With the rising visibility of gay culture throughout the country in the 1970s, a string of gay bars opened in downtown Worcester. John Coleman, a lawyer from Manhattan, opened one of the first, the Exit Two, at 282 Main Street in September 1972. According to Jim Jackman, “some of the Ports O’ Callers visited Exit II and were amazed. There were at least three times as many faggots here as they thought there were. Where did they all come from?” “The new Exit II was elegant,” continued Jackman: “Wall-to-wall carpeting, Victorian design, a disco, little café tables.” A group of investors bought the Exit Two and rechristened it the Mailbox, broadening its appeal to white-collar clients: “It was as if an expensive Boston bar had been transplanted here and all the wealthy closet cases were finally admitting it by being seen within.” The Mailbox would become a center of gay activity in Worcester for decades; its descendant, the MB Lounge on Grafton Street, is, as of 2019, still an important gathering place for the LGBTQ+ community.
Worcester-based singer and entertainer Dale LePage described the Mailbox as “flashy,” with “an incredible dance floor and disco and DJ booth and they had incredible music acts, like Laura Branigan, Eartha Kitt, and Grace Jones.” In a word, it was “Vegas.” LePage recalled a bartender “wearing the most fabulous, fabulous, outlandish, wonderful outfits. At any given night he could be wearing an earring full of water with a goldfish in it. I mean, he was fabulous.”
The Mailbox hosted a number of community-building events, including a softball team and the first Miss Gay Worcester competition in 1983. For Rich Guskey, who would go on to win that first Miss Gay Worcester competition, the bar was like a home away from home when he came out in the 1970s: “Every weekend, I was at the Mailbox. . . . All of a sudden I have this whole community, and I’m going to people’s houses for parties.”
This sense of security was particularly important given that the era’s homophobia made it dangerous to approach the bar: “You had to be careful on the streets because you were going to get beaten up. . . . People knew what the Mailbox was, and you would get cat-called when you’d go. . . . So you had to go quick, and you had to get in there.”