While gay bars flourish, lesbian bars have trouble hanging on



There are over 70 gay bars in Manhattan. Cubbyhole is one out of three lesbian bars in the city. Photo: Amanda Williams.

Doll parts, glitter, and colorful sailboats dangle over the heads of cheerful bartenders and dancing patrons in the only lesbian bar in Midtown West — which attracts almost the same amount of male clientele as gay bars in the area.

On weekend nights in Chelsea, gay bars that cater to a male clientele are lively and bustling, but Cubbyhole, which has been in business for 20 years, is the only option in Chelsea for lesbians, other than the occasional lesbian night at bars where most of the customers the rest of the week are men.

Lisa Menchino, the manager at Cubbyhole, feels that the wage gap between men and women plays a large part in why LGBTQ bars are less female-friendly. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics women’s earnings report of 2016, female full-time female salaried workers made 82 percent of what their male colleagues make for the same job. 

“Women unfortunately don’t make as much as men,” said Menchino. “They don’t have discretionary income to go out as much as men. From a business perspective, you can’t just rely on women.”

Manhattan has over 70 gay bars. Cubbyhole is one of the borough’s three lesbian bars. Dana Salvatore, a frequent customer, feels that it  is the “one spot” where women can find home.

“It upsets me a little bit. We have one bar,” she said. “Cubbyhole is the only thing we have.”

The ratio of men and women are different on given nights, but Cubbyhole has primarily women. Photo: Amanda Williams.

Menchino has worked in the neighborhood for 17 years, but has been managing Cubbyhole for seven. Though the bar’s clientele consists of mostly women, Menchino has noticed that the balance has shifted over the years.

“There used to be many lesbian bars; there used to be at least five of them in the city that I can remember,” she said.

Henrietta Hudson, a lesbian bar a few blocks down from Cubbyhole in Greenwich Village, used to be well-known for being one of the first women-only bars in New York City. After 1994, the bar opened its doors to everyone.

The woman-only tradition was not carried over to Cubbyhole, due to the realization that operating a woman-only space would not be enough to pay the high rent in the area.

“It was hard to keep a business going if you were going to depend just on women,” said Menchino.

Queer women in the Chelsea neighborhood such as Nina Siegel, known to the community as Nina Blue, believe that changes in lifestyle and a lack of community support contribute to the problem.

Siegel said that, like other bars, lesbian bars “mostly make money on the weekends.” But lesbians do not frequent their bars enough causing lesbian bars to close down. “Women are home with kids; even lesbian women,” she said. “They don’t really have the luxury of going out weekly to a bar.”

Siegel said that women “need to support our lesbian bars more often like gay men support their gay bars.”

Menchino agreed that queer women do not provide the same support for their bars. Differences in dating now, compared to how it was when she first opened her business, are a factor.

“There’s a lot of variables that has changed,” said Menchino. “There’s different dating sites so that lesbian women don’t have to come to a lesbian bar to meet somebody. If we were more together as a whole, it would be so much easier for us to keep places like this open,” she said.

The list of safe spaces for queer women to go is becoming shorter, especially as lesbian bars attract more heterosexual clientele than gay bars.

Before he was a security guard at Cubbyhole, Brian Reynolds spent six years working  for many LGBTQ bars in Chelsea and Greenwich Village.

“I could see why it upsets lesbians,” said Reynolds. “This is their only playpen.”

Reynolds agrees with Menchino.

“It’s still primarily women,” said Reynolds. “But, since I’ve been working here, I’ve seen more men.”