In the early 1970s, gay culture in New Orleans remained hidden from the public eye. Instead of openly expressing their sexuality and engaging in public displays of affection, most gay men were “in the closet” and would socialize in bars that catered to the gay community.
The gay bars in post-World War II New Orleans were divided by class: upscale bars were located along the lower end of Bourbon Street while smaller, working class bars centered on Iberville Street and Exchange Place in what was known as the Gay Triangle. The Upstairs Lounge opened in 1970 on the corner of Chartres and Iberville; its only entrance was located on Iberville Street. The Upstairs Lounge patrons had also established the lounge as a social club as well as a religious gathering place.
A frequent patron of the Upstairs Lounge, Stewart Butler, remembers, "The Upstairs Lounge was more of -- I thought -- a social club than it was a bar. All sorts of different activities took place there. They had occasion to sing, 'We Shall Overcome' with a 'gay and straight together' verse in it and that was sort of a rouser, if you will.”
Patrons often used a piano and a cabaret stage for entertainment, including shows and parties. Its reputation as a social club led the Upstairs Lounge to become a welcome home for the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), which established itself in the early 1970s. The MCC was the first openly gay church in the United States, and it often faced discrimination. MCC Pastor Reverend William R. Larson and Assistant Pastor Duane George "Mitch" Mitchell would regularly host social events for church members and members of the gay community.