Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

The queer community rallies behind their sacred spaces closed because of COVID-19

The Cubbyhole bar in the West Village closed on February 21, 2021. Photo by Inga Parkel

The lights are dim, the jukebox tunes are drowning out the sounds of conversations, and every inch of space is taken over by lax bodies leaning against walls and lounging on barstools. At least that was the scene pre-pandemic before New York City’s lesbian gemstone Cubbyhole bar had to shut its doors in March 2020. 

With COVID-19  devastating much of the country’s nightlife, many restaurants and bars have been hurting, especially the last standing 15 lesbian bars across America. 

Erica Rose, director and co-founder of the Lesbian Bar Project, February 16, 2021. Photo Courtesy of Erica Rose.

Erica Rose, a Brooklyn-based filmmaker, alongside her friend Elina Street banned together to create the Lesbian Bar Project, a four-week fundraiser in the fall of 2020.

“Our goal was to spread the message, spread the word, spread the urgency, and raise money to give some assistance to the bars,” said Rose. 

As a filmmaker, Rose wanted it to be a film project. So she and her team produced a 90-second PSA video to shed light on the significance of these spaces. 

They teamed up with Jägermaester’s #SAVETHENIGHT, an initiative created to support the nightlife community, and gained immense exposure to successfully raise $117,504 to distribute between the 15 bars. 

Well before the pandemic, lesbian bars have been on the decline. According to Rose, this has been an ongoing issue caused heavily by gentrification amid other factors. 

“These spaces are getting devoured by rising rents. They are getting devoured by a client base that is being squashed by heterosexual people. It’s being devoured by now the pandemic,” said Rose. 

It wasn’t until the pandemic acted as a catalyst forcing Rose to take stock of what was most precious to her that she was surprised to learn there were only 15 lesbian bars left. A number nowhere near resemblant of the 8.5 million queer women in the United States. 

“There needs to be space for people to grow, and learn, and experiment. And the fact that there are so few means that we really need to realize how precious those few are,” said Ashley Coia, a New York-based actor.

Along with gentrification bringing in younger generations, it brought with them the world of online dating and a wider acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, lessening the need for queer-centric spaces. However, the importance of these spaces remains crucial, as they offer many a safe place to experiment without unwanted and unwelcome spectators. 

“It was the space that I went the most when I was trying to find myself as a queer woman,” said Coia. “Spaces like Cubbyhole I would go because I just felt so safe there. I could hit on a woman and not worry that a man was going to come up and harass me for it.”

A bar is more than a place to drink in the queer community, it often acts as a creator of community, a place to socialize. 

“What a bar to me is, is a place where you can meet all walks of life,” said Rose. “Walking into Cubbyhole and seeing queer women together and the comradery and the friendship and the community. I was drawn, I was hooked.”

Ali Clayton, a comedian from North Carolina, February 16, 2021. Photo Courtesy of Ali Clayton

For Ali Clayton, a comedian who has been sober since 2018, it was difficult for her to go to social events that involved drinking when she first recovered. But Henrietta Hudson, another lesbian bar in Manhattan offered alternative ways, like trivia nights and dancing, for Clayton to enjoy herself in good company. 

Clayton described the emotions that the atmosphere of queer spaces elicits as “freeing” and “validating.” 

She expressed that exclusive spaces made for lesbians promote a safe place and different energy that allows her to feel confident to hit on a woman without the fear that she might be straight. 

Despite the waning number of lesbian bars, The Lesbian Bar Project’s efforts prove the vitality of the lesbian community, showing that they won’t let their spaces be eradicated.

And as long as things go as planned, The Cubbyhole Bar hopes to reopen in March, and Rose can’t wait to join her friends and her community to celebrate the bar’s rebellion.

“I always believe that queer women are the most loyal audience,” said Rose. “If you give us something…we will show up.”

 


Tags


Other Stories in Special Report: Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Life returns to the East Village

Quincy Walter May 5, 2021

Reopening for Ramadan

Hassan Abbas May 4, 2021

And the band played on

Xavier Bartaburu May 2, 2021

Queens residents mourn at Covid vigil

Annie Burky May 2, 2021

Floating for Free: COVID and the Staten Island Ferry

Trish Rooney May 2, 2021

COVID-19 has left many Black and Hispanic landlords in serious debt

Norah Hogan April 24, 2021

Village East movie theater reopens to the public

Inga Parkel April 13, 2021

Chinese adoptions halted by COVID

Inga Parkel March 24, 2021

Remote is the new workplace normal

Courtney Guarino March 24, 2021

One year of COVID-19 in New York City

Michelle Diaz March 16, 2021

COVID long haulers deal with lingering symptoms and doubt

Kaity Assaf March 5, 2021

Pandemic Weddings

Chuyan Jiang March 2, 2021

Pandemic fatigue 101

Chuyan Jiang February 28, 2021

Yankee Stadium becomes COVID-19 vaccine site for Bronx residents only

Michelle Diaz February 24, 2021

Street vendors struggle as New Yorkers and tourists stay home

Norah Hogan February 13, 2021

Keeping the faith in COVID-19

Courtney Guarino February 3, 2021

Little Italy’s restaurants need indoor dining to survive pandemic

Michelle Diaz February 2, 2021

Stray pets find homes and love during pandemic

Inga Parkel February 1, 2021

No Actors, But the Show Goes On

James Pothen December 5, 2020

New York City, a place of refuge 

Edith Rousselot December 4, 2020

Commuting in a pandemic world

Michelle Diaz December 3, 2020

Battling food insecurities during a pandemic

Courtney Guarino December 3, 2020

Adaptation

Justin McGown December 3, 2020

Honk!: Cars earn a special spot in 2020

Luana Harumi December 3, 2020

Working out looks very different during a pandemic

Chuyan Jiang December 2, 2020

One kitchen’s transformation in the age of isolation

Isabel Beer December 2, 2020

Nursing homes are filled with sadness and loss during pandemic shut down

Inga Parkel December 1, 2020

The show goes on

Norah Hogan December 1, 2020

Loyal members help keep independent cinemas afloat

Courtney Guarino December 1, 2020

Musicians deal with the reality of no live shows as covid takes center stage

Paola Michelle Ortiz December 1, 2020

 Black Friday’s Aftermath

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi November 30, 2020

The Spirit of Little Haiti

Savannah Daniels October 14, 2020

Small business owners hope for future relief

Courtney Guarino October 2, 2020

Brooklyn Book Festival held virtually

Chuyan Jiang September 28, 2020

NYC Restaurant owners worry about maintaining business during winter 

Isabel Beer September 27, 2020

The pandemic is causing mental health struggles for many Latinos

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 24, 2020

Politically divided family can agree on one thing, rallies are bad during a pandemic

Michelle Diaz September 23, 2020

New Yorkers are vulnerable to mental issues due to pandemic

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 23, 2020

Healthcare professionals struggle with Trump’s decisions during pandemic

Tori Luecking September 23, 2020

Some Americans Say “Not So Fast” on Operation Warp Speed

James Pothen September 23, 2020

Trump voters unfazed by morality of Trump’s Covid response

Norah Hogan September 22, 2020

Trump rallies continue, despite the rising Covid-19 death toll

Isabel Beer September 22, 2020

Latinos weigh in on President Trump’s management of the pandemic

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 21, 2020

Fast track vaccine causes fear

Kaity Assaf September 21, 2020

It’s business as usual at McSorley’s Old Ale House

Tori Luecking September 20, 2020

Trump defiance to hold indoor rallies amidst COVID-19 sparks polarized responses 

Courtney Guarino September 20, 2020

NYC Cafes and restaurants try and survive the pandemic

Isabel Beer September 19, 2020

A typical afternoon at Shade Bar NYC

Kaity Assaf September 19, 2020

West Village staple, Caffe Reggio, remains open for outdoor dining in the wake of coronavirus restrictions 

Norah Hogan September 19, 2020

Fort Greene’s Dino adds outdoor dining to keep business flowing

Courtney Guarino September 19, 2020