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Have you heard of the “Lesbian Bar Project”?

There were once 200 lesbian bars in the US. Today, there are 23. Thus, The Lesbian Bar Project set out to change this. Launched during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 by Erica Rose and Elina Street, the project seeks to ‘celebrate, support and preserve’ the remaining bars in the states. 

Nightlife has long held sacred status for queers and lesbians. Bars often act as an epicentre of a community – where we convene to meet friends, to find lovers and to form a home away from home. Yet, despite their value, the number of these safe spaces are rapidly reducing. Some of these, notable and well loved, included ‘Bonnie & Clyde’s’, running from 1972-1981, and ‘Meow Mix’, from 1996-2004, both in NYC. 

The project first released a short documentary on YouTube in June 2021 with executive producer, actress and activist Lea DeLaria (Orange is the New Black) that introduced some of the bars and discussed the reasons for their decline. Speculated causes include financial hardship during the pandemic and increased living costs, or the rise of online dating apps that reduce the dependence upon meeting people (irl) at bars. It is even suggested that the increased acceptance of lesbians by mainstream society – as wonderful as this is – has also contributed to a younger generation taking bars, and the energy that goes into sustaining them, for granted as they may have a selection of other public places to congregate in and hang out. 

On National Coming Out Day in 2022, the project released it’s three-part docuseries on The Roku Channel – where it is free to watch if you’re in the US! Each episode focuses on a bar of choice, outlining the importance of the space and the community it fosters. 

If you like this article, you may also like, our todo section which includes an article on the nightlife in Glasgow.

Some other themes explored in the docuseries include the necessity of offering more choice in what lesbians bars can offer their community, such as decentering drinking and providing sober spaces as well. In this light, Lisa Cannistraci, owner of Henrietta Hudson, the NYC dyke bar thriving for over thirty years now, explains how she stays in-the-know about what younger generations of lesbians may need so as to ensure her bar remains ever evolving. 

This leads to another common theme that unites many of the individuals featured in the documentaries – the drive to ensure lesbian bars are continually expansive in the queerness of their spaces. This requires lesbian bars to combat historical issues such as racial bias and door policies, transphobia and exclusion of queer women who don’t self-define as lesbians. Cannistraci speaks on this too, saying that ‘we have to break the cycle of being exclusionary within our own communities’. 

Additionally, Joe McDaniel, owner of As You Are bar, Washington DC. discusses how they operate with the ‘Ban the Box’ scheme – meaning employees don’t have to disclose criminal records and thus helping previously incarcerated queers find employment. This is another way in which the political significance of the lesbian bar as a social institution is highlighted in the documentary – it is worth the watch to explore just how vital and beneficial these spaces are to the widespread queer community. 

In this light, the next release by the collective will be The Lesbian Bar Project: FLINTA, which documents ‘the complex and triumphant stories of the FLINTA communities in Cologne and Berlin’. FLINTA, for those who may not know, stands for ‘Female, Lesbian, Intersex, Non-Binary, Transgender and Asexual’. This new release will foreground the necessity of the worldwide queer community in opening their arms to further inclusion, and in making the lesbian bar a safe space for everyone. The Lesbian Bar Project: FLINTA will be premiered at Kino International cinema in Berlin on April 4th.

In the meantime, to find out more and remain up-to-date on the collective’s activity, give the project a follow on Instagram @lesbianbarproject. And of course, watch the YouTube mini-doc, and the Roku docuseries

Love Team Nonchalant xx


Hii I’m Mads (they/them)! I’m an anthropology graduate who is passionate about queer politics and countering intersectional oppression through communal practices of queer joy!

Writing for Nonchalant is to me a way to help keep our community connected, informed about moments of cultural significance, and up to date with events that help foster solidarity amongst us!

Find me on: Web | Instagram

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