These six gay bars received grants from HRC to help them survive COVID

Partying on the El Rio patio in pre-pandemic times
Partying on the El Rio patio, in San Francisco, in pre-pandemic times (Photo: El Rio)

Six U.S. bars serving the LGBTQ community are among the businesses to receive grants from advocacy organization HRC (Human Rights Campaign) to help them survive the pandemic.

Across much of the world, gay venues are struggling to survive. Trading conditions were tough before the pandemic. Lesbian bars, in particular, have fallen in number dramatically over the last decade. Now, with lockdown restrictions in many areas, the situation is dire.

Related: The iconic venues that won’t be returning after COVID-19

HRC has partnered with broadcaster SHOWTIME to launch its ‘Queer to Stay’ grant initiative. It announced the ten queer-run recipients of it ‘LGBTQ+ Business Preservation’ grants last week.  The successful businesses were selected from a huge number of applicants. The exact size of the grant has not been revealed, with a HRC spokesperson telling the Bay Area Reporter only that it’s, “five figures.” Each business will receive the same amount.

“We must preserve affirming, welcoming community spaces for LGBTQ+ people – including young people who may not have supportive families or communities at home,” said HRC President Alphonso David in a statement.

“HRC is thrilled to be partnering with SHOWTIME to support LGBTQ+-serving businesses in order to ensure that they can continue to provide a space for LGBTQ+ people to express ourselves freely, find community and be our authentic selves.”

The bars and clubs to receive grants were the following.

The Alibi Lounge, New York

The Alibi Lounge (Photo: Facebook)
The Alibi Lounge (Photo: Facebook)

The Alibi Lounge in Harlem is one of New York City’s only last remaining black-owned LGBTQ venues. It’s been in danger of shuttering since the start of the pandemic.

“The award is great recognition for the hard work that we do every single day,” its owner, Alexi Minko, told GayCities. “In a pragmatic way it will help with everyday, common expenses for a small business (rents, salaries, we had to pay sales tax on the 21st for instance).

“We also have a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe called “Everyone Needs An Alibi“. We have been humbled by the level of support! Supporting a small local business is investing in the long-term future of a neighborhood, especially when the small business is black gay-owned in a minority-dominated area!”

Related: NYC’s last Black-owned gay bar fights for survival

Pearl Bar, Houston

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The Pearl Bar is Houston’s only lesbian bar. It posted a message about the grant to its Instagram last week, saying, “It has been a hard road getting through this, but between our community and this ‘Queer to Stay’ initiative, we are excited to open slowly starting this weekend.”

Bar owner Julie Mabry said in a statement, “We deserve to spend our money where we are treated with respect and welcomed from the moment we walk in the door. Even through this pandemic, it has become more obvious than ever that there is still a lot of hate in this country and I think now more than ever we need to protect our safe spaces.”

El Rio, San Francisco

(Photo: El Rio)
(Photo: El Rio)

El Rio has a history going back to 1978 when it was opened in the Mission district by Malcolm Thornley and Robert Nett as a Leather Brazilian bar. They retired in 1997 and the bar was taken over by Dawn Huston. General manager Lynne Angel told Bay Area Reporter that El Rio brings together, “an extremely diverse intersection of communities in San Francisco,” and that “the heart of our community includes LGBTQ+ communities of color and their friends.”

The bar is currently closed, as per San Francisco city restrictions. Huston told BAR, “Currently, we are in hibernation mode and plan to use the funds to maintain ourselves until we can safely reopen.”

Herz, Mobile

Herz is the only lesbian focused space in Mobile, Alabama.

“We are so grateful for the grant as it has allowed us to make some much-needed repairs, as well as meet the demands of the business that would have otherwise been extremely difficult to meet,” manager Rachel Broughton told GayCities.

“With recent hurricanes, curfew, and bar closures we have seen a significant decline in business and we’re not sure when the curfew will be lifted in our area. The grant from HRC and SHOWTIME has made all of the difference in the world!

The bar would still welcome more funding via a new Crowdfunder it’s launched.

My Sister’s Room, Atlanta


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My Sister’s Room has been Atlanta’s premier lesbian bar for almost a quarter of a century.

“Being one of the most diverse bars in the country where everyone is welcome makes a huge impact on our community. People want to come where they see a reflection of themselves,” said owners of My Sister’s Room Jennifer Maguire and Jami Maguire to the Georgia Voice.

“People have been coming to My Sister’s Room for years for gatherings, community, or in times when they need a friendly face. They know that they have a place to come home to. We hope to continue the legacy another 25 years.”

Blush & Blu, Denver


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“Distinct drinkery” Blush and Blu is the last remaining lesbian bar in Denver, Colorado (compared to 15 years ago, when there were around five bars catering to queer women).

“We are so proud to be selected as a recipient of the #QueerToStay business preservation initiative!” the bar said in on Instagram. “Thank you @HumanRightsCampaign and @Showtime for putting a focus on LGBTQ+ businesses as we navigate these uncertain times.”

Besides the aforementioned bars and clubs, four other businesses received grants: Amplio Fitness in Rocky Rover, OH; Doyenne barbershop in Charlotte, NC; Freed Bodyworks – a wellness and yoga center – in Washington DC; and SalonBenders, a hair salon in Long Beach, CA.

Related: ‘Sit On My Face’ fundraiser helps San Francisco gay bar survive pandemic