of the bars were also typically arrested. Immediately the period before June 28, 1969 was marked by frequent raids of local bars, including a raid at the Stonewall Inn on Tuesday right before the riots and the closing of the Checkerboard, the Tele-Star, and few other nightclubs in Greenwich Village.