the Boyfriend Co-op founders
Photograph: Marissa Fortugno | Boyfriend Co-op

There’s an exciting resurgence of lesbian bars in NYC

These new spots are heralding the future of queer female spaces in NYC.

Advertising

Decades ago, New York City was home to a plethora of lesbian bars in every borough. Beach Haven on Staten Island drew in women’s softball teams and professionals in the 1970s and 1980s; 70 Grove Street wasn’t a pizza place but popular dance clubs Duchess, Grove and Pandora’s Box; Crazy Nannies collected a diverse crowd in The Village from 1991-2004; Bum Bum Bar offered lesbian Latinas in Queens a place to dance from 1991-2018; and the list of long-gone space continues.

In a city with dozens of gay bars (gay men have clubs, lounges, cabarets, sports bars, karaoke bars, piano bars and dive bars), so few remain for lesbians, with none opening in the last 30 years. Until now. 

Since 2022, New York City has more than doubled its lesbian spaces, going from three mainstays—Cubbyhole, Henrietta Hudson and Ginger’s (all well-loved modernized relics from the 1990s)—to six, and counting! Oddly Enough, a lesbian-owned queer cocktail bar in Bed-Stuy offers pepperoncini martinis and brown butter deviled eggs in a chic chandelier-lit dining room. Mary’s, a sibling bar to Ginger’s, Park Slope’s only lesbian bar, opened a Greenpoint pub in April 2023. The Bush, a grassroots neighborhood opened in Bushwick in April 2023, regularly filling up since its very first night and attracting a stream of regulars to sip cocktails, dance and feel safe and seen.

“This is exactly what we wanted,” says Nikke Alleyne, who co-founded The Bush with longtime friend Justine LaViolette (they met at The Woods, of course). “This is community. This is our home. It’s exciting to see the space form its own identity, take on a life of its own.” As opposed to a weekly party, The Bush offers a consistent space for people to drop in whenever they want to be surrounded by community space. The spontaneity is valuable, especially in a city with so many lesbians and queer folks, and so few steady options, especially not centered around cis gay men. 

“I always wanted a bar like what I imagined Cheers would be,” says Loretta Andro Chung, co-founder of Dyke Beer. “The Bush is really just nice. The owners are lovely and they have great cocktails and diversity. It’s a Dyke Bar, but they are inclusive.” Chung visited The Bush every day in its first few weeks of opening and has noticed a post-pandemic movement of more lesbian and queer spaces opening in New York (and beyond). 

This is community. This is our home.

Still, the route to creating any business in New York isn’t easy. “It’s wild how hard it is to open a space in New York,” says LaViolette. Real estate, liquor authority processes and monetary restrictions meant The Bush, a project the co-founders built from the ground up with their community (check out the handmade benches and sparkly bar top), took years of planning, saving and patience for licenses to come through. Even with early success, The Bush’s owners are fully aware that lesbian spaces have struggled in New York in the past, but can see The Bush as a forever project thanks to a new generation that knows what it’s like to assimilate in heterosexual culture, and still very much desire dedicated queer, lesbian and trans space. 

“There was a cultural shift that happened. We said goodbye to dyke bars, but we still want them,” LaViolette says. “We now have more language and discussion around space and a deeper understanding of what this space is. We’re not just for cis lesbians, we have an expanded definition and it’s powerful.”

Most importantly, The Bush is one of several options to visit any given night of the week—perhaps for Slutty Punch Wednesdays when batched cocktails are $8 or speed dating or bingo nights—or, it’s not someone’s first stop on a queer bar crawl, and that’s okay. “Optionality is number one,” says Alleyne. “We love all the existing bars.”  

Sapphic spaces are in demand

In addition to New York’s newest lesbian bars, Maite, a lesbian-owned Bushwick restaurant lush with lesbian paraphernalia (lesbian film posters and sapphic artwork) hosts queer brunch parties, women’s soccer game viewings, and Bushlickers comedy nights. The East Village’s HAGS offers women-led queer fine dining; pop-up parties and events abound, and still, all these spaces fill up regularly, showing a demand for more. 

We now have more language and discussion around space and a deeper understanding of what this space is.

“There aren’t enough nightlife spaces for queer women, or really many spaces for women to meet each other and spend time together,” says Austa Clausen, founder of Grotto, a sapphic cocktail bar concept. While a dance party at Henrietta’s promises a good time and maybe more and happy hour beers at Cubbyhole are a New York lesbian pastime, neither space is necessarily ideal for a first date, or romantic anniversary outing. 

“It’s important to have different spaces for different needs,” Clausen says. “As such a robust community, we need a place to enjoy a nice drink, celebrate a birthday, bring a date, catch up with friends. Grotto is a place for the queer community and women to feel intentionality. You can meet new people without fear of judgment or show PDA in this atmosphere.”

Initially, Clausen didn’t see Grotto as a pop-up (a common theme for the dozens of lesbian parties and events roving the city). She wanted a space with intentionality. But as any New Yorker knows, space is at a premium in New York, so Grotto started as a collaboration with Ludlow House, eventually moving to a biweekly pop-up at Talea Beer Co. Funding will start later this summer for investors to help the business open a full-time space. 

So far, Grotto has sold out all of its pop-ups and events, including a Pride party with popular boulangerie L’Appartement 4F for which tickets sold out in less than 15 minutes. “This was a shot in the dark, but I immediately realized this was something people were looking for,” Clausen says of the community Grotto is creating. “People want this. There should be all different types of queer bars and bars for queer women.” 

People want this. There should be all different types of queer bars and bars for queer women.

Even with these popular new additions, this crowded city has plenty of social space for many more lesbian venues. Boyfriend Co-op launched in the summer of 2022, with a range of pop-up and fundraising events to help create a community-owned and run coffee and cocktail cooperative “for gay gals & their pals.” They aim to open in Ridgewood in 2024 and will host parties, film screenings, clothing swaps and more in the meantime. Also in Queens, Dave’s Lesbian Bar has popped up in the streets and taken over spaces since 2021, when Astoria resident Dave Dausch decided to build a lesbian bar in their neighborhood. A crowdfunding campaign has well exceeded its $100,000 goal, with a Dave’s Lesbian Bar venue with live music every night, mutual aid by day, and a safe space for all queers, to open in a new New York, where lesbian bars aren’t the anomaly, but the norm. 

“So many lesbian spaces have closed down in the past decade, so it feels like we’re in a time of rebuilding. Physical spaces for queer women, trans folks, and nonbinary people to gather and build relationships are so important to our safety, healing, and joy,” says Hena Mustafa, co-founder of Boyfriend Coop. “Moreover, continuing to stimulate the queer economy is investing in our own community and abundant future. Intersectional spaces are also lacking, so creating space where BIPOC queer folks can be at the forefront of everything from ownership to cocktail curation feels more representative of the community we live in.”

NYC’s Lesbian Bars

  • West Village

For over 30 years, the lesbian-owned and operated Henrietta Hudson has been a West Village staple, slinging drinks for a large and eclectic crowd. DJs keep the party going until 4am on weekends, and there’s an outdoor patio for when the weather is nice, plus an adjacent covered street structure.

  • Dive bars
  • West Village

In a neighborhood with no shortage of LGBTQ+ venues, Cubbyhole stands out as the only lesbian dive bar. Cubbyhole charms us out of the water with its flying polka-dotted fish motif. While the kitschy decorations are certainly welcoming—paper Chinese lanterns, ornaments and the aforementioned fish hang from the ceiling and the stools are covered with cartoon characters—the bar’s main draw is the friendly gay and lesbian customers singing along to the top-notch jukebox tunes. Cash only, but there’s an ATM inside.

Advertising
  • Sports Bars
  • Park Slope

Women, trans and nonbinary folks rule this Kings County lesbian-owned establishment, but the full rainbow of gender and sexual identities are welcome to brighten the door. During warm months, visitors strolling over from Prospect Park continue to enjoy the weather in the beautiful back garden of the Park Slope bar, while indoor kids can shoot pool in the back room or play DJ at the jukebox.

A grassroots project created and funded by two local besties and lesbian bar enthusiasts in 2023, The Bush is Bushwick’s only lesbian bar, and it’s a vibe! Come to sip espresso martinis or classic cocktails at the bar or head in a little later in the evening to dance to a DJ playing under the many disco balls. Martini Tuesdays offer $2 off martinis and cosmos, Slutty Punch Wednesdays bring $8 cups of a seasonal punch, and Sundays offer $6 mimosas and $20 mimosa carafes.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by The Bush (@bushdykebar)

Advertising

A quick reno turned this longtime beer bar into Greenpoint’s only queer Irish pub! A sibling bar to Ginger’s in Park Slope, this indoor-outdoor bar is casual, friendly and constantly vibing with a queer playlist and good energy. Though it doesn’t boast a lesbian bar label, it’s a more modern rendition of its 23-year-old sibling and attracts a majority lesbian crowd. Most drinks are less than $10 and you can BYO snacks. A code of conduct aims to counter the typical cis-male-dominated space that’s typical to a New York Irish pub, creating a safe space for all employees and guests.

More of a restaurant than a bar (but don’t worry, there’s a bar you can sit at), Maite is a proudly lesbian-owned European-style Colombian restaurant in Bushwick. A lesbian and queer crowd frequents the small space, eccentrically decorated with lesbian paraphernalia (think vintage “L Word” posters) which also hosts queer comedy nights, queer vinyl nights, lesbian and drag brunch parties, and more.  

 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Maite (@maitebushwick)

Events for women-loving women

It’s Wednesday, which means plenty of cool queer women are packing into The Woods in Williamsburg. This long-standing party is beloved for the fun, diverse crowd it brings together. Folks of all ages, backgrounds and relationship statuses mingle while DJs play and drinks flow heavily. No cover.

Advertising

Leslie’s weekly parties rove through Brooklyn and Manhattan, featuring plenty of dancing, plus entertainment to help you unwind after a long week. Think drag performers, tarot readings, guest DJs and more. Mixers, markets, DJs and more keep Leslie’s pop-up events intriguing.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Leslie NYC (@theleslienyc)

Girl Social organizes all types of events each month, many of which don’t center around alcohol but do offer plenty of opportunities to mingle. Get-togethers include queer laser tag and bowling, queer-specific gallery walks, game nights, pool parties and more.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Girl Social (@girl.social)

Advertising

This pop-up sapphic cocktail bar launched at members’ only club Ludlow House in 2023, and since relocated to Talea Beer Co.’s taprooms in Williamsburg and Cobble Hill and Pebble Bar in Rockefeller Center. Now, the roving event is taking up residency at Casino in Chinatown.  Reservations are recommended and bar seats are reserved for singles eager to mingle over martinis. 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by grotto (@grotto.nyc)

This intersectional queer film festival for women and trans folks hosts regular events including The L Word screenings, short film nights and more. Events aim to bring queer cinema lovers together and are often under $20 to attend (and sometimes include beer or marijuana brand partnerships). 

Advertising

The veteran lesbian party promoter has been organizing some of the city’s best weekend events and dance parties for over a decade. Themed events pop up in clubs, bars and venues across the city, with plenty of dancing and debauchery until the early morning hours.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Hot Rabbit (@hotrabbitnyc)

Advertising

Update: The event is temporarily on hiatus so organizers can focus their energy on organizing for and supporting Gaza.

Running strong since 1998, Submit is NYC’s longest-running ink and play party by and for women and the trans community. The basement venue is certainly mysterious and sexy, and consent is of the highest priority for all attendees, who come in couples, groups and solo. 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by SubmitNYC (@submit.nyc)

This monthly (and sometimes more frequently) pop-up dinner series often takes place inside a community member’s home, and is a great way to break bread and party with a group of food and drink-loving WLW. Tickets are sliding scale prices and often sell out quickly.  

 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Babetown (@babetownnyc)

Advertising

Dyke Drag

This monthly drag show at Ginger’s brings out an enthusiastic crowd to watch drag artists of all backgrounds and styles take the stage for lip sync performances, dancing, comedy and more. 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by DYKE DRAG (@dykedrag)

Advertising

The Lesbian Agenda

Comedian Sophie Santos hosts a monthly variety show at The Bell House, welcoming queer female and nonbinary comics to entertain a like-minded audience. 

  • Things to do
  • Cultural centers
  • Meatpacking District

Head to Park Slope every Thursday evening to take part in an age-old lesbian tradition: Crafting. From 6:30-9:30pm each week, crafters will work on their own projects or chip into community crafts, such as communal blankets or protest panners) while chatting and sharing artistic tips. Tickets are free and required, as are face masks, for safety.

Advertising

Women’s Sports Games

So technically New York’s professional women’s sports teams aren’t lesbian events. But with plenty of openly queer women on the court at New York Liberty games, on the field at Gotham FC games and on the ice at PWHL New York games, you know the crowds are full of women loving women cheering on their favorite athletes (or just in the stands for the ambiance). According to Reddit, these games are some of the best places in the whole city to meet lesbians. 

Recommended
    You may also like
    You may also like
    Advertising