A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from May 08, 2019
Swish Set

“Swish” (for “homosexual”) is/was an LGBTQ nickname, and the term “swish set” was used for the community. “New York’s Swish Set” was printed in the Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer on October 27, 1944. “The Swish Set is in stitches relaying this one. A Los Angeles whoopsy went to San Francisco to visit a palsy” was printed in the Augusta (GA) Chronicle on October 18, 1949. Both articles were written by gossip columnist Walter Winchell (1897-1972).
“Swish set” has been infrequently used since 1980 and can be regarded as offensive.
Similar names to “swish set” include “gay set,” “homo set” and “lavender set.”
(Oxford English Dictionary)
swish, adv. and n.1
A homosexual man; an effeminate man. U.S. slang.
1941   B. Schulberg What makes Sammy Run? iv. 71   If..that fat swish lets the producer know he did all the writing, you’re dead.
1967   L. Forrester Girl called Fathom xiv. 178   ‘I think he’s a swish.’ ‘A—what?’ ‘Faggot. Queer.’
1975   J. F. Burke Death Trick (1976) iv. 62   [He] dresses mod, and he talks like some kind of a swish.
12 October 1937, The Morning Telegraph (New York, NY), “Night and Day” by Dorothy Dey, ,pg. 2, col. 1:
Didja hear about the three SWISH lads who ankled up to the bar of the El Morocco the other night??? The first one asked for a coca cola…which didn’t phase the mixologist—until he asked the second guy what he was having…“Oh,” he lisped, “I’ll have ginger-ale”...When he approached the third guy he said: “Just make mine water. I’m driving the car…”
(In a follow-up column on October 16th, El Morocco owner John Peruna said that he told the anecdote about a Third Avenue bar—but not his place. Third Avenue’s gay bars would be called the “Bird Circuit.”—ed.)
27 October 1944, Philadelphia (PA) <>Inquirer, Walter Winchell column, pg. 22, col. 1:
Irv Yergen was at the ballet with Oscar Levant. The hand-to-hip crowd was going frantic over the toe-tapestry. “I don’t get it,” said Yergen as he glanced around at some of New York’s Swish Set.
“To them,” Oscar explained, “this is like a baseball game.”
18 October 1949, Augusta (GA) Chronicle, Walter Winchell column, pg. 12, col. 4:
The Swish Set is in stitches relaying this one. A Los Angeles whoopsy went to San Francisco to visit a palsy. They were at The Top O’ The Mark and the local Minty pointed out the sights, the Golden Gate Bridge, Telegraph Hill, Alcatraz, etc.
“What are all those little lights down there on the water?” ask the Petunia from L. A.
“Ferry boats,” said the Dreamyboo from S. F.
“Good golly!” was the reply. “I knew we were organized, but I didn’t know we had a Navy!”
1 December 1950, Newsday (Long Island, NY), “It Happened Last Night” by Earl Wilson, pg. 66, col. 4:
The Swish Set has a new uniform: blue jeans turned ‘way up at the ankles.
15 October 1951, Evansville (IN) Courier, “Broadway” by Walter Winchell, pg. 6, col. 3:
But this item is no foolin’: The swish-set back here is giggling about a cop in Yonkers, who makes the rounds of the gay bars there—not in line of duty—but as one of the “girls”...Waht kinda people is this???
1 September 1952, Washington (DC) Post, “Walter Winchell…of New York, Man About Town,” pg. 17, col. 5:
The Cafe Sourciety: The Swish Set will be involved in the invicestigation when they bag a prominent member of a chain store clan, if he ever returns from abroad.
23 July 1953, Newsday (Long Island, NY), “Heads and Tales” by Jack Altshul, pg. 54, col. 2:
The swish set (Fire Island’s-too-far-for-us branch) is flowering again at Point Lookout and there are gay, moonlight revels almost nightly behind the sand dunes.
23 December 1953, Springfield (MA) Union, “On Broadway” by Walter Winchell, pg. 14, col. 1:
Harlow Fraden (confessed killer of his parents) showed off in the swish-set’s midtown pubs buying them all their grog.
15 October 1954, Columbia (SC) Record, “In New York” by Walter Winchell, pg. 8-B, col. 7:
At Police Headquarters insiders say a recent series in a local rag (defending the Swish Set) sparked the new Commissioner’s drive against the homos.
15 February 1955, Columbia (SC) Record, “In New York” by Walter Winchell, pg. 8-A, col. 3:
Scandal of Shubert Alley: The Easter Party to be given for over 100 members of the swish-set at a swank Madison Ave. Hotel in the latter 60s. The gendarmes will be there, too, you chumps.
26 March 1955, Pittsburgh (PA)

“It Happened Last Night” by Earl Wilson, pg. 17, col. 6:
The swish set has a new fad—pet owls.
28 August 1955, Sunday Herald-Leader (Lexington, KY), “Possible Winter Entry” by Charles McHarry, pg. 37, col. 6:
Newest fad of the Village swish set is breast pocket hankies with just the tiniest trace of lipstick smear showing.
14 November 1959, New York (NY) Amsterdam News, “Mr. 1-2-5 Street” by Les Matthews, pg. 11, cols. 6-7:
Bars which cater to the swish set were almost empty over the weekend.
23 January 1963, Columbia (SC) Record, Walter Winchell column, pg. 5-B, col. 6:
I finally caught up with Lawrence of Arabia. T’riffic. The swish-set calls the character “Florence of Arabia.”
7 June 1967, Columbia (SC) Record, “Met’s Merrill Catches Fly For Yankee Stadium Limelight,”  pg. 4-A, col.
The swish set still popular some parts of Fire Island and they call the police there “The Pink Berets.”
(The column is identified in other newspapers as “The Voice of Broadway” by Jack O’Brian.—ed.)
1 July 1967, Columbia (SC) Record, “Jack O’Brian’s Voice of Broadway,” pg. 12-A, col. 1:
Dick Cavett’s polite capsule of the Swish Set: society’s “Who’s What”...Cavett can say the most impudent things more gracefully than any comic now funnyboning.
19 October 1973, The Jersey Journal (Jersey City, NJ), “The Voice of Broadway” by Jack O’Brian, pg. 20, col. 5:
If a performer’s picture adorns 6,000 garbage trucks, is someone trying to tell her something? Bette Midler’s phizz will thus be carted about in a cleanup campaign. Bette’s the gal who grabbed sensational attention entertaining the N.Y. swish-set at the candidly publicized homo-hangout Continental Baths. Same rut.
25 January 1974, The Jersey Journal (Jersey City, NJ), “The Voice of Broadway” by Jack O’Brian, pg. 11, cols. 4-5:
Delightful performer Melba Moore starred for kicks at the homo-hangout Continental Baths, sang for the towel-only-clad swish set and for her big finale—stripped to the buff; the gay lads tossed their towels into the steam and followed suitless in a true Before-the-Fall-of-Rome romp.
Google Books
Gendered Pasts:
Historical Essays in Femininity and Masculinity in Canada

Edited by Kathryn McPherson, Nancy M. Forestell and Cecilia Louise Morgan
Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press
Pg. 165:
‘The homo set’, ‘the swish set’, ‘the lavender set’, ‘the gay set’, ‘the wrist-slapping set’, and ‘the gay boys’ were but a few of the popular combinations used to denote local gay communities.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityWorkers/People • Wednesday, May 08, 2019 • Permalink

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