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There Are Only 14 Lesbian Bars Left in the US. Here’s Why.

by Faith Green

Despite all the numerous places that cater to LGBTQIA+ men, the number of sapphic-specific places pales in comparison. In 1987, there were at least 200 lesbian bars throughout the United States. As of 2023, there are only 14 left.

The Lesbian Bar Project, which is a documentary and LGBTQIA+ collective created by Elina Street and Erica Rose, reported the following in 2020: compared to approximately 1,000 US bars centered around cisgendered homosexual men, there were less than 20 exclusively-lesbian spaces in the country.

Lesbian bars had a large resurgence during the 80s and 90s, but since then, many queer-owned businesses have succumbed to the lack of patronage. There are several reasons for this; The increased popularity of online dating has affected the need for in-person dating spaces, and the rise of gentrification has had many bar owners struggling to stay afloat.

This issue is global; the Office of The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan reported in 2019: “Figures from the office of the London Mayor show that between 2006 and 2017, the number of LGBTQ+ venues in the city of London fell by 62%, from 124 to just 47. The data also shows there has been a disproportionate effect on women’s specific LGBTQ+ spaces, which were already under-represented.” Other socio-economic factors have contributed to this as well. From the 2008 recession to the COVID-19 pandemic, some lesbian dives struggled to make ends meet for years.

The popular West Village spot Cubbyhole, is one of NYC’s three remaining sapphic-centered spaces. The founder of Cubbyhole, Lisa Menichino gives a bit of insight as to why so many bars have closed in recent years. ”…As technology advanced, you were able to meet people online… And then with the sort of assimilation of gay people, we were accepted by the broader society. So I think the need for the bar kind of diminished.” Even well-populated cities like Houston and Seattle, only have one lesbian-specific bar. New England just opened their only lesbian bar, in mid-March of 2023, while major cities like Los Angeles, Portland, and Massachusetts, don’t have any. (This is detailed excellently in the article, How Did L.A. Become a City Without Lesbian Bars?)

Rachel and Sheila Smallman, who are founders of the Alabama lesbian bar Herz, were pushed to create their own space after an unpleasant and exclusionary encounter at a gay bar. As reported by PBS, “They were there for about three minutes before some of the patrons & employees started yelling at them to leave because they were women.” Lua O’Reilly, a queer New Jersey musician goes on to exemplify how important it is to have spaces that cater to women and non-binary individuals : “I don’t like gay bars. People do not want me to be there.” That being said, O’Reilly also states that “ [a lesbian bar is just] a cis lesbian space where other femmes, trans mascs, and gay men can also exist.”

Everything isn’t all bleak though. Although the spaces themselves may be dwindling, the community (and the determination to create more spaces of our own) has prevailed. Several queer-oriented bars in NYC have specific sapphic nights. The Woods, which is a relatively new bar that opened in 2021, (and does not explicitly identify as an LGBTQIA+ bar), is the place for queer women to go on Wednesday nights. Just get there early, it gets incredibly packed according to content creator Angela Alexis.

@angelalexis1292 The wood 48 S 4 street Williamsburg. #lesbiansoftiktok #lesbiannight #thewoods #williamsburg #wburgseries #nyc #BigInkEnergy #brooklyn #foryoupage #gaybar #lesbianbar #CVSPaperlessChallenge #gaysofttiktok ♬ DEEP HOUSE – Sergey Wednesday

The iconic Stonewall Inn, which was the birthplace of the Stonewall Riots, has teamed up with lesbian dance collective Honey Burlesque to hold queer-themed burlesque shows for non-men on Sundays. Hot Rabbit is another collaborator of Honey Burlesque, which holds monthly themed sapphic dance parties at different locations all throughout New York City. The venue changes often, so be sure to check their calendar for upcoming events near you!

Organizations like Dave’s Lesbian Bar, based in Queens, NY, are working hard to fill the gap left by the closure of so many sapphic bars. Dave’s does not currently have a physical location open, but they do hold community-based events that generate funding for more lesbian-centered spaces in the future.  As reported on their website, “Since July 2021, Dave’s has been hosting monthly block party-style pop-ups that focus on a seasonally appropriate mutual aid fundraising theme. Funds gathered from these pop-ups and our ongoing GoFundMe Campaign are also going towards opening our permanent space in Astoria.” You can donate to their cause here. 

Although it isn’t permanent, NYC’s newest sapphic pop-up, Grotto, is making waves for its luxurious atmosphere, captivating events, whimsical decor (like chocolate pearls served in clam shells, or the mini-statue of Sappho they serve with their signature cocktail). They also hold cocktail parties, and teamed up earlier this year with the queer-ran pop-up organization, Sapphic Lit to hold a book swapping event. The pop-up, which is located in LES’ Ludlow House, was slated to come to an end on February 26th, but was so popular that founders Austa Somvichian-Clausen and Victoria Geddes were given the “OK” to extend the dates until April 19th. The news broke on Grotto’s official Instagram page.

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Can’t make it out to New York City? There’s still hope for those in other parts of the country. The events production company, Pandora Events, hosts various lesbian-focused festivals, LGBTQIA+ bar takeovers, and other weekly events all throughout Miami, Florida. According to their website, they’ve been known to throw “some of the hottest women’s soiree’s in the country including Girls In Wonderland in Orlando, Women’s White Party and the official women’s events of South Beach Pride, as well as local weekly and monthly themed parties from Miami to Central Florida.” And it’s all for a good cause, donating over $30,000 a year to foundations including the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Aqua Foundation for Women, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force” Check out their most recent events (and get tickets to the next one), here.

The Massachusetts based Arts & Entertainment collective, Provincetown For Women, holds several annual festivals, including the summertime bash, Girlsplash. The festival is about as close to a modern day Lilith Fair as we’ll ever get, with past attendees including The Indigo Girls and Anne Steele, They also host other events through the year, including the Women Of Color Weekend, Single Women’s Weekend, and Women’s Week, all located in Provincetown, Massachusetts. You can sign up for updates and check out all their events on their website, here. 

Although L.A. doesn’t have any lesbian bars, that doesn’t mean the party stops.  Anna Goodman is an LA events/nightlife coordinator that holds monthly lesbian queer events under the moniker, Damn Good Dyke Nights. According to the ‘About’ section on her website;  “ Currently, she produces and hosts Open Dyke Night, Hidden Hearts, Hot Flash, and Girls, Gays & Theys, all monthly or  bi-monthly lesbian queer events taking place at different bars across Los Angeles.” You can have your own Damn Good Dyke Night by heading to the events calendar, here.

Compared to the hundreds of bars for gay men, the spaces for women are severely lacking. It’s appalling at best and exclusionary at worst that there are less than 20 sapphic-specific bars in the entire nation. Hopefully, through activism, donation, and patronage, we can make an effort to preserve these spaces. Preferably before there aren’t any left.

Top Photo by Janosch Lino via Unsplash

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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