Little Black Book

Where's Your Pride? I Found Mine at the Old-School Lesbian Hangouts in NYC

by Helena Madrid
Celebrate Pride. Photo courtesy of Hot Rabbit.

Every day should be Pride day, but Stonewall's 50th anniversary calls for a particularly special celebration. Popupla contributor Helena Madrid explores a few old NYC classics along with a few new, all-inclusive LGBTQ party scenes for those visiting for the first time.

NEW YORK CITY – As a bisexual person new to New York City, I've been looking for good spots to mingle and make new friends, particularly queer people who might welcome me into their community. I've been on the search for such places since I was a teenager, and because I've traveled a fair amount, I know this is sometimes a tough endeavor. I come from Mexico, where such establishments can be hard to find. I've always enjoyed going to gay bars and clubs, but they seem to be filled with gay men and straight women. Where are the lesbians, those mythical creatures?

I hoped New York would be the exception, so I started asking around and exploring the streets. And I found that the old standbys prevail. Those classic lesbian bars are are fun, friendly, welcoming, and diverse. I also noticed a trend of traditionally straight bars hosting lesbian nights, thrown for and hosted by the ladies, for the ladies, but I'll save that for another story. Below is a primer for first-timers like me. Note: None of these places charge a cover.


Manhattan Classics

Cubbyhole

The decorations at Cubbyhole. Photo by Helena Madrid.

Cubbyhole
281 W. 12th St.; +1-212-243-9041
A ten-minute walk north of Christopher Street leads to a cozy little bar filled with piñatas and paper party decorations — no matter the time of year. This makes it particularly festive for birthday celebrations or anytime you want to feel celebratory. It's too small not to make conversation with your neighbor, who could be a young twentysomething or a sassy fiftysomething. Happy hour drinks are some of the cheapest around, so order a seasonal mojito for yourself and your new friend.

Good to Know: Tuesdays and weekends are especially crowded (in a good way). That it is cash-only feels like a downside to me — I like the option of being able to order another drink even if I don't have the money for it (thanks, credit card!). There is not much space to move, let alone dance, but people will try nevertheless. (Guilty as charged.) Patrons control the jukebox, but if the bartenders don't think your selection works with the vibe, they'll change it.

Stonewall Inn
Photo courtesy of Stonewall Inn.

The Stonewall Inn
53 Christopher St.; 212-488-2705
Not technically a lesbian-only spot, the bar that's the historic heart of the gay rights movement is the absolute classic on so many levels. I have a weakness for karaoke, but I couldn't drum up the courage to sing. Those brave enough to do so may be backed by singers and dancers. Walking into what seemed like a non-special drag show on the second floor one night, I was blown away by a queen who did a flip into a perfect split, heels and all. Multiple times!

Good to Know: Stonewall Inn has it all: karaoke, drag shows, pool, dancing, inclusive bathrooms, a VIP section, and even straight people (haha). As with Henrietta Hudson, Stonewall Inn is an inclusive and safe space. The bathrooms have a sign welcoming everyone, without limitations of sex or gender identity.

Henrietta Hudson
438 Hudson St.; +1-212-924-3347
I think of this place as the Cubbyhole's older sister. It's bigger, the crowd is even more diverse, and it is a riot. (Bonus: cash and cards accepted.) The music is classic across all genres — salsa, rock, pop — my dream come true. (My friends make fun of me for not being up-to-date with the latest songs and artists.) I visited with a straight girlfriend, and she was absolutely mesmerized by the womxn dancing. She said they looked like they were enjoying it without any "motive," i.e. to provoke male attention. A stupid generalization, sure, but it felt very different from a straight bar. We were touched to see a pair in their 60s dancing in a sweet and romantic way. Next to them were a group of women in their 20s bouncing around enthusiastically with smiles that went from ear to ear.

Good to Know: If you are done dancing and want to chill, head to the back side of the bar and play pool. If you are feeling adventurous, ask strangers to join the game. It's a nice way to break the ice and hopefully make new friends. Henrietta Hudson is a sensitive and safe space for those who identify as transgender as well: The bathrooms are all-inclusive, taking the stress out of that simple but charged action.

Brooklyn Arrivals

Union Pool
Calm before the storm. Photo courtesy of Union Pool.

Union Pool
484 Union Ave., Brooklyn; +1-718-609-0484
Like the Woods, this Williamsburg dive host a PAT party monthly (a party for anyone from anywhere wearing anything and loving who they want), which is very popular.

Good to Know: The space is big, has two indoors bars, space to dance, and a backyard hang with a bar and food truck.

The Woods
48 S. 4th St., Brooklyn; no phone
Okay, so technically my favorite lesbian hangout is not in a lesbian bar. But the Woods hosts a lesbian night every Wednesday. It's quite big, with an indoor bar, a dance floor, and a patio with its own bar and bar menu (a major perk). It's fair to say that there is a hipster ambiance, and the patio seems to be the epicenter. Since I've been in New York, I haven't seen more lesbian women with so many different styles, all looking beautiful and so very cool.

Good to Know: The bar gets crowded around midnight, accepts cards and cash, and serves really basic drinks. (In other words, don't expect anything special.) The true charm of this place is the vibe you feel while here. Women dance fiercely: The crowds sing along to the music as if their lives depended on it. Different guest DJs mix it up and never disappoint. The bar caters to mainly a young crowd, though everyone is welcome. Downside: The bathroom lines get long.

Papi Juice
Stylin' flyers for the Papi Juice party. Photo courtesy of Papi Juice.

Roving Parties

There are some organizations that throw safe-space, LGBTQ parties like:

Hot Rabbit, a spectacle that includes aerialists, go-go dancers, late-night food, and strobe lights.

Bubble T, a dance party celebrating queer Asian visibility ("slaysians").

Papi Juice, an art collective and creative propping up the lives of queer and trans people of color.

R&She, the self-proclaimed Queens of Hip Hop and R&B.

More Things to Celebrate

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When Malaysia Has a Party, You'll Be on the Guest List
Where to Go for a Thrilling 30th Birthday