Femme Bar

The Lesbian Bar Boom

BY Olivia Winters | July 3, 2024

In 2019, there was a new kind of gay panic on the map. When Dr. Greggor Mattson, professor and chair of sociology at Oberlin College, researched how many LGBT bars were left in the United States in 2019, he could find only 15 lesbian bars. Between 2007 and 2019, the already-low number of lesbian bars in the U.S. had dropped by 51.6%. When Mattson published his research, it sparked a wave of op-ed eulogies for sapphic saloons. 

Mattson had created a census using old Damron guides. Bob Damron’s Address Books, as they were called in the mid–20th century, were printed guides to gay-friendly spaces, mostly bars, whose locations were crowdsourced by members of the LGBT community. He and his team modernized the logs by consulting social media and other online sources. “For us, it needed to be referred to as a gay bar by at least five sources online,” Mattson says. “We let local people define what counts as a lesbian bar, and we’re tallying up these online mentions on Instagram or Tiktok.”

However, though a slurry of think pieces lamented ”the death of the lesbian bar,” there was more to the story. Mattson’s research also found that between 2007 and 2019 listings for bars serving people of color declined by 59.3%, a larger proportional decrease than that of lesbian bars, and the decline in lesbian bars was, in a way, old news. 

“People are really obsessed with the narrative of lesbian bar decline.” Mattson says. “Yet very few of these stories comment on the fact that the decline of lesbian bars happened in the early 90s. Lesbian bars have doubled in the last five years, they’re opening at a faster rate than almost any other kind of [queer] bar.” 

It’s true, since 2020 there’s been a mini-boom of new lesbian bars. The number has sprung from 15 up to at least 21, though others, like Erica Rose and Elina Street of The Lesbian Bar Project, now report there may be as many as 33 lesbian bars. 

This new generation of lesbian bars differs in a few ways from the lesbian bars of the past. For many of the spaces that have opened since 2020, there isn’t the luxury of just being a bar. Rather, these businesses must wear many hats as hybrid spaces, operating as music venues, community meeting hubs, and rentable event spaces during the day. They are also more mixed-gender. In the early 1990s, there was a move in the general culture away from the gender segregation of the 70s.  By the early 2000s, the most common type of gay bar had become an integrated one. Today’s lesbian bars often make a point to be inclusive of all genders, including those who are non-binary and trans. For this reason, they may prefer to call themselves queer bars, a term that, unlike lesbian, does not designate a single gender.  

Otherwise, the lesbian bar scene in the United States is as varied as any other. They exist across the country and run the gamut from wine bars that marinate olives in fennel pollen to sports bars that serve ribs. Here are a few to get you started

The Ruby Fruit, Los Angeles

3510 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026

Nestled in a strip mall on Sunset Boulevard, The Ruby Fruit welcomes queer folk of all stripes for lunch, dinner and a roster of chilled natural wines. Owners Mara Herbkersman and Emily Bielagus set up shop in 2023, filling the gap left by the closing of several Los Angeles lesbian bars in the past decade. Bright pink and yellow walls frame the small wine bar, while white-speckled countertops serve up vegan hotdogs and warmed olive bowls marinated with fennel pollen (god bless Los Angeles). Named for Rita Mae Brown’s The Rubyfruit Jungle, this bar is already a cool local staple for femmes to meet and eat, with a line at the door before opening most nights.

Mary’s Bar, Brooklyn

Photo courtesy of Mary’s Bar Brooklyn

134 Kingsland Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 11222

Opened in 2023 as a sister bar to Ginger’s, Mary’s puts Irish hospitality and friendliness at the forefront. Named for the mother of owner Brendan Donohue, the cozy, dimly lit pub has no mounted television sets in order to promote conversation and connection. A code of conduct posted at the door of the Brooklyn public house informs patrons that they are entering a queer space and that respect is mandatory. Prop yourself on a wooden stool at the bar, outdoor patio, or in front of the wall-to-wall front windows, and stick around for trivia night, live trad tunes and (maybe after a couple of pints) Irish dance lessons.

The Sports Bra, Portland

2512 NE Broadway, Portland, OR 97232

Caitlin Clark fans rejoice: The only bar we know of dedicated to women’s sports opened in Portland in 2022. Snag a booth and you’ll see a medley of jerseys, team banners, trophies, and feminist art prints strung up across the pub’s back wall. Owner and basketball fanatic Jenny Nguyen first had the idea in 2018, and was finally able to open the business after her crowdsourcing campaign raked in over $100,000. Take a look at the food menu and you’ll see typical sports bar fare — ribs, sliders — plus an unusual addition, a kids menu. The Sports Bra is open to children until 10 p.m., a way to support Portland’s youth athletes and encourage girls to stay in sports.

Femme Bar, Worcester, Mass.

Photo courtesy of Femme Bar

62 Green Street, Suite 2, Worcester, MA 01604

Dreamt up by married co-owners in 2020, Femme Bar holds the title of the only lesbian bar in New England. Queer women from all over the region come to Worcester, Mass., around 50 miles west of Boston, to spend a Saturday night washed in exposed pink lighting and divey dark wood panels. The full dinner menu of flatbread pizzas, wings and Mediterranean-leaning share plates makes it easy to hunker down through the Massachusetts winter nights. Though they close relatively early — midnight on the weekends — there’s community programming nearly all hours of the daytime. Check them out for their monthly Sunday drag events, trivia, All Ages Femme Brunches, Mom to Mom meetups, Tarot readings and book clubs.

Dorothy, Chicago

Photo courtesy of MK Joss

2500 West Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622

Dorothy’s is a sultry, subterranean cocktail lounge in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood. Shuttered just a month after opening in 2020 due to COVID, this art deco haunt had its grand reopening in July 2022, making it Chicago’s second lesbian bar after Nobody’s Darling. Stuffed with velvet-upholstered couches, potted ferns and disco balls, the earth-toned basement bar is accessible only through an unmarked red door on street level. Friends of Dorothy who know where to go can get house cocktails crafted by bar lead Caitria Mikesell. Monthly programming here includes a Silent Book Club and Fruit Salad, a queer open mic featuring music, poetry and stand-up. 

Take a look at the other lesbian bars in the U.S. here.