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Henrietta Hudson
Photograph: Molly Adams/ Henrietta Hudson

New York’s last remaining lesbian bars could be in danger

Bars like Henrietta Hudson, Ginger's and Cubbyhole aren’t as much a destination for cocktails as they are about community.

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In New York City, there are basically only three bars left intended to specifically create a space for the lesbian community: Henrietta Hudson in the West Village, Cubbyhole (also in the Village) and Ginger’s of Park Slope, though other venues such as Clinton Hill’s C’mon Everybody and the East Village’s No Bar as well as nights such as Misster at The Woods, the Be Cute parties, Queer Soup Night and Open Flame are also part of the inclusive nightlife scene. Still, it’s an astonishing number that reflects how endangered these bars were prior to our current climate (Bum Bum in Woodside, Queens closed in 2019); by contrast, there are more than quadruple as many gay bars across the five boroughs.

The city has allowed bars that offer food to remain open for to-go cocktails and beers. But the thing about places like Henrietta Hudson—said to be the longest standing lesbian bar in the country—is that they aren’t as much a destination for great cocktails as they are about community. That doesn’t lend itself to the to-go business model during a time when contact is feared: “The decision to close was easy. Our client base is tri-state, it’s national and even international. Our clients don’t live in West Village anymore,  so that wouldn’t work here. Most residents of the West Village have second homes that they’ve gone off to,” shares owner, Lisa Cannistraci in an interview with Time Out New York. For what it’s worth, she refers to her spot as a “lesbian-centric bar for queer humans,” evolving over the years like so many bars, to reflect fluidity. Also, like many other bars across the city, she has launched a GoFundMe for her space

Henrietta Hudson

 

Photograph: Molly Adams/ Henrietta Hudson

 

Bars like Henrietta Hudson do more than just offer a place to drink for like-minded folks. “We host groups like Trans in the Wild, a trans-masc group, which, for a lack of a better term, helps them be supported and assimilate back into society... They do monthly parties with us and there’s always something here for the whole gender spectrum.” 

Last year, Eater’s Meghan McCarron lamented Los Angeles’ bar scene, currently home to precisely zero lesbian bars, writing, “For the vast majority of queer people, community is something attained in adulthood, and it can’t be built in even the most welcoming straight-dominated settings, state-sanctioned marriage or not. The loss of queer spaces threatens to destroy much more than a comfortable night out — everything from future romantic relationships to political organizing is at risk, including the opportunity to build solidarity between cis and trans queers.” 

Cannistraci is positive that she’ll reopen Henrietta Hudson when it’s safe to do so (in 2016, she was able to negotiate a 15-year lease that she fought hard for), but will not be opening until she can open at full capacity, both because the lines would be down the block for the dancefloor and because it wouldn’t be lucrative enough. Others may not be as lucky. 

With Pride coming up in June, this will be the first year that Henrietta Hudson will be closed since its opening in 1991: “The joy coming up off of World Pride, the electricity of that will keep me going,” she says. 

There is hope for the next generation of queer spaces in New York. Despite the financial hardships of the current era, Cannistraci is feeling positive that commercial rent decline could actually make it easier for more small businesses to gain their footing and try something new. 

Spots like Butch Judy’s, which originally opened back in 2019 as a queer-friendly pop-up for natural wine, fries and conversation in the East Village have had to rethink plans. “Things are so weird right now. No one even knows what normal will look like when bars can reopen,”  said Katie Zanin, one of Butch Judy’s co-founders. In the meantime, Zanin and her business partner Cassidy Gardner have decided to put a pause on opening up a physical space and instead will focus their efforts on producing their own line of vermouth and then figure out pop-up parties around the product. “If things go back to normal in the next year, [opening our own bar] is not off the table,” she says. “When I moved to New York I met all my friends at Cubbyhole; it’s been welcoming to so many. I really do think we’re still moving in a positive direction for queer spaces in New York.” 

Henrietta Hudson

 

Photograph: Molly Adams/ Henrietta Hudson

 

Time Out New York reached out to Ginger’s and Cubbyhole but did not hear back at the time of publishing. 

 

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