“I Felt This Sense of Coming Home.” The Importance of Lesbian Bars Like Cubbyhole and Henrietta Hudson.

by Kinsey

So I walk into Stonewall, and it’s all men, which is fine. But I’d really been craving a space with other queer women; that’s why I moved to New York.

I’m Kinsey and I’m from Detroit, Michigan.

Almost three years ago, I moved to New York from Detroit. I moved here for many reasons, one of them being, that I was looking for more jobs in my industry, but also because I was looking for a cohesive lesbian scene, which, at the time, Detroit did not have. And I moved here right before the pandemic started. So December 2019, before any of us knew what was going to happen.

I lived with some friends in Harlem for a couple of weeks. And on one of my first nights out, I decided I was going to go out on the town. I got dressed up. I went to one of the Whitney Museum’s “Give What You Can” days. And then afterwards, I decided I’m going to have a drink.

First night out, I’m going to go to this bar close to the Whitney. And it was a straight bar. And I’m at the bar. I get my drink. And I’m suddenly jostled by this straight girl, drunk. I was like, I don’t want to deal with this. I don’t want to be in this space. I finish my drink. I head out. I decide to go down to the West Village.

And it’s snowing. And it’s that really light, feathery soft snow that really catches the sound. And it’s very romantic. And there were Christmas lights that were twinkling. And the tree limbs are shivering. And I remember just looking around and being, Wow. Gay. It’s gay.

So I walk into Stonewall, and it’s all men, which is fine. But I’d really been craving a space with other queer women; that’s why I moved to New York. And so, I have a couple of drinks at Stonewall, and I make my way down the street to where Cubbyhole, one of the two lesbian bars in Manhattan, is. I hadn’t been there before. I’d heard so many great things about it.

So, I finally arrive. The ceiling is full of all these sparkly decorations. And you can feel how sticky the floor is with beer. And it’s just crammed. It’s packed with women. Wall-to-wall women. The windows are kind of foggy. And I just remember this feeling of belonging, in awe, just settling over me. It was incredible. I felt this sense of coming home.

So, I make my way to the bar. And I end up sitting next to this woman who was getting some attention she didn’t want from another woman who was at the bar. And I was like, “Can I sit here? Are you sure? I don’t want to mess up your night.” And this woman’s, “No, you can stay. Don’t worry about it.” Basically, I stayed and chatted up this woman.

Eventually, we relocated to Henrietta Hudson, which is the other lesbian bar in Manhattan. I walked in there, and it was the exact opposite of Cubbyhole. It was a bit emptier. It was a bit quieter. But I remember they had reruns of The L Word playing on their screen. Whatever. It is what it is. It’s a show that’s very polarizing in the community. But we end up going in there. I walk up to the bar, and the bartender asked me what I’m going to have to drink. I told her I wanted a beer.

And she said, “You should come by. We watch reruns of The L Word on…” I think it was Saturdays. She says, “We have this community here that we get together, and we watch it. And we basically throw popcorn at the movie… at the TV.” It was the first time that I’d experienced something like community, of these women who just come to this place. And we sit in each other’s presence and enjoy each other’s presence. That, to me, was really something new and something I hadn’t experienced before.

About a year later, and this is after the pandemic started, we’ve been shut down, nothing is open. The queers are in disarray. “What are we going to do?” And then finally, Cubbyhole reopens. I took one of my newly-out friends, new lesbian. So we walk in, we set up station near the front of the bar. And as she and I are talking and conversing, I’m looking around the room. And I see another woman… I guess, you know, an older millennial woman walk in with her partner. And her face just lights up. And I can recognize that sense of awe and that sense of belonging that’s on her face, because that was the same look that was on my face, I imagine, when I first came into Cubbyhole.

But it really just painted the picture for me of how important these faces are for lesbians and queer women and how important lesbian bars have been for our community and how they will continue to be moving forward. But truly just an indescribable time. And to be surrounded by so many women-loving women was a really transformative part of moving here to New York. And now I go pretty regularly, so catch me at Cubbyhole if you want to.

It’s important for me that other lesbians and queer women know that there is a space for them. And it’s not to say that there aren’t gay or generic queer bars that we can’t go to. However – comma – specificity is important. And having somewhere that you know is specific to you and caters to you and prioritizes who you are; there’s something very powerful in that moment, rather than if you walk into a gay male bar. Yes, this is community. Yes, these are our gay brothers and our gay siblings or queer siblings. But there’s still that little bit of loneliness, if you’re still the only woman in the room. Whereas, if you’re in a room full of other women, you immediately feel at home. At least I do.

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