In an unexpected parallel, LGBTQ+ acceptance has never been more visible and widespread, yet the number of queer spaces in the US has dwindled. Some blame the high cost of living in metropolitan areas while others lick wounds from the pandemic. And lesbian bars have taken the brunt of this blow.
Even at the height of the lesbian bar scene in the 1980s, there were only 200 dedicated spaces in the US for queer womxn, a small fraction of the estimated 1500 total queer bars operating at that time. Though in recent years, queer femme spaces in the US have seen disparaging numbers, with 27 lesbian bars remaining. Is this a warning sign of extinction?
To answer this question, GayCities spoke with the creators of “The Lesbian Bar Project” Erica Rose and Elina Street. The two filmmakers tell us about their work to support queer femme spaces and contributing factors to the decline in lesbian bars nationwide.
The significance of queer spaces will vary with every person you ask, but for Elina, lesbian bars are as educational as they are fun. “I will meet people who are older, people who are younger, and I’ll feel like I’m part of this ecosystem that will ultimately push me to be the best person that I can be,” she says.
Street says that lesbian bars were the first spaces where she felt free. “They continue to be where I can exhale and be my authentic self with my friends and my community and feel prioritized,” she explains.
As LGBTQ+ businesses shuttered during the pandemic, Rose and Street were shocked to read an article declaring there were only 16 lesbian bars left in America. Sheila Frayne, owner of the popular Brooklyn lesbian bar Ginger’s, was pictured in the article peering at the shamrock decorations hanging on the walls of the empty bar, worried the number might soon turn to 15.
“We needed to make people care about this statistic, ” says Rose, “That’s our job as storytellers.”
The duo was shocked by the declining number of lesbian spaces in America, but more importantly, they felt an urgency to do something about it. Using their tools as filmmakers, they alerted the community with a Youtube PSA, “The Lesbian Bar Project.”
Neither Rose nor Street imagined that their short film would eventually get picked up as a television show by the streaming service Roku. Produced and hosted by comedian Lea DeLaria, the first openly gay comic to appear on American television, the series dives into individual lesbian bars and their unique significance to the communities they serve.
While lesbian bar owners appreciated the spotlight this series gave them, they really needed immediate financial support in order to survive. So the filmmakers crowdfunded almost $300,000, divided equally to support these spaces. “Now we have an estimated number of 27 bars,” says Rose.
They’re hopeful the number will continue to grow, despite the fact owners still face an uphill battle. Not to mention they are catering to a female clientele that statistically gets paid less than their counterparts. “There’s a lot of misogyny at play,” says Street, “It’s potentially more difficult for them [queer womxn] to negotiate with landlords, vendors, and getting a liquor license.”
They urge queer womxn to support these spaces, trusting in the power and magic of spontaneous encounters and being surrounded by community. They estimate lesbian bars serve a population of over 8 million people, so it’s up to the LGBTQ+ community to ensure the number of dedicated spaces reflects that.
To celebrate the resiliency of queer femme spaces and their current renaissance, GayCities put together a list of beloved lesbian bars and hangouts in the US that all womxn-loving womxn and allies should put on their radar:
A Leauge of Her Own – Washington DC
There is never a shortage of friendly regulars, dancing, and scrumptious cocktails to be enjoyed at this upbeat venue. A jovial and vibrant atmosphere greets you the moment you step through the door; the colorful lights, bright banners, and smiling faces of the staff and locals fill you with a sense of joy and acceptance. During the day, light streams through the large windows and illuminates bright red high-top tables, and a small crowd chatting and laughing. At night, a diverse group packs the dance floor.
as you are. DC – Washington, DC
The name says it all! Come just as you are, and you will be met with warmth, love, and scones. This casual cafe has become an instant hit in the neighborhood, creating three fantastic experiences in one. This versatile spot is a coffee house by day, offering scrumptious sandwiches, coffee delights, and free WiFi for your work needs. After 9 PM it becomes a bar and dance lounge (21+) with a great DJ booth and tons of community-led events. Freedom and pure self-expression combined with enthusiastic consent and accessibility create a vibrant atmosphere that will soothe any aching soul.
Cubbyhole – NYC
This buzzing establishment is a notorious favorite amongst the lesbian community of New York and any out-of-towner who visits. Every inch of the ceiling is adorned with colorful knick-knacks and baubles, Taylor Swift blasts from the jukebox, and the crowd is always lively and welcoming. This cozy neighborhood haunt offers a casual and comfortable atmosphere with dynamite drink specials. You’ll just keep coming back again and again!
Ginger’s – Brooklyn
Whether you’ve come for a rowdy night of dancing, a casual game of pool, or a refreshing spritzer out on the gorgeous patio, you’re going to have a glorious time. This tiny dive is always bustling with local cuties and offers a space for LGBTQ+ folks and their allies to drink and be merry. Praised for the warm and friendly staff slinging strong drinks, Gingers is a premiere favorite among the young queer kids of New York.
Henrietta Hudson – NYC
This legendary bar has stood the test of time. For 32 years, Henrietta Hudson has created a sanctuary for the lesbian and queer community. As the longest-running lesbian bar in the country, this space is bursting with history, personality, and plenty of celebrity sightings. Laid back and friendly, all are welcome here as long as you come ready to get showered in love and friendship. The bartenders are knowledgable and kind whether you are brand new, or come every day.
HERZ – Mobile, AL
This spectacular southern nightclub attracts a diverse crowd of gorgeous gals. A large outdoor patio boasts space to smoke hookah and play giant Jenga! The large dance floor never feels overcrowded, but never lacks plenty of bodies to jiggle with. Cleverly crafted cocktails are served by the most charismatic and friendly bartenders in town! This is a hotspot for travelers and locals alike, but you will instantly feel like a regular the moment you step through the doors.
MSR My Sisters Room – Atlanta, GA
A young, glittery, and vivacious crowd flocks nightly to this wild LGBTQ+ haven. Bright costumes, rainbow bikinis, and boisterous regulars have adorned the dance floor since 1996. Prepare yourself for a rip-roarin’ good time at one of the many drag or burlesque shows while indulging in some tasty southern bar food!
Alibi’s – Oklahoma City, OK
This sturdy dive will check all your boxes if you’re looking for a night of darts, billiards, and amazing customer service. Known for the incredibly kind bartenders and true southern hospitality, every LGBTQ+ cutie in Oklahoma City frequents Alibi’s. You will feel right at home sitting at the bar, chatting with one of the friendly local ladies. The relaxed neighborhood vibe offers an ideal space to chill and drink with friends old and new!
Frankie’s – Oklahoma City, OK
The votes are in; Frankie’s is fun! A diverse mix of regulars and newbies flock to Frankie’s for stellar drag shows and tasty cocktails. During the summer get ready to lounge and sip while enjoying the outdoor garden patio. If you’ve got a birthday or bachelorette party coming up, you can’t go wrong celebrating with the fine folk at Frankie’s!
YBR Pub – Tulsa, OK (TEMP Closed)
YBR is an excellent example of the many things that can happen to force a bar to close. Last year this fantastic venue was devastated by a fire and had to close temporarily as a massive rebuild occurs. Never fear! The community has rallied and the bar is on track to open its doors again better than ever. There really is no place like home and Yellow Brick Road Pub proves that these spaces are vital to the LGBTQ+ community, and we can work together to save them.
The Lipstick Lounge – Nashville, TN
This unique venue is hard to miss and impossible to forget. Take a seat on a giant pair of wax lips and sip on a brightly colored signature cocktail! This charming bar doubles as a music cafe offering karaoke and live bands nightly. The walls and doorways are painted a flamboyant ‘pucker up’ ruby red and the floor is scattered with bistro-style coffee tables. Grab a bite of their eclectic menu and enjoy the serenades of local talent.
Babes of Carytown – Richmond, VA
Offering live music, rainbow jello shots, and a sandy volleyball court, Babes has created a welcoming and unique experience. Don’t let the unassuming interior fool you; this is one of the most beloved venues in town! The large dance floor instantly transforms into a vibrant drag stage or trivia battlefield. The kitchen serves up delicious and affordable southern fare to be enjoyed with one of their crafty cocktails. Enjoy the vivacious outdoor patio bar while taking in the tunes of a local band.
Walkers Pint – Milwaukee, WI
Since 2001 this intimate lesbian haven has brought the community a safe and jovial space to have fun and meet wonderful people. The main floor of the emerald-green two-story house is constantly alight with laughter, singing, and the sound of people freely expressing themselves. Brightly colored twinkle lights illuminate a bar packed with cheery faces all enjoying the live music and friendly conversation. As the last standing lesbian bar in Milwaukee, Walker’s Pint is a gem worth protecting.
Dorothy – Chicago, IL
Delve down into this subterranean paradise and prepare yourself to be time warped. This gorgeously vintage cocktail lounge is styled after a classic 70’s club, down to the burnt-amber colored couches! This is much more than your run-of-the-mill watering hole; offering dozens of events every month from open mic nights to burlesque and cabaret shows! Make sure to check the event calendar before you head out as it is sometimes closed for private parties.
Nobody’s Darling – Chicago, IL
Nobody’s Darling is the epitome of elegance, class, and leisure. Its cocktail menu is notoriously enticing, offering unique combinations and rare ingredients. With truly gifted and innovative bartenders, the reputation for excellence is unparalleled. Wonderfully diverse and wildly welcoming, come enjoy an afternoon basking in the relaxed splendor and urban decor.
The Backdoor – Bloomington, IN
When you see zebra print walls and giant unicorn murals, you know you are in for a good time. During the spring and summer, soak up some vitamin D on the lively patio and meet some truly stellar people. This venue is popular for those seeking community, karaoke, and a strong drink or two. The vibe matches the murals perfectly; this bar and those who frequent it are filled with magic and glitter and good times!
Slammers – Columbus, OH
Pizza, music, booze, and a cute bartender or two? Yes, please! One of our favorite parts about Slammers, besides the incredible staff, is the rainbow-colored and sundrenched patio. This bar serves some of the tastiest pizza in town while supplying an avenue for local singers and songwriters to perform. This community-driven tavern is so warm and friendly that you may never want to leave Ohio!
Boycott Bar – Phoenix, AZ
If you’re in the mood to see some gorgeous gals wearing fishnets dance on a bar, have we got the place for you! Boycott Bar hosts dozens of wickedly fun events from drag shows to paint & drink parties, and even gay prom nights. Welcoming to all, this LGBTQ+ haven attracts the sexiest locals for a night of dancing, drinks, and a dangerously good time.
Blush & Blu – Denver, CO
This sprawling, multi-level bar offers an incredible space to grab a relaxing drink with friends or have an intimate date with a cutie. Grab a table on the main floor and listen to some lovely local musicians and sip upon a masterfully crafted cocktail. Down below is a cozy and secluded lounge for you to cuddle up with your partner. Up on the balcony, you have a great view of the main floor as you play a game of pool!
Pearl Bar – Houston, TX
This may be the most Instagram-able bar ever. The inside offers a classic dive atmosphere, always brimming with friendly locals and accommodating staff. The outside patio is what really sets this spot apart. Prepare to enter a very special kind of Wonderland. With dozens of neon palm trees, hilarious fluorescent signs, and a large sitting area, a night out here will not be forgotten.
Sue Ellen’s – Dallas, TX
Get ready for a historic girl’s night out! Sue Ellen’s is the oldest lesbian bar in Texas and has been creating a safe haven since 1989. This tremendous venue has full-service bars on both levels, two covered patios, a sprawling dance floor, and an enormous game room! Whether you are looking for a mellow evening with a few pals or a vibrant and eccentric night out, Sue Ellen’s is here to please!
Gossip Grill – San Diego, CA
If you don’t try the spinach dip while you’re here, you’ll be missing out. The extensive menu is full of incredible dishes and the cocktails are absolutely mouth-watering. Get ready to blush; each delicious drink boasts a delightfully raunchy name! This stunning patio bar has two large fire pits, creating a mystical and romantic atmosphere, and is a wonderful place for a first or maybe even third date.
Wildside West – San Francisco, CA
Since 1962 this landmark bar has been offering an oasis and safe space for the queer community of San Francisco and its many visitors. The enchanting garden patio is a romantic and secluded retreat from the bustle of the city. Inside, shimmering chandeliers and a tall gleaming bar invite you to take a seat and meet some gorgeous people.
El Rio – San Francisco, CA
This lesbian-owned bar hosts popular karaoke nights and local musicians. Their huge backyard patio is the place to be on the weekend.
Mother – San Francisco, CA
Once inside Mother, you’ll find a brightly colored bar resembling a marquee serving up signature cocktails such as Esta Madre which gives a nod to the former queer establishment that once housed the building. Sparkling wine, hard kombucha on tap, and a healthy dose of non-alcoholic beverages grace the rotating menu. This is a queer haven from the madness of the Mission. Vintage projections of 90s San Francisco pride parades complete with Dykes on Bikes, and a projection reading “Welcum to our Queer future” illuminate the dimly lit watering hole.
Wildrose – Seattle, WA
This cozy dive has been bringing lovely ladies together since 1984. Inside you will find walls painted bright red and a few small tables for grabbing a bite and a chat. The outdoor patio is quite large and all the tables are covered so you can enjoy the space without getting soaked. Bring a few friends together for trivia night or one of the many themed parties!
Cuties – Los Angeles, CA
Cuties Los Angeles is a Black-owned and operated community space offering in-person and virtual events for the Los Angeles and San Diego queer and trans communities. Cuties does not operate out of one physical space, so check out its calendar for upcoming events in your area.