Minneapolis, MN

The Sordid History of the Minneapolis B-Girl

Matt Reicher

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The term "B-girl," short for a bar girl, originated in the 1930s and described young ladies soliciting drinks for themselves or others inside of a bar. They coerced a male patron to buy them a drink (or more) and were then served brown-colored water, prune juice, or watered-down alcohol by the bartender. The customer was charged full price for the drink(s).

At the end of the night, the B-girl, either as an employee of the bar or a freelancer, was paid a percentage of the money she brought in.

Sometimes the girls were prostitutes that used the drinks to connect with potential clients. Bars tended to look the other way whenever they made extra money. In either case, it was a significant problem for Minneapolis in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It wasn't that there were a lot of prostitutes working at B-girls, but the few that did caused severe problems.

If bar operators didn't recruit B-girls, they certainly encouraged them. In simplest terms, having a B-girl around to get men to buy her drinks was a money-making proposition. Most of the time, the motive of the B-Girl was solely to get men to buy her drinks.

On the occasion that solicitation moved beyond the confines of the establishment, the bar absolved itself of all that happened next.

Seeing a section of the city overrun by prostitution and other vice, city leaders felt that something had to be done. The issue wasn't necessarily buying a B-girl a drink, but what happened when they left the bar. The john opened himself up to become the victim of many serious crimes, including being beaten, robbed, or killed.

In 1959 the Minneapolis City Council was called upon to do something.

On February 26, 1960, a city ordinance went into effect to stop the B-girl from doing business in Minneapolis. It forbade any "female person" to solicit male patrons for drinks – with and without alcohol, merchandise, or anything else of value. Men were no longer allowed to spend money at a bar on women they didn't already know.

Basically, it became illegal to buy a drink for a woman in a bar that wasn't an employee. The ordinance was almost impossible to enforce. Police had to hear a B-girl ask a gentleman to buy her a drink before they could make an arrest.

The February 1960 version of the ordinance was its third iteration.

In earlier versions, employees of the establishment could be found liable as well. Later that liability was changed to only impact the establishment – risking their liquor license if caught allowing a B-girl to work on-site.

That provision was later dropped. In effect, only the B-girl could be charged with a crime if caught. Because police had to hear a crime occur to do anything, the ordinance was largely ineffective. It did little to temper the B-girl and prostitution problem in the city — the only two things it was enacted to do.

In August 1961, The city council removed the exemption for waitresses and other employees. The first conviction under the ordinance occurred that same month.

The ordinance wasn't designed to hinder bar business but to root out prostitution. Bar owners weren't at fault for prostitution coming into the city, and accordingly, shouldn't be penalized when prostitutes entered their establishment without their explicit knowledge.

Through the many iterations of the ordinance the men who bought drinks weren't guilty of a crime – as long as their involvement ended there.

By 1962, the B-girl problem seemed to take a backseat to the growing prostitution issues in the city. The legislation remained in force, but little was said about it for years.

In June 1974, the city council changed the wording in the ordinance from B-girl to B-person. Believing the old version to be "unconstitutional, discriminatory, and archaic," the new version of the ordinance prohibited any person from soliciting another person they didn't already know from buying them drinks.

Sources

  • Hanna, Charles. "B-Girls are Thing of Past, Downtown Survey Reveals." Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 8, 1960, 31.
  • "Liquor in the Twin Cities – Twin Cities Music Highlights." Twin Cities Music Highlights – Jeanne Andersen. Accessed October 24, 2021. https://twincitiesmusichighlights.net/prohibition/.
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune. "B-persons." July 1, 1974, 8.
  • The Minneapolis Star. "Council to Study Proposed "B-girl" Ban." December 24, 1959, 6.
  • The Minneapolis Star. "What is a B-girl?" August 26, 1961, 6.
  • Mitchell, Wallace. "Hoyer Foes Say Vice Tolerated." The Minneapolis Star, June 8, 1955, 35.

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