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In this still image from the Lesbian Bar Project’s 2021 documentary is Herz, the only lesbian bar in the state of Alabama. Rachel and Sheila Smallman opened the bar in the city of Mobile in 2019. Image courtesy of Lesbian Bar Project

21 lesbian bars remain in America. Owners share why they must be protected

Rachel and Sheila Smallman spent the summer of 2016 traveling the Gulf Coast, trying to find the best place to open a lesbian bar.

There were queer bars along the coast, but they largely catered to cisgender gay men. The Smallmans visited at least five cities in four states.

On one night, the Smallmans met a friend at a New Orleans gay bar. They were there for about three minutes before some of the patrons and employees started yelling at them to leave because they were women. The couple and their friend hadn't even had a chance to order a drink.

"That's my first time ever being put out of somewhere," she said. "And it was because I was a woman."

That night strengthened Rachel and Sheila's resolve to open their own lesbian bar. On Oct. 4, 2019, the Smallmans opened Herz in Mobile, Alabama, turning a straight dive bar into the only women-centered queer bar in the city. The only lesbian bar in Alabama. And one of four lesbian bars in the South.

The Smallmans inside their bar Herz. Photo by Joanna Hanson-Lundholm

When you come to Herz, Smallman said, you will leave fulfilled. "It's not just a bar. It's more of a community center," she said. "I try to make it a gumbo for everybody," Smallman said, with a culinary wink to the region's cuisine, even though Herz emphasizes that lesbians are its main focus.

The number of lesbian bars has decreased in the past few decades to just 21, according to the Lesbian Bar Project, a collective launched by filmmakers Erica Rose and Elina Street to raise awareness and help the remaining bars survive the COVID-19 pandemic. That number is a drop from the more than 200 lesbian bars in the late 1980s, according to a 2019 report from Greggor Mattson, an associate sociology professor at Oberlin College.

Map of lesbian bars from The Lesbian Bar Project

Mattson, who has extensively researched recent changes in gay bars, developed his report from the gay bar listings in the Damron Guide, the longest-running and only guidebook that documents LGBTQ places in the nation. Overall, he found, gay bars declined by 36.6 percent between 2007 and 2019.

Mattson's report, too, noted how among the bars most at-risk of closing are spaces that cater to women and people of color. According to the report, listings for bars that served people of color declined by 59.3 percent. Bars for women declined by 51.6 percent.

When the "dramatic decline" in lesbian bars began, the fastest-growing type of LGBTQ bar were those where men and women socialized together. The reasons behind that shift need more research, Mattson said.

Later, "as transgender issues became more prominent, and we began to recognize genderqueer and gender nonbinary folks, bars that seemed to be open to all genders became the dominant kind of LGBTQ+ space," Mattson said.

General manager Ally Spaulding (L) and bartender Astrid Arias (R) prepare for the first Friday night of Pride month at A League of Her Own in Washington, D.C. Photo by Dorothy Hastings/PBS NewsHour

Owners and general managers from 12 of the 21 bars told us several reasons they thought lesbian bars have closed over the years: assimilation of queer folks, gentrification, the prevalence of dating apps. Nearly every owner also mentioned the economic barriers the most vulnerable within the LGBTQ community face.

"The wage gap discrimination is a huge part of this," said Ally Spaulding, general manager of A League of Her Own in Washington, D.C. "Obviously, women earn less than men, and on top of that, Black women, Latino women, Asian women earn significantly less. So if you're looking at the capital of white cis gay men versus the capital of white, Black, brown, Asian, Latina, queer women, the disparity is huge. And therefore, it takes twice as much work for us to gain the capital because we are underpaid across the board."

Many also said community fundraising and donations are a big reason they have stayed open. Last fall, after a summer of shutdown orders, the Lesbian Bar Project raised more than $117,000 to help the bars stay afloat. The collective is making another fundraising push during Pride to support the bars.

The Lesbian Bar Project released a 20-minute documentary, executive produced by comedian and actor Lea DeLaria, in a renewed effort to raise money for the nation's lesbian bars. The documentary was made in partnership with GO Magazine, Merrill Lynch's Mariam Adams, The Katz Company, and Jägermeister's Save the Night initiative.

"Without the funding from them over the holiday season, I wouldn't have been able to pay the rent," said Jody Bouffard, owner of Blush & Blu in Denver. She said losing the bar would be losing the sense of community that has become vital in the years since she opened in 2012.

Lisa Menichino, owner of Cubbyhole in New York, used money she had saved for her wedding after it was cancelled due to the pandemic. Cubbyhole's crowdfund raised $30,000 in less than 24 hours, and the attention and support they received after the Lesbian Bar Project's efforts helped put them back on their feet, for now.

"This place is so special to people, it transcends its edifice. It's not just the building. It's a living, breathing thing for so many people that have come over the years," she said.

Patron Kinsey Clarke (L) takes a selfie inside Cubbyhole's bathroom. Patrons (R) gathered outside the New York lesbian bar. Photos courtesy of Kinsey Clarke and Cubbyhole

As restaurants and bars figure out their next steps for reopening in the pandemic, Smoove Gardner, co-owner of The Back Door in Bloomington, Indiana, said she redid the bar's dance floor. She ordered 15 pounds of glitter and mixed it with some resin to give the space some new sparkle for when people are able and comfortable to gather closer again.

Several owners described their lesbian bars as meeting spaces for the community, a "think tank," a safe space, a space that's much more than the four walls of a building.

"Even for queer allies that just want to come experience some fabulouness and leave with some glitter on their shoes, who doesn't want that?" Gardner said of lesbian bars' many roles.

Below, owners and general managers share what makes these queer spaces for lesbians vital, how they weathered through the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, and why this piece of LGBTQ nightlife needs to be preserved.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

When did you open, and how has the bar changed over time?

A group of patrons enjoying drinks inside Gossip Grill in San Diego on June 5,2021. Photo by Chloe Jones/PBS NewsHour

"When Tanya [the original owner] came out, it was the 1950s, early '60s, and the bar she used to go to was always gay men and gay women together because she told us that it wasn't legal. These bars were often like speakeasies and were getting raided a lot. And someone would look out for the cops and if they saw someone coming, the men and women would start dancing with each other, so it looked like it was a straight bar. [Tanya] always really enjoyed the company of gay men and transgender people, and even though she wanted the lesbian space, she never understood why the whole gay community couldn't socialize with each other. Cubbyhole became known as a place that welcomes everybody so that helped us survive.
— Lisa Menichino, owner of Cubbyhole in New York

"I used to manage the Flame back in the day, which was a lesbian nightclub for 20 years. And when I was working there, it was very segregated. It was very 'women go to women's bars and boys go to boys' bars and they don't play nice together.' The opportunity came along for a women's night at Flix [a gay men's bar] and I started that women's night there in 2001. And that started the trend of boys bars opening up to women. And that's when the women's bars in San Diego started shutting down or selling or just kind of feeling the pressure. Years later, when Gossip Grill opened, we're not technically labeled a lesbian bar, we're a women's bar. But we're all women: Gay, straight, bi, trans, everything, queer. Our main goal was to have a safe space for women that is open to everyone. It was kind of the first of its kind here in San Diego."
— Moe Girton, owner of Gossip Grill in San Diego

"It was a lesbian bar that my wife and I frequented before we took it over. Clientele continued to decline for the previous owner. In 2017, we bought the bar and just started building from there. We didn't want it to be just a lesbian bar, it's an everybody bar. Everyone is welcome there. We wanted to create a space where all of the community could feel safe. So we started with a couple of drag shows, and we have a dart team. We have a decent straight clientele. We brought [drag] shows in, and business started picking up and has continued to pick up since then. So we thought 'Well, we'll just buy that bar and make it what we want.' So far, that's what we've done."
— Ann Harris, co-owner of Frankie's in Oklahoma City

"We started out as a women's bar, and eventually, all the businesses would come around for lunch. I pulled out this motto — 'All Walks, One Group' — and that's what I stuck with. We've never had any trouble with any issues with straight people and the businesses and all the apartment buildings that have come in recently. They love the place. In the beginning, [the bar] wasn't that well accepted, but it just gradually became more accepted."
— Marcia Riley, owner of Slammers in Columbus, Ohio

Patrons (L) enjoy the dance floor at Pearl Bar in Houston in February 2020. Photo courtesy of Pearl Bar. A patron orders a drink (R) at Gossip Grill in San Diego. Photo by Chloe Jones/PBS NewsHour

"I remember this one time a couple came in and it was during the week, so it was a little bit quieter than it normally would be. One of the women looked like she was a little bit ill, so we just made them feel so special. We were playing their songs and we were dancing with them and they had the most wonderful time. A few months down the road, one of the women comes back in and she's like, 'You know that night I was here with my partner, she had the most fun that night since she was a teenager, and unfortunately, she had ovarian cancer and it was stage 4 and she passed away in the interim.' And her partner said, 'Thank you so much, you made that night so special for her and for us as one of the last memories we had together.' So I always remember that."
— Lisa Menichino, owner of Cubbyhole in New York

"[My wife] Tracey and I, often we're at the bar and we just reach over, hold each other's hand and can get tears in our eyes because we look around the room go, 'Oh my gosh, look what's happening here.' These people who would never have met each other have met each other, made friends and are now hanging out with each other and are now saying, 'Hey, you want to be on my dart team?' We watch things like that happen, or we will gain an understanding of something that we're not experienced with. So there's a whole bunch of super proud moments that we have. And we love what we do. It gets exhausting because having a bar is not necessarily the easiest, but we like it. We're at every show, we're there every weekend, and we feel like it's important that we're there because we are also part of the family. We don't just provide a space for people to create family. We're a part of the family."
— Ann Harris, co-owner of Frankie's in Oklahoma City

What was your first experience at a queer nightlife space? What did that mean to you?

Cardinal Stage, a local theater company, performs songs from "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" for a photo shoot on the Back Door's stage. Photo courtesy of The Back Door

"There was a queer bar [in Bloomington, Indiana] called Bullwinkle's. That was my first experience at a gay nightclub. That was back in the early '90s. Especially back then, it was just like, 'Oh my God, here are my people.' I finally feel like I fit in. I'm comfortable being here. I can be myself. I don't have to worry about getting gay bashed or anything like that. And I got to meet other queer ladies. That was a huge thing. This was when we barely had email, at this point in time. It was like 1991, probably. So I think, back then, the queer bar scene functioned also as a meeting place. You didn't have online anything. You didn't have dating apps. You didn't have a smartphone. [At Bullwinkle's, I was able to see] my first drag show, dance with my girlfriend and hold her hand, and make out with her, and not feel scared about it. And I think also seeing how many queer people there were definitely gave me the courage to come out much quicker."
— Smoove Gardner, co-owner of The Back Door in Bloomington, Indiana

"In the 90s, I was in the military, I was in the Air Force. And there was this bar that was set off of the base. It was called the Sanctuary. And I knew that it was a gay bar. So, one day, really, really late at night, I snuck off base, and the first thing that I saw in this bar was my supervisor. After I got over that shock, I was able to actually enjoy the atmosphere."
— Rachel Smallman, co-owner of Herz in Mobile, Alabama

"I came from a financial and a real estate investment background. But on the weekends, I threw lesbian parties. And I actually met my wife at [My Sister's Room]. And I hosted shows, I did drag many, many, many years ago. So when the owners were like, 'Hey, we're kind of ready to pass the torch, would you be interested in buying the bar?' I went 'Oh, I don't know.' I had a really good job [at the time]. But there was something about My Sister's Room that I had always gravitated towards, and it was family. We had to really think about it, and I was like 'You know, what if we could keep it going?' Because I think [the former owners] were kind of at the point that if they didn't sell it, they were ready to shut it down. And I was like, 'Let's roll the dice and do it.' So [my wife] Jami and I decided to buy it. And we just kind of went from there."
— Jen Maguire, co-owner of My Sister's Room in Atlanta

"I came out at 16 and that was very traumatic for me because my family was very religious. And I heard things like, 'We need to beat the queer out of her' kind of thing. So for me to be out here in Colorado, it was safe for me to be here. And when I worked at the Elle [a now-closed lesbian bar], I told my boss — her name was Joan Glover — I told her every night that I was mopping the dance floor. I was like, 'Someday I'm going to own my own bar, Joan. Someday I'm saving my money. I'm saving all my tip money. I'm saving my money. I'm going to own my own bar someday.' And of course, her as an older lesbian was like, 'OK, Jody, OK.' And then two years ago, she walked into my bar and I said, 'See Joan, I did it.'"
— Jody Bouffard, owner of Blush & Blu in Denver

"When I was about 16 — my sister's gay also — we had gone into this club in San Antonio, Texas, and it was kind of the first time that I saw her like a peace in a sense, like she was in her own element. And it just something that resonated with me. And so I had drawn my own bar. And so it was kind of something that was like a 24-year dream before it came to be. And so I became a lesbian event promoter and did events, I think, like eight or ten years before Pearl. We've had like one or two lesbian bars in Houston, I think for many, many years. And then they were just kind of slowing down. But I would study, you know, what people were drinking and you know how the flow works with the lesbian bar. And then I finally was able to get Pearl open in 2013."
— Julie Mabry, owner of Pearl Bar in Houston–

A sign on the enterance to A League of Her Own, located in the basement of the Gay Bar "Pitchers" in Washington, D.C., reminds patrons the bar is not only a spot to socialize, but also a place that offers mutual aid and a safety network for LGBTQ people who need it. Photo by Dorothy Hastings/PBS NewsHour

"I drove two hours and it was the most magical thing that had ever happened to me. I saw drag queens. I saw lesbians and trans people, nonbinary people. And it was like seeing myself, but better. It was so affirming, and it showed me that a future was possible as a queer person."
— Ally Spaulding, general manager of A League of Her Own in Washington, D.C.

"There was a woman at the bar and she was a really big, tall woman. She had a shaved head except for a Mohawk and a motorcycle jacket. She took off her jacket and she had on a tank top and she had a tattoo of a woman's leg where the foot started, the foot was a high heel and it started and went all the way up to the top part of her armpit. And then from what I could see, the T-shirt covered some of it but there was another woman's leg coming up from the rib cage where the top part of the thigh also ended up there. And she didn't shave the armpit so you could imagine it looked like a vagina. She comes over to me and I'm not very tall, and she had to be over six feet. She looks down on me and she says, 'I want to dance with you.' And it wasn't a request. For the two minutes of the song my feet barely touched the floor. And so that was my first lesbian experience."
— Lisa Menichino, owner of Cubbyhole in New York

Why are lesbian bars disappearing?

Babe's of Carytown in Richmond, Virginia, has been around for 35 years and counting. Photo by Dorothy Hastings/PBS NewsHour

"As a queer bar owner, you can talk to other bar owners, too. No bank is going to give us a loan for a lesbian or queer bar. It's just not going to happen. And if you do get one, you're friggin' lucky or you've got somebody behind you that's got money to back it. I was told it's a high-risk investment when I originally tried to get a loan. So I worked two jobs and paid cash for everything."
— Jody Bouffard, owner of Blush & Blu in Denver

"When my wife and I decided to open the bar, the first loan officer that we went to — he actually denied us, and his reason for denying us was not our credit, because our credit was perfect. He said [it was] because, in this economy, we should be careful about getting loans so big because we don't make that kind of money. And my wife and I were like, 'Well, you've just seen our financial situation.' He said it's not the kind of money that your male counterparts make, and so it is very risky. So I said to him, 'I will assume the risk myself. It shouldn't be whether I make as much money as the next man does.' So we went to the next bank and got approved."
— Rachel Smallman, co-owner of Herz in Mobile, Alabama

"The people that would come to [the bar before we took over] got older and they started having long-term relationships and babies and doing those sorts of things. So they didn't come out to the bar as often. And when Tracey and I took over, we said that we wanted to get people back off the couch, that, you know, you can come out on a Friday and Saturday. It doesn't have to be an every night of the week thing. And [we wanted to] change the stigma that the bar is just a pickup place. We encourage them to come out, spend time with their friends, bring your wife, get a babysitter and treat yourself."
— Ann Harris, co-owner of Frankie's in Oklahoma City

Audrey Corley (L), owner of Boycott Bar, stands with the "ass lamp" — an iconic piece of decor in her Phoenix bar she purchased from a boutique hotel. Corley's truck (R) parked outside of Boycott Bar. The bar is located in the historic Melrose District, which is home to several LGBTQ owned and friendly businesses. Photos by Chloe Jones/PBS NewsHour

"[Queerness] is so widely accepted now that nobody has to come to hide in a bar. But on the other hand, we have all the straight people that come in because they're accepting [of] all the gay people. So it's kind of back and forth. The gay people can go wherever they want, and the straight people have no problem coming in to this bar."
— Marcia Riley, owner of Slammers in Columbus, Ohio

"As a bar owner, my perspective, when lesbians couple up, I don't see them for about three to six months because they're nesting and they're doing the, you know, honeymoon phase, you know what I mean? So, I don't see them for at least six months. So then when they do come back out, they you know, they come out more sporadically versus the single lesbians or queers, gay men. So the difference between gay guys and lesbians is that once lesbians couple up, I don't see them for six months. And then if they break up, then, you know, they have to figure out who gets the home bar."
— Jody Bouffard, owner of Blush & Blu in Denver

"I don't think women's bars, lesbian bars are dying. I think they are going to evolve into something else. I don't know what that looks like yet. We're trying to figure it out. You know, we're always looking forward. We started out as a women's bar … as an umbrella. And under that umbrella is lesbian, gay and bi and trans. Everything is under that umbrella. And we're watching trends. We now tend to be more of a female-focused, female-forward bar and restaurant. And so we're just kind of watching it and on the horizon right now, you're really seeing gender kind of go away. Half of my staff is nonbinary or trans, and we're really seeing that. So I don't know where we're going to go with that. We're still going to be a space for this community, but in labeling and boxing in, it's something we're going to have to pivot and figure out how to get through that"
— Moe Girton, owner of Gossip Grill in San Diego

"We had three different lesbian bars in town and as time has gone by and how everybody is just more accepting, especially in downtown midtown Tulsa, there's not so much of a need for a sanctuary as much anymore. So that's kind of why a lot of them have died off, at least here … But this is also one of the places where they all get together any time anything big happens, they always end up here. Even if they've been out somewhere else, they always come back here and it's just their home bar."
— Amanda Sternke, manager and bartender of Yellow Brick Road Pub in Tulsa, Oklahoma

How was your bar impacted by the pandemic in the past year?

The exterior of Denver's Blush & Blu (L) and a scene inside Houston's Pearl Bar. Photos courtesy of Blush & Blu and Pearl Bar

"Just because we made it through the pandemic and we're still standing doesn't mean that we weren't impacted. We lost the majority of our staff, rightfully so. I mean, obviously, we couldn't keep them. We had to shut down for a period of time between March and early June. We weren't able to celebrate Pride, which is obviously our biggest weekend of the year. At the end of it, it was literally me and two other people, the former general manager and her now fiancée. It was the three of us. I mean, that was it. That was all we had because it was really all that we could afford. We are really in the hole and this next year is going to be about us trying to cover those costs."
— Ally Spaulding, general manager of A League of Her Own in Washington, D.C.

"[Before the pandemic,] we'd have events during the week, trying to get a variety of programming to folks. And then weekends, it would be pretty packed, sweaty bodies all over the place. So going from that to absolutely nothing — it was a big adjustment, that's for sure. I'm an extrovert. I struggled during the pandemic just from that factor alone. It also, during lockdown, became a full-time job to figure out how to get loans. I was grasping at whatever means I could find to make sure we could come back from this."
— Smoove Gardner, co-owner of The Back Door in Bloomington, Indiana

"On a ballpark of what we lost was about $600,000 in revenue. And, you know, in the beginning I just thought it was going to be three weeks and then I thought it was going to be three months. And I've talked about this a lot. The bars, as many people I would imagine, and businesses, were not prepared to be closed for three months. And then from that part, like, I wanted to make sure my staff was taken care of until they could get on unemployment. But it was just a very hard time. It was scary for me, but it was also sad because not only were we suffering, but honestly the entire world, you know, all business owners that own restaurants and bars."
— Julie Mabry, owner of Pearl Bar in Houston–

After being temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Back Door in Bloomington, Indiana, reopened in May. The owner held an outdoor-only event on the bar's patio to celebrate the reopening. Photo courtesy of The Back Door

"They shut us down at eight o'clock on March 17. And in our heads we're like, 'All right, it's a couple of weeks. You know, it's not going to be a big deal." And then it got scary. I was like, 'We got to fight. We got to get in here and do something. We got to get creative.' We started selling drinks to-go. It was one of the things that changed. We got to fight a little bit, because, at first, we had no way of bringing any income in and all the bills were still due at that time. I think what kept my faith was my team and the people around me, my family. I have a really good network."
— Audrey Corley, owner of Boycott Bar in Phoenix

"When I heard that things were about to get bad — I think it was two days before St. Paddy's Day — I went ahead and started initiating unemployment for our staff. So we were able to ensure that our staff never missed a paycheck. And we had actually just sold our house, and we ended up using all of our savings to keep our bar alive and make sure that our employees, between unemployment and giving them money, that they didn't go without. We were able to navigate some PPP loans, we got two of those. And between that and the unemployment, it was tight, but we didn't miss a beat, and our landlord was very cooperative. We started doing food delivery until 2 a.m. and outdoor drag shows, and then we eventually started gravitating back towards inside. We [recently] went to full capacity, and we're definitely back on the uptick."
— Jen Maguire, co-owner of My Sister's Room in Atlanta

"It wasn't an option for it to fail. Luckily, the PPP came through and we opened about three months sooner than we thought we were and the community came out in droves.I am so incredibly grateful that people choose to support us and choose to come here because we wouldn't have made it without them."
— Moe Girton, owner of Gossip Grill in San Diego

Why are brick-and-mortar queer nightlife spaces necessary?

The exterior of the Yellow Brick Road Pub in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of Yellow Brick Road Pub

"They're important because for a lot of us, our families have disowned us because of who we are, especially our Black trans community. And we want a space that whether you're Black, white, Latino, Asian, you know, these brick-and-mortar spaces are important to our LGBTQ community. Having that family atmosphere, whether you drink or not, you can come and you can have a meal, you can have a safe space if you want to sing some karaoke or you just want to talk to somebody. There's a lot of work that we do using our platform to raise money [for a range of local causes.] So I think these spaces are important because you don't get to have that feeling where you could be yourself, necessarily, at a predominantly straight venue. Maybe gays are accepted more, but there's nothing like the feeling of your own space where you know 'I'm not going to be judged if I come here.'"
— Jen Maguire, co-owner of My Sister's Room in Atlanta

"[If Yellow Brick Road Pub were to close], it would be a big loss because of how special it is to everyone, how a lot of people, when they were first coming out and not sure about where they could go, what they could do, or about themselves, they came here. They found out about here and they love each other, they respect each other, they want everybody to succeed and not feel left out or feel that it's not okay for them to be lesbians or be queer."
— Amanda Sternke, manager and bartender of Yellow Brick Road Pub in Tulsa, Oklahoma

"I didn't know what a gem that Herz was until people started to come in and tell me. I made it what I wanted it to be and, turns out, that's what everybody was looking for. It's a certain vibe that Herz has that I had not found at any other bars. But I don't think that comes from brick-and-mortar. I think that comes from the heart; you just love people very deeply. … Here in the South, people like who they like. Well, I make sure that everybody is welcome. This is your space, regardless of what your sexual orientation is, what your color of your skin is. This is your place."
— Rachel Smallman, co-owner of Herz in Mobile, Alabama

"There are so many parts of a physical space, it's not just a bar anymore, it's a meeting place. It's a think tank. It is a place to be safe. That's something that a lot of people don't think about when they think about spaces like lesbian bars, they are like "it's a bar right, whatever." But it's not. We have people come in from all walks of life and you can share those walks of life with other people and help educate others and help understand others. It's also a safe space. In my time at ALOHO, I have met multiple people who were not safe in their home, very young. And for us to be able to say, "I have a phone tree of people that you can go to, people who will keep you safe, if you need housing, if you need food."
— Ally Spaulding, general manager of A League of Her Own in Washington, D.C.

"The whole revolution, if you want to call it that, started in Stonewall, a bar. Luckily, Cubbyhole does have a diverse group of people that come, and you can see older people talking to the younger people about what it was like and what happened. A lot of times the younger generation doesn't realize just how difficult it was. To lose that touch of history, it would be a very sad thing. Lesbians contributed to gay rights just as much as anybody else, just as much as gay men. I feel like without the bar, we're losing our visibility. During the AIDS crisis, when the men became too sick to fight, we fought for them. We were there marching when they couldn't. And we need our spaces and our mark, we cannot become invisible. And the bar is one way not to.
— Lisa Menichino, owner of Cubbyhole in New York

"You lose a place to be yourself, and that's across the board. If our bar was to close down, there are lots of people — bi, straight, lesbian, trans, all of it — that would lose a place that they could be themselves. Because that's what we do. You can be a terrible karaoke singer, and we don't care. It's as simple as those things that you can do anywhere. It's easier now than it used to be to go to a regular restaurant with your girlfriend or a regular bar with your girlfriend. But it's still in the corner of your mind 'Who's over in the corner watching us?' or 'Who's that creepy person?' And in the lesbian bars and in the gay bars, it's important because it's a space where you can just be yourself."
— Ann Harris, co-owner of Frankie's in Oklahoma City

"One thing to keep in mind that I do think it's important to bring up is that when you have a lesbian bar in a city and obviously with only 21 in the nation, you have to think that these customers aren't living around the corner, which a lot of bars and pubs and such and such, their customers live within the vicinity, or you might have a live music venue or something where people drive, but they only get busy on Fridays and Saturdays. And that's kind of the same when you think of a lesbian bar. We have women driving from 50 miles away just to go out and sometimes even from Austin, from San Antonio. So our clientele is not just congested in the area. And that was the hard part about them supporting us because they couldn't just drive over to pick up a steak to-go, you know. So that was also another reason why it was hard for us to generate revenue during the pandemic. "
— Julie Mabry, owner of Pearl Bar in Houston–

What do these spaces need to survive?

In a photo taken before the coronavirus pandemic, Herz staffers and patrons share a moment on the bar's patio. Photo courtesy of Herz

"They need lesbians. We can't survive without them. We need lesbians to realize that these are your spaces and you have a certain responsibility to come and help us and support us and help them survive."
— Lisa Menichino, owner of Cubbyhole in New York

"People need to come and support. They need to support their local spaces. They need to frequent them. They need to buy merchandise. They need to support them. Things like those are ways that you can support them, but mostly you need to frequent them. You can't just come out every two years and think that that place is going to stay. That doesn't work that way."
— Audrey Corley, owner of Boycott Bar in Phoenix

"[This bar] has been around for 40 years. It's been some form of a gay bar for a long time. And there's a whole bunch of history still in that building. For us, we didn't want to see our local hangout die. So, we took a risk and bought it. We met some really good people in the beginning that helped us with [understanding what the community was looking for.] And I was thankful for that. We've put a lot of work into it, but the community really did, too. We would try [new] ideas and when they worked, they went on the books and when they didn't, we put a new one in. Really, the only thing we need is for our community to support our community. Yes, there's lots of those like retro pubs and stuff that are going in, and they're new and cool and that, but they're corporate. Don't forget that we're here."
— Ann Harris, co-owner of Frankie's in Oklahoma City

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