“The Cubby Hole was the first lesbian bar I’d ever been to,” says Rachel Karp, co-creator of the podcast Cruising. “It was the first time I’d ever stepped into any space that was primarily queer women and folks that I felt were like me in that way. It was a magical experience.” Since then, she explored and discovered other lesbian bars in New York City, such as Henrietta Hudson and Ginger’s Bar. These places became important to her and her friends.
When there was buzz on the news about there not being many lesbian bars left in the United States, Karp got an idea. She and her co-creators Sarah Gabrielli and Jen McGinity wanted to visit these bars and report on them, but it was a pipe dream–particularly with COVID-19 raging across the nation. When vaccines became available and then widely accessible in mid-2021, Karp and her co-creators realized that travel could be possible again. They made a plan to visit lesbian bars across the U.S. and record a podcast what they found.
They began their thirty-day road trip from New York to Seattle, eventually heading down the west coast and back through the south. In that time, they visited 22 bars and recorded one episode for each of the bars.
Throughout their journey, Karp started to see certain similarities amongst the various locations, despite their geographic distance from each other. “A lot of people told us that their bar was ‘home,’ and that the people that they met (staff and patrons alike) were family. Weirdly, we heard the phrase ‘Our bar is the queer Cheers’ multiple times.”
“It also seemed to be that most (if not all) of these spaces are very inclusive of non-binary and trans folks, and have evolved to keep up with the changing vocabulary of queer culture,” Karp says. Many places don’t even necessarily call themselves lesbian bars anymore, because not all of the owners are lesbians or cater only to cis women. But even when they do, they always ensure inclusivity with their culture.
Karp’s biggest surprise was how essential these bars are to the communities they serve. In bigger cities like New York, people can go to bars every once in a while, but there’s a lot of places to go as an out LGBTQ person. That’s not the case in all parts of the nation. In some places, queer bars are essential, and it’s the only place for solidarity and community.
You can listen to Cruising wherever you find your podcasts.