“Be nobody’s darling; be an outcast,” reads the Alice Walker poem and namesake of Chicago’s newest, inclusive queer bar.
Friends Angela Barnes and Renauda Riddle opened Nobody’s Darling as a safe space for members of the LGBTQ community, especially those discriminated against in Chicago’s gay scene. Boystown has long been known as Chicago’s gayborhood, but racist, sexist and transphobic policies prevalent in the area’s bars have made some feel like only certain members of the LGBTQ community are welcome.
Nobody’s Darling is decidedly the opposite. Not only because it is a black-owned, queer-owned, and woman-owned business, but it is set up to be a comfortable place for everyone. Barnes and Riddle eliminated traditional aspects of bars that can make possible patrons feel uncomfortable or excluded. It isn’t dark inside, there’s no bouncer, no DJ booth, and no caged dancers.
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According to the bar’s website, the owners had contrasting visions for their joint business venture. Barnes wanted a laid-back lounge channeling Nina Simone. Riddle wanted it to be classy and sexy, focused on delivering great cocktails. Mix that all together and you get Nobody’s Darling, a laid-back welcoming space that’s as cool as its drinks are delicious.
“We have a space where our only expectations are respect, relaxation, and refreshment. It’s safe, and it’s resonating,” Barnes told the Washington Post. “There’s nothing aggressive about it. You have women in their 60s next to gay guys in their 20s or lesbians in their 40s. And then they start talking with each other.”
Nobody’s Darling is in Andersonville, dubbed “Girlstown” in the past, another Chicago gayborhood, but without the scandal.
Bigotry in Boystown
In June of 2020, the Chicago Black Drag Council led the Drag March for Change down Boystown’s main drag, Halsted Street, protesting exclusionary policies in the neighborhood’s bars. That year alone saw the owner of Progress Bar attempt to ban rap music, which was seen as a way to deter Black patrons, and local vintage costume shop Beatnix selling a Confederate flag vest.
According to the Chicago Reader, the decades-long pattern of mistreatment towards patrons and employees who are anything but white, male, and cis-gendered has led members of the LGBTQ community to seek safe spaces away from the gatekeepers of the gayborhood.
Discrimination within the LGBTQ community is not new and stretches far beyond Boystown.
“Although white queer people share in our queer oppression, they are still beneficiaries of white supremacy — and are not above wielding that power in our safe spaces,” George Johnson wrote for NBC.
Nobody’s Darling is a safe space for all. But, it is also one of the countries mere 21 lesbian bars, an exciting addition to an ever-shrinking list.
Safe spaces are disappearing
Despite Gallup data showing that women are more likely to identify as LGBTQ—and that the out community as a whole grows each year—the number of lesbian bars in the US has dropped from 200 in the late ‘80s.
Are gay bars just becoming more inclusive? Many are, but this is also part of a larger trend of LGBTQ bars as a whole. Exasperated by the pandemic, spaces where queer and trans people can be themselves are becoming increasingly harder to find.
Andersonville is not immune, Joie De Vine, a dog-friendly lesbian wine bar shut down a few months back; Marty’s, an intimate lounge known for their martinis, and SoFo‘s open patio bar are both temporarily closed; so is The Call, which has a GoFundMe page dedicated to keeping it in business.
The loss of Andersonville favorites makes the opening of Nobody’s Darling that much more exciting. In a time where our community’s spaces are in danger, inclusivity could keep the gay bar scene alive.
Next Page: More inclusive Chicago bars to check out