Girls don't want to have fun?
June 19, 2008 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Why are there so few lesbian bars in the NYC/Brooklyn area when compared to the high number of gay bars?

Obviously NYC is no San Francisco or West Hollywood when it comes to bars for gay women. I know about Park Slope outposts like Cattyshack and Ginger's, but when you look at NYC's seemingly countless roster of gay clubs, gay bars, gay beer gardens, gay burger joints, it seems more than incongruous. I realize that lesbians aren't as well-known for the partying lifestyle as their male counterparts, but they can't all be at home fending off lesbian bed-death, right?
posted by Viola to Society & Culture (31 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Don't get too excited about SF - there are only 2 lesbian bars in SF proper, and one in Oakland. This is something I've noticed for years, and it's been the case in every city I've live in (SF bay area, Seattle and Portland).

I've always attributed the gay/lesbian bar imbalance to two things: 1) women generally make less money than men and so have less disposable income to spend on booze and cover charges, and 2) lesbians are generally more likely to nest and a lot of people, once they're in a relationship, don't go out anymore.

I would also imagine that stereotypes of the above conditions would discourage people from wanting to open lesbian bars.
posted by smartyboots at 11:54 AM on June 19, 2008


what smartyboots said, but also, gay male culture in NYC tends to center around bars. Lesbians find other stuff to do :)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:00 PM on June 19, 2008


Austin's the same way - plenty of gay bars per capita, but the city can't seem to keep a girl bar open.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:02 PM on June 19, 2008


This question is a huuuge can o' worms-opener (and you know what worms attract? fish.) since it hinges on the major differences between gay men and lesbians. As smartyboots mentioned, pay difference is one; another is that lesbians reputedly don't just nest, they socialize through interlocking circles-of-friends (think potlucks).

DC also only has one dedicated lesbar, I believe.
posted by kittyprecious at 12:02 PM on June 19, 2008


Go to NY Liberty games and I'll bet you see lots of dykes! (Other WNBA teams draw that demographic, too.)
posted by Carol Anne at 12:12 PM on June 19, 2008


I realize this is a can of worms (apologies for the bed-death comment, it was in jest), but it seems that with a population of 8 million, there'd have to be enough beer-drinking lesbians to sustain more than 5 bars. As a bi woman, my friends and I are frustrated with the few lesbian bars that are open: the clientele is limited to hoodies and faux-hawks, the decor is pretty much the same, and they're all located within a mile of each other. Also, when you have a falling out with one regular, you have to start patroning another joint, so the options slim down quickly.

So it's just that lesbians (aside from all the ones I know) are less interested in drinking than in potlucks? That's pretty dismal.

Go to NY Liberty games and I'll bet you see lots of dykes! (Other WNBA teams draw that demographic, too.)

Thanks! But I'm not asking where to meet girls, just why the lezbars are so sparse in a huge, liberal city.
posted by Viola at 12:20 PM on June 19, 2008


Ha. Probably because there are a lot more out (literally & figuratively) gay men than gay ladies -- in this city and in general, sadly. Also I think gay girls tend to find a place and stick to it, rather than branching out. That said, there are a decent number of events & clubs in New York.

Here are some recommendations; I'm sure you know a lot of them already:

1. Cubbyhole (bar. I give it an A+) in the Village is pretty happening almost every night of the week.
2. As you mentioned: Cattyshack (club/bar/everything) & Gingers (bar), as you said. I like Cattyshack and Gingers, while a bit on the older side, is also pretty chill.
3. Henrietta Hudson (club) and Rubyfruit Bar & Grill (bar). Eh. Okay. Brooklyn's better.
4. Chueca (club) in Queens. Haven't been but have heard good things.
5. Lesbian-themed nights at non-lesbian bars (Starlette @ Angels & Kings -- went to it when it was at Orchid: good times. Also Girl Nation @ Nation in midtown & Friday @ Heaven in Chelsea)
6. Beast is a restaurant in Prospect Heights that has an understated lesbian vibe to it. I haven't been to Deborah in the Village, but that's another.
7. Bluestockings is a lesbian & women's-themed bookstore in LES. Crunchy.
8. Stonewall (bar) is supposedly mixed, but it's been mostly men when I've gone.

GO Magazine is a great resource; it's free and available in those red plastic newsstands all over the city.

Hey -- now that I look at the list, it's not all that bad! I love New York.

However, Meow Mix, R.I.P.
posted by MaddyRex at 12:24 PM on June 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd just to ditto everyone above--it's pretty well universal. Ottawa doesn't even have a lesbian bar; it has a gay bar (or two) with a lesbian night. Sigh.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 12:33 PM on June 19, 2008


Nthing that it seems universal. When I moved from Norfolk, VA to Philly, there were more girlbars in the former than the latter. WTF.

Few of the bi and lez women I know (self included) actually enjoy The Official Lesbian Bar (what's with the near-ubiquitous cheesy 80s neon decor?!) and long for something a little more divey and cozy. Thus choosing regular bar with the right atmosphere over Lesbian Bar without the right atmosphere.
posted by desuetude at 12:43 PM on June 19, 2008


I don't know about pay disparity. I know a lot of broke-ass people that manage to afford drinking.
posted by electroboy at 12:54 PM on June 19, 2008


Could it be that gay women are more likely to integrate into the straight world? I know lots of gay/bi women and many of them are partiers. However, they seem to like straight bars more than gay/lesbian ones.
posted by sixcolors at 1:22 PM on June 19, 2008


Also, when you have a falling out with one regular, you have to start patroning another joint, so the options slim down quickly.

I think you just answered your own question.
posted by kittyprecious at 1:48 PM on June 19, 2008


Okay.... ummm, well. First off, gay men are more interested in meeting other gay men. For friends, or sex or whatever. It is well documented that the male sex drive is just ridiculous. (take it from me!) I don't see lesbians really playing the field to nearly the same degree.

Secondly, drinking is part of gay-male culture. We're all fucked up and this is what we do. It's social, it's fun, it's highly addictive and destroying a lot of gay-livers out there.

Third, gay men don't typically go to lesbian bars because we are not usually welcome there. Take that however you like, but in my experience this is true and is the reason I do not go to lesbian bars unless my friends drag me there. You didn't explicitly ask this, but I think you'll find that gay bars are popular because just about every type of person goes to them. Because they're fun and you can meet all kinds of liberal gay friendly people there. I don't know about gay bars in NYC so it could be totally different, but this holds pretty well for the west coast.

Sorry if I offended anybody. It's not worth getting angry about just send me some hate via mefimail. It's well known that gays and lesbians don't mix as often or as well as we should. We just have some communications issues to work through.
posted by Craig at 1:53 PM on June 19, 2008


I don't know about pay disparity. I know a lot of broke-ass people that manage to afford drinking.

Exactly. Pay disparity might explain why men outnumber women in expensive neighborhoods like Chelsea, but happy hour was made for poor drunks no matter who they sleep with.

Again, I'm wondering why there are so few lesbian bars, not where to find women or how different cities measure up. My friends and I posited that a lesbian bar might bring down the real estate value, seems too niche-y, or just isn't seen as a viable industry. If it's because most gay girls like sharing casseroles more than partying, so be it.

I think you just answered your own question.

Wouldn't that increase the demand for lezbars?
posted by Viola at 1:55 PM on June 19, 2008


Who's going to want to start up a business whose patrons will quickly and efficiently drive one another away?
posted by kittyprecious at 2:01 PM on June 19, 2008


Also, when you have a falling out with one regular, you have to start patroning another joint, so the options slim down quickly.

Interesting. This isn't the reason, but, if there is even the belief that this is true, then that would certainly take a huge dent out of a lesbian bar's customer base! Seriously!

Also, while there is a general pay disparity between men and women, I don't see how that could possibly explain the relative paucity of lesbian bars. College kids have bars. Black people have bars. Poor people have bars.

I'm not going to surmise anything more specific than the fact that different cultures and subcultures and whatever have different habits of socializing, and it may be that there a smaller number of women within the lesbian "scene" are actually interested enough in having a bar to the extent that that bar could be profitable. If a number of lesbian bars comparable to the number of gay bars opened up over the course of next year, I would be extremely pessimistic that many of them would remain open for very long. Not that many lesbians wouldn't be delighted, but there wouldn't be enough of them going to the bar so regularly that the bars would remain profitable. So, those remaining lesbians who are interested in having bars to hang out at and stop by and cruise at and whatever else wind up with fewer choices than they might like.

My friends and I posited that a lesbian bar might bring down the real estate value, seems too niche-y, or just isn't seen as a viable industry.

Why would a lesbian bar bring down the property value more than a gay bar? There are plenty of those! Also, there's nothing wrong, business-wise, with being niche-y, so long as people actually fill your niche in a profitable way. Just because some lesbians (or bisexuals or whatevs) may wish there were eight lesbian bars in their city, it doesn't mean that there are enough bar-curious women out there to make having that many bars open at once a profitable venture for the business-owners.

So, my theory is that not enough lesbians are interested in regularly attending a variety of bars to make it more profitable to have many more lesbian bars open than there are now.

Which must be frustrating if you're a lesbian who wishes she had a lesbian bar scene - or at the very least, another bar to check out!

Somewhat relatedly, I've seen significantly more lesbian-themed restaurants than gay-themed restaurants.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:09 PM on June 19, 2008


My friends and I posited that a lesbian bar might bring down the real estate value

Most gay neighborhoods (around which bars precipitate) in urban America tend to start out as depressed, high-crime regions and end up gentrified, pushing out the poorer gay element as the professionals move in (citation needed, I know, but I wish I had more time to write this). A lesbian bar might be set up in an area with low real estate values, but I'd doubt that the bar itself would be a causal element. FWIW, the lesbian bars in Philadelphia that I knew of through friends tended to be in either poor, but "up-and-coming" neighborhoods, or in areas of the city that were already well-developed.

I wouldn't generalize as to how lesbians socialize relative to the gays, but there was definite overlap in some bars, as well: I can think of a couple bars that would be welcome to both men and women. Is it useful to call it a "gay" bar or a "lesbian" bar, specifically, if it caters to the GLBT community as a whole? And then there are "genderqueer" youth rebelling against the terms themselves — that kind of changes the terminology, a bit, with respect to how groups self-identify and where and how they choose to congregate...
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:19 PM on June 19, 2008


Straight girls make up a not insignificant part of some gay bars' customer base, not so much with lesbian bars.
posted by electroboy at 2:24 PM on June 19, 2008


Straight girls make up a not insignificant part of some gay bars' customer base, not so much with lesbian bars.

Oh, that's an excellent, excellent point! I know more straight female devotees of gay bars than gay male ones. Girls like dancing, hanging out, and generally be fabulous in a place where the vast majority of the guys are not trying to get in their pants.

Needless to say, there is not a comparable straight male interest to get dressed real nice to go dancing at the lesbian bar.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:31 PM on June 19, 2008


There are way fewer lesbians, and they tend to not be the beautiful crowd that nightclubs attract.
posted by plexi at 2:50 PM on June 19, 2008


Same everywhere. FWIW the only dyke I've ever known who was slutty in any way approaching the average gay man is now a FTM man. I know tons- tons and tons and tons- of gay men who have had dozens or hundreds--hell, thousands--of sex partners. I've never known a single woman, never mind a lesbian, who has remotely approached that (prostitutes don't count) except, again, for one who is now a man.

That's reality, and that's why gay men have gay bars, gay.com, squirt.org, bear411.com, and all the rest. We like sex, and lots of it.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:07 PM on June 19, 2008


It may be related to this post on Slate's XX Factor, namely that:

1. More women date with an eye toward serious partnerships.
2. Men marry without seeing it as necessarily monogamous.


If you presume that lesbians tend to be more monogamous, then they aren't looking to hook up at bars as much.
posted by yeti at 3:09 PM on June 19, 2008


I checked some US Census data from 2002 (link) -- and found this tidbit:

Women owned nearly 30 percent of nonfarm businesses in the United States in 2002. While 14 percent of women-owned firms employed more than 7.1 million people, the vast majority of businesses owned by women (nearly 5.6 million) had no employees.

I'm no economist, but this seems like a case of gender/economic disparity. --ie, there aren't many female entrepreneurs with the funds to bankroll a bar in the first place, and an expensive locale like Manhattan would only make it harder. (Not surprisingly, the census lacked any data on what percentage of lesbian bars are actually owned by lesbians.)
posted by roger ackroyd at 3:33 PM on June 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Here in Cambridge MA there's a single bar owned by a women or women (yeah River Gods!), far as I know. If a bare fraction of bars are female-owned/-run, and a bare fraction of women in general are lesbians, assuming bar-ownership isn't disproportionately appealing to lesbians...fuck, I lost track of the math and the grammar. Anyhow I was wondering this in SF last week and all I could come up with was, 'Women don't own bars, and there aren't many lesbians to begin with.'
posted by waxbanks at 5:13 PM on June 19, 2008


Here's something that no one else has really mentioned - I agree with a lot of the points above, but I'll also throw this in - I like to drink, and I like to talk to girls, but there's just no reason for me to focus either of those things on a specifically lesbian space - I think that lesbians who like a drink are much more likely to drink in a straight bar than gay men are, for two main reasons:

As a broad generalization lesbians are more likely to be hanging out with existing friends or partners than looking for someone new to fuck - when you're with people you already know, the rest of the people in the bar become less important than other factors like atmosphere, location and price. When you're looking to hook up like gay men often are, it's much more important that there be people who might be sexually available to you around.

Following up on that, there's a safety aspect. My wife and I are gay women who are pretty slutty and like to pick up girls, but we're not uncomfortable trying to do that in (some) straight bars, whereas I think for gay men, behaving the same way would be dangerous (and probably much less successful). Hitting on girls or not, I think we're less likely to face open hostility or violence than gay men. I think this is why I'm often surprised to find established lesbian bars in smaller towns and more conservative areas, while there's so little in many major cities - the women there face more hostility than we do in LA and need their own space more.

It can be a circular thing too - because so few gay women are committed to going to a dedicated lesbian bar for all the reasons we've discussed, the population of those bars becomes a pretty small group. I've often felt like many lesbian bars were cliquey and unwelcoming to anyone outside a tiny section of gay women, and just weren't a good place to go to meet anyone new. So why would I go?
posted by crabintheocean at 6:09 PM on June 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


There are way fewer lesbians, and they tend to not be the beautiful crowd that nightclubs attract.

Huh? Way fewer lesbians than what? Gay men? I'm not sure where this idea comes from. And I'm definitely not sure what to make of your second point - lesbians are ugly so they don't like to go to nightclubs? Aside from the bullshit stereotype, I assure you that there are many nightclubs out there full of ugly people hooking up with each other!
posted by crabintheocean at 6:15 PM on June 19, 2008


I'm no economist, but this seems like a case of gender/economic disparity. --ie, there aren't many female entrepreneurs with the funds to bankroll a bar in the first place, and an expensive locale like Manhattan would only make it harder. (Not surprisingly, the census lacked any data on what percentage of lesbian bars are actually owned by lesbians.)

Begging the question...
Why would a lesbian bar require a female owner?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:37 AM on June 20, 2008


I don't want to fall into the "lesbians drive like this" trap, but ownership is a pretty big deal in Queerland.
posted by kittyprecious at 6:01 AM on June 20, 2008


It's also possible that lesbian bars might be representative of the total lesbian population, but gay bars might be overrepresented, for whatever reason.
posted by electroboy at 7:19 AM on June 20, 2008


Why would a lesbian bar require a female owner?

Whoo, if I thought lesbian-owned lezbars were cheesy, I can only imagine what some straight dude hoping to capitalize on this untapped niche market! might put together.
posted by desuetude at 7:34 AM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


As a straight woman, it seems to me that fewer women go out to bars in general than men do.
posted by herbaliser at 2:21 PM on June 24, 2008


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