The first “SIP-IN” held at Julius’s bar in Greenwich Village. The MATTACHINE SOCIETY in hopes of overturning the State Liquor Authority’s regulations against serving homosexuals in bars staged a direct action they called “a sip-in” inspired by the Black civil rights movement successes in lunch bars and transportation. While there was no law on the books against such a thing, the SLA often penalized bars that served homosexuals on the grounds that their gatherings were “disorderly.” Bartenders ordered patrons to sit facing away from other customers to prevent cruising, denied them drinks, or just kicked them out as precautionary moves under the SLA’s watch. At the same time, bars frequented by gays were often targeted by police in entrapment schemes.
By 1965, influenced by Frank Kameny’s addresses in the early 1960s, Dick Leitch, the president of the New York Mattachine Society, advocated direct action, and the group staged the first public homosexual demonstrations and picket lines in the 1960s. Frank Kameny, founder of Mattachine Washington in 1961, had advocated militant action reminiscent of the black civil rights campaign, whilst also arguing for the morality of homosexuality. The State Liquor Authority of New York State did not allow homosexuals to be served in licensed bars in the state under penalty of revocation of the bar’s license to operate. This denial of public accommodation had been confirmed by a court decision in the early 1940’s. A legal study, commissioned by Mattachine New York on the city’s alcohol beverage law concluded that there was no law that prohibited homosexuals gathering in bars but that there was a law that prohibited disorderly behavior in bars, which the SLA had been interpreting as homosexual behavior.
Leitsch, then, announced to the press that three members of Mattachine New York would turn up at a restaurant on the lower east side, announce their homosexuality and upon refusal of service make a complaint to the SLA. This came to be known as the ‘Sip In’ and only succeeded at the third attempt in the Julius Bar in Greenwich Village. The ‘Sip In’, though, did gain extensive media attention and the resultant legal action against the SLA eventually prevented them from revoking licenses on the basis of homosexual solicitation in 1967. In the years before 1969 the organization also was effective in getting New York City to change its policy of police entrapment of gay men, and to rescind its hiring practices designed to screen out Gay people. There is a delightful article on this early demonstration in the New York Times here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/21/nyregion/before-the-stonewall-riots-there-was-the-sip-in.html?_r=0