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Whoever said good booze and good times wasn't healthy hadn't met Yvonne "Miss Dixie" Fasnacht, the quirky, plain-talking, and fun-loving lesbian owner of two infamous New Orleans gay bars. When Fasnacht died last Sunday, in her Metairie, Louisiana home, she was 101.
Dixie's Bar of Music became a place where LGBT folks mingled comfortably with luminaries like Helen Hayes, Danny Kaye, Walter Cronkite, and more than one congressman, long before coming out of the closet was considered an option. According to NOLA.com, Dixie's was opened on St. Charles Ave. in the Central Business District in 1939. A decade later she moved it to Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.
"Dixie's was the kind of place where Uptown and downtown, straight and gay, celebrities and regular folks rubbed shoulders," a customer said in a 1996 Times-Picayune interview that included this observation from another former regular: "Everybody who was anybody ended up at Dixie's."
Despite that lofty reputation, "it was a gay bar," said Frank Gagnard, a former Times-Picayune critic, who was a customer.
"It was more a social center than it was a pickup bar," he said. "It was where gay people went to meet friends. Miss Dixie didn't allow any hanky-panky at all."
But when the bars were raided by police, Fasnacht would reportedly bail out all of the gay and trans folks who were arrested, using money from the cash register at the bar.
Reports say that even though Fasnacht was a lesbian (and a devout Catholic), "she didn't intend to have a gay bar," said Peter Patout, a former neighbor and longtime friend. "It was a bar, and gays were there. It was known as a gay bar. She didn't advertise it."
And the famous nickname? Fasnach, who played the sax, clarinet, and tambourine, got the nickname while touring with an all-girl band, the Smart Set, in Pittsburgh. NOLA.com says she was fascinated by seeing snow for the first time and her fellow musicians dubbed her "Dixie."