About The Menagerie
In the early 1980s, Madeline Lee made her home at the Mission Inn in Riverside. She had many gay and lesbian neighbors, friends who frequently gathered for parties where they dreamed of one day having a local gay bar to call their own.
After some initial research and talking to various club owners, Madeline decided to take the plunge and she opened a gay bar, Stage Door, in 1982. Located in a building across the street from the Mission Inn, Stage Door had only a brief run before it was shut down by Riverside PD Vice due to missing permits. But that didn’t deter Madeline, who next leased a small retail space on University Avenue.
The Menagerie opened on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1983. This cozy neighborhood hangout offered little more than overstuffed sofas and chairs, a pool table and a small wine and beer bar. Yet it quickly became the place to be and functioned as a cornerstone of the LGBT community. As the AIDS crisis hit many in the community it was the one place where friends could meet up to offer support, provide encouragement and build lasting friendships. And ultimately, it was exactly what Madeline had intended it to be — a setting to be yourself without prejudice and judgment.
As the years passed, The Menagerie continued to grow and, by the late 1980s, Madeline had obtained a full liquor license and opened a restaurant. Three years later, the restaurant had given way to a pulsing dance club that hosted weekly karaoke and annual events like Prom Night and Easter Bonnet Contests. Its popularity grew throughout the ‘90s as it became a well-known local hot spot.
Wanting to liven up the decor, Madeline decided to order a bright neon sign for the bar. When the sign came in though, it didn’t quite work right, so she ordered it again. Second try, still no luck. Finally on the third try, the sign worked — but it had one small problem: it was misspelled. Ms. Lee, in all her glorious wisdom (picture a dirty martini in one hand and a cigar in the other) said, “F*ck it, we’re keeping it!” and left it as is. So be sure and check out The Menagerie’s iconic “FABULAUS” sign when you come visit.
In June 1999, Madeline sold The Menagerie to long-time patron and friend, David St. Pierre. He brought passion, drive and vision to the club and, over the next two years, remodeled it with a new look and feel. David incorporated nude paintings from local artist David Randers, added a circular bar and modernized the dance floor — enhancements that brought in a new clientele and helped the business flourish.
The Menagerie was one of the first clubs to feature ‘80s theme nights — the music videos and inexpensive draft beers made Wednesdays one of the most popular nights in downtown Riverside. And Karaoke has been a mainstay every Monday night for more than 20 years.
In 2003, Philip Bailey created a new drag show on Thursday nights called “All That Glitters.” Originally hosted by Cassi Phillips of “Fant-a-Shes” fame, Cassi eventually turned over the reins to the newest diva in town, Raven. His show “Snatch” has won multiple awards to date and Raven has appeared on many TV shows including RuPaul's Drag Race season 2.
Since its opening in 1983, The Menagerie has been proudly serving the LGBT community of Riverside, the Inland Empire and beyond. In fact, it remains the longest running bar of record in historic downtown Riverside.
We hope you’ll enjoy The Menagerie and, if you haven’t had a chance to stop by and visit, hope you’ll do so soon.