Henrietta Hudson, a “queer human bar built by lesbians,” has finally reopened in New York City to celebrate its 30th year in business.
After being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the lounge and bar welcomed patrons on May 15 with a newly designed space where guests can enjoy charcuterie boards and cocktails. A new logo for the bar is now genderless and embraces the bar’s commitment to being a queer safe space.
“Historically, we’ve always been a queer human bar,” says Molly Adams, the bar’s digital manager. “We started using that language in 2013. It’s not that we aren’t lesbian-centric, we are built by lesbians. It’s a more truthful renaming. We are a queer-centric bar, we are welcoming to the entire community. We want to acknowledge our history that we are built by lesbians and have been a lesbian bar, so we’re centered in that way.”
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Over the summer, Henrietta Hudson fundraised about $40,000, according to Adams, and those funds are what kept the space alive.
While some are welcoming the bar’s new branding, others have pushed back, saying removing the lesbian language and imagery is washing out the space’s lesbian history.
Seeing that Henrietta Hudson pivoted to being a “queer human bar built by lesbians” after campaigning and receiving funding to “save lesbian bars” has me feeling a way. It’s time to really talk about the rampant lesbian erasure happening in the community. pic.twitter.com/NW2C8WN952
— medusa (@tinykinseyscale) April 15, 2021
“What really upset me was that they fundraised under the name of getting money for lesbian bars. Their whole tagline was, ‘save lesbian bars,’” says Kinsey Clarke, a New York-based writer and podcaster. “They raised all this money to save lesbian bars and as soon as they got all that money they moved to decentering lesbians in their rebrand. They went from being a lesbian bar that welcomed everybody to a ‘queer human bar.’”
Clarke lives in Brooklyn, and she visited Henrietta Hudson for the first time around Christmas in 2019. Clarke says it “felt like home.” It was Clarke’s only time visiting the bar, but she donated to the fundraiser over the summer. After she heard about the rebrand and its shift to being more queer-centric, Clarke wanted her money back.
“Lesbian visibility is about maintaining our heritage, maintaining the work these women did before us and making sure that it’s not erased. When it comes to the spaces we have and the businesses we have, it’s important that we keep ourselves centric. It’s about investing in the businesses of lesbians,” says Clarke.
Adams says the rebranding has been an idea for many years, but the pandemic allowed owner Lisa Cannistraci to finally plan and implement it.
“We aren’t erasing our history. Our history isn’t changing. Our feeling is that essentially that the lesbian community is very important, and the lesbian community has now found new language to identify as non-binary, or dyke, or queer, or gay. We didn’t have that language when we first opened. We’re not taking away this space. No one is gonna think of Henrietta Hudson and not think of our lesbian history,” says Adams. “Lesbians aren’t the most marginalized in our community anymore and we want to validate all members of the community. Language is still our biggest tool to do that.”
there’s very few lesbian bars/spaces, they’ve now called it a slur (queer), and by the sound of it, they raised moneu (mostly from lesbians) to then change it to a space that isn’t rlly for us
— ivy has exams :c (@softbeetIe) April 17, 2021
Henrietta Hudson has had every reservation filled since its opening. Though Adams says the bar will continue doing virtual programming like informational panels and Zoom events, people are finally allowed to reconvene with their friends again.
“The overwhelming response was, ‘Thank you, I feel seen.’ And that’s the most important thing to us,” says Adams. “It’s important to recognize who we are trying to center in our community.”