There are only 21 lesbian bars in the entire US, and three are in New York City, where I live.
I went to the bars — Henrietta Hudson, Cubbyhole, and Ginger's Bar — to see what they were like.
I loved how comfortable I felt at each bar and would definitely go back to all three.
I've been to gay bars before, but none that specifically catered to lesbians.
Anybody who has been to a gay bar knows that it's primarily a safe space for gay men, as well as straight women who don't want to be hit on by men. As a gay woman, it can be hard to find a space where I feel comfortable to freely be myself.
However, when it comes to lesbian bars, there are only 21 left in the entire country, and three of them are in New York City, where I live. By comparison, there are almost four times as many gay bars across the city, Time Out reported.
According to a June 2021 report by NY1, the three lesbian bars have suffered during the pandemic, including temporary closures. Despite the growth of online dating and a wider acceptance of gay people, there's still a real need for these bars, Lea DeLaria with The Lesbian Bar Project told NY1.
"There's a thing when you walk into a gay bar as a gay person, that straight people I don't think understand at all; where you just go, 'ah,' because, you know, you're in your safe space," DeLaria said. "If we lose these lesbian bars, where are we going to go for community? Where are we going to go, you know, to be together, to have our family?"
I'd never been to any of the three bars before, but I wanted to get a better understanding of their importance and whether I would feel more comfortable there than in other spaces. I was also interested to know what the differences were between the three bars when it came to music, dress code, costs, and general vibes — so I grabbed a friend and we went out.
My first stop was Henrietta Hudson in the West Village.
Henrietta Hudson is a 10-minute walk from the West 4th Street subway station and Washington Square Park, as well as only a 5-minute walk from the historic Stonewall Inn.
Henrietta Hudson, which opened 30 years ago, brands itself as a "queer human space built by lesbians."
"While it is the longest running lesbian bar in the country, we are a Queer Human Bar," Henrietta Hudson's website states. "We embrace our entire community and seek to uplift everyone."
I arrived at Henrietta Hudson with a friend around 9:30 p.m. on a Friday. The bar had curtains guarding the festivities inside, and there was a woman checking vaccination cards and IDs at the front, as well as outdoor seating. The woman congratulated my friend and me for making it before the 10 p.m. cover charge was enforced and reminded us that if we left at any time after then and wanted to return, we would be charged the $10.
I was surprised by how nervous I felt — and by how quickly that feeling went away.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I opened the door to Henrietta Hudson. Existing in a queer space and telling yourself you belong is different than just dating people who aren't men. I had a secret fear that as soon as I walked in, there would be a record-scratch silence and somebody would yell, "Who let this kid in?" Though, once I actually opened the door, I realized everybody was just having fun and couldn't care less about what I was doing.
Henrietta Hudson looked like pretty much any club/bar combination I had ever been to. People surrounded the bar for drinks, while others danced to Dua Lipa's "Levitating" in an open space as a DJ played in the corner. My friend grabbed my hand and led me to a back room, which was almost empty but had another bar with no line.
I thought Henrietta Hudson had the most unique drinks of the three bars.
Henrietta Hudson has handcrafted cocktails priced at $12 each, which is not too bad for New York, but when paired with a $10 cover charge may make your night a little pricey. Drinks on the menu included the FOMO (organic pineapple vodka sling), the Iron Lady (a rose and hops gin sling), and the Boomerang (a maple old fashioned). I tried the Iron Lady, which was a little too sweet for me, but my friend who likes sweet drinks loved it. They also gave us the bottle that the gin came in, which my friend now uses as a flower vase.
We also tried the "WAP Shot." In my opinion, at $10 a shot, it was definitely not worth the embarrassment of ordering a drink by that name. The shot consisted of vodka, peach schnapps, and cranberry juice, but as my friend stated at the time, tasted like "straight-up grenadine."
I personally didn't love the drinks, but I have to hand it to them for a creative menu. If you like to try something different and have a sweet palate, you might enjoy them.
I probably had the most fun dancing that I've had in a while.
I appreciated that Henrietta Hudson allowed me to be able to have fun with my friend without bumping into other people, and the music felt like hit after hit with pop icons like Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and Ariana Grande playing.
It felt like most other people were with friend groups or dates, though I imagine if you were looking to meet someone, asking someone to dance would be welcome.
Two hours later, we went to Cubbyhole, which is also located in the West Village.
Cubbyhole is only an 11-minute walk from Henrietta Hudson and a 9-minute walk from the West 4th Street subway station.
Cubbyhole is a tiny bar that opened in 1987 under the name DT's Fat Cat, and it has been a popular safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community since then.
From the outside, you could tell Cubbyhole was a whole different scene. There was a 20-minute line outside, but it was much longer by the time we left at around 12:30 a.m. When we finally got our IDs and vaccination cards checked, we were ushered into what felt like a long, crowded hallway. I'm shocked I didn't run into any past dates, as every queer person in New York City seemed to be in this bar at the exact same time.
People were also dressed a lot more casually than at Henrietta Hudson, with some people even wearing just jeans and a T-shirt. The crowd was younger, which I expected since Cubbyhole is often mentioned on TikTok, though I ended up spending most of my time talking to a gay man in his 30s and his male friends.
If you're looking to meet someone, I think you'll probably have the best luck at Cubbyhole.
While at the bar, I enjoyed being able to talk to people. Since we were all packed together, it was almost like you had no choice but to make friends, or — as the many people making out with each other in the darker corners of the bar proved — make more than friends.
The music was loud enough that you could probably dance if you desired, but no one was really going beyond a foot tap or slight sway. After screaming "What did you say?" every time someone tried to talk to me at Henrietta Hudson, I enjoyed actually being able to have a conversation.
Lesbian bar aside, anybody would have a good time here.
Cubbyhole was probably one of the prettiest bars I have ever been to, with ornaments covering the ceiling that created a warm atmosphere. Plus, the first song they played when we walked in was Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl," which felt appropriate and, oddly, even more welcoming.
It was a cash bar, and I had just enough cash on me to order me and my friend two Blue Moon beers at $8 each and add a tip, but there's an ATM if you need it. There was also never a line for the bathroom, even with the crowd, which is always appreciated.
The next night I went to Ginger's Bar, Brooklyn's only lesbian bar. It's located in Park Slope.
Ginger's Bar is pretty separate from the other two lesbian bars (around a 40-minute train ride away), but if you live in Brooklyn, this may be an easier option for you.
Ginger's Bar only recently reopened after closing during the pandemic.
Ginger's Bar opened in 2000, but it closed down for a while and only recently reopened. It's just slightly larger than Cubbyhole, but was far less crowded.
After our vaccination cars were checked at around 10:30 p.m., we stepped into a narrow section with a pride flag and Irish flag waving next to each other, as well as a jukebox and bar. This was the more populated section filled with younger people, but when we continued to walk back, there was a larger square room with a pool table that was filled with people of all ages. Behind that, there was an outdoor area that was heated and filled with people smoking and talking.
Similar to Cubbyhole, this bar was also cash only. I ordered a gin and tonic, and my two friends ordered ciders, and both drinks were priced at $8.
If you're looking to make more queer friends, this is the place.
My friends remarked that it felt like we were at a college house party, and everyone seemed to know each other except us. I don't think this is a place you would go to find a hookup, but if you went back often enough, you could probably find a wife.
While we didn't know anyone, it didn't take very long for people to begin to know us. We started in the outdoor section, where a woman asked if we'd be bothered if she lit a cigarette, which was friendly since it seemed like we were the only ones not smoking.
In some ways, it felt like I was at any other bar, but there was definitely a feeling that was different. I enjoyed the freedom of not having to deal with random men coming up to our table to hit on us. There are still times where I will go to bars with romantic dates and feel a stranger's eyes on me for being with somebody who isn't a man, so I can imagine that if I was there with a date, I would feel a lot more comfortable and safe.
The outdoor space closes at midnight, so afterwards we went inside to watch people play pool. That's where I met Ruthie, who has been coming to Ginger's Bar regularly for the past 15 years, and who told me that "we worked hard to be here and deserve a space like this." She then offered to give me a haircut and handed me her business card.
If I lived closer to Ginger's Bar, I would probably come a lot more regularly.
I can get exhausted by the idea of going to a loud bar or club every weekend, so I enjoyed the sense of calm that Ginger's offered. It was actually so calm, that when I (somewhat obnoxiously) paid $1 to play Taylor Swift's "All Too Well" (10 Minute Version) on the jukebox, no one even looked up from their drink, as the vibe didn't change at all. We got through eight minutes of the song before the bartender changed it, which I felt was generous.
Ginger's Bar is a typical community bar that caters to lesbians as well as the neighborhood, so if you're looking to bring a date somewhere or just hang out with friends in a welcoming atmosphere, you will probably love this bar as well.
Each bar was different, but I truly enjoyed myself and felt comfortable at all of them.
Going to these bars was probably one of the most energizing and enjoyable going-out experiences I've ever had.
If you're intimidated by a bar that markets itself to lesbians, or if you are only just figuring out your sexuality, these are perfect places to freely be yourself and live in your true identity, whatever identity that may be. I went to two of these bars with a straight friend, who had just as much fun as me, and it was clear people of all genders and backgrounds were welcome and enjoying themselves. New York City is home to thousands of bars, and hopefully, more of those bars will be queer-owned and queer-welcoming bars in the future.
If you only have one night to go to all three lesbian bars, start at Ginger's Bar for a couple of drinks and make some friends, then head to Cubbyhole for more drinks and meet a date, then bring that date to Henrietta Hudson, and dance the rest of the night away.
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