Cafe Internationale was owned and operated by Elmer and Tess Wheeler and catered to women. It opened around 1936 in a round building on the Sunset Strip at 8711 Sunset. The building had previously been occupied by a restaurant called Mammy Louise’s Bayou. Cafe Internationale was closed by the U.S. military in June 1942, six months into World War II.
As the 1940 guidebook, “How to Sin in Hollywood” described the cafe:
“When Your Urge’s Mauve, [go to] the Café International on Sunset Boulevard. The location offered supper, drinks, and the ability to watch boy-girls who necked and sulked and little girl customers who… look like boys.”
Entertainment at Cafe Internationale included male drag acts like Tommy Williams and Jimmy Renard, who were stars on the circuit. According to historian Lillian Faderman, co-author with Stuart Timmons of Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics and Lipstick Lesbians, Marlene Dietrich was in the crowd at Cafe Internationale one night to watch Tommy Williams perform.
The military shut it down as part of a citywide crackdown on bars frequented by gay people. As a result of the ban, state authorities revoked Cafe Internationale’s liquor license.Owner Elmer Wheeler sued to have the license reinstated, but he died that December and the club closed for good.
His widow Tess opened another club later and became a fixture, along with her partner Radclyffe Hall (who’s real name was Sylvia Reiff), in the burgeoning Los Angeles lesbian scene after the war.