Girl On Girl: RIP Lesbian Bars

I went to my first gay bar when I was 18. This was also the night that I discovered Four Lokos when the gas station was sold out of the other disgusting malt liquor energy drinks. My gay male best friend and I split a can and, with our designated driver, drove an hour from our Central Florida suburbs to Orlando. In one night, I was hit on by someone who would later become one of my closest friends, watched two of my friends fall in love (and date for 2-3 more years after), and found lesbians outside of my very conservative and mildly southern town. This bar, along with the other gay bars in Orlando, would become the backdrop for some of my best memories in college, from meeting an old girlfriend at an underwear party, to crying in a parking lot, to sing Pocahontas’s “Colors of the Wind” with my best friend while petting stray cats.

Gay bars have a unique characteristic that I like to see as an equalizer.  They target a pretty small demographic and tend to be pretty generic to accommodate everyone. Everyone’s gay bar is special to them, but they’re all pretty much the same from decor to people to music. For some reason, every gay bar in every city that I’ve been to always plays Brittany Murphy’s “Faster Kill Pussycat” at least once a night (rest in peace). Still, on any given night at a gay bar, you will find some of the most diverse patrons of any bar. People don’t have the option to go to the gay hipster bar or the gay Latina bar, so they all end up in the same place united over one common denominator. I have actually been in gay clubs that played The Strokes in one room and Salsa music in the other. And in one night, I will have met girls that played rugby, girls that liked to be sad all the time, and girls who taught the second grade (and loved Jaeger shots).

Since the advent of all of these methods of online dating (especially Tinder for its zero effort approach), I don’t make it to gay clubs as much as I used to. What used to be an almost-every-night thing became a once-every-few-months thing where I’d occasionally come out for a lesbian-only party that mostly entailed drinking too many shots of Fireball to compensate for the awkward run-ins with semi-familiar faces that I wished I could avoid. Instead, I favor going out to bars with the rest of my mostly-straight social circle to drink better liquor and swipe through Tinder when I’m waiting in line for the bathroom. If I’m in a relationship, my trips to gay bars are even less frequent, since there’s a special kind of depravity that comes with my nights out at gay bars that I try to avoid exposing to my significant others.

In some ways, this decrease in frequenting gay bars is a great reflection on society’s acceptance. It says a lot that I’m not completely uncomfortable with the idea of going to a regular establishment with my girlfriend. It means that society is mostly more accepting of it and I only have to worry for part of the time that either of us is going to get harassed by a straight man asking if we need a third. It’s great that we can live in a society where it’s not gay bars vs. straight bars. At the same time, it’s kind of a bummer. It’s a lot harder for gay bars to stay open. In the four years since I left Orlando, one of my favorite gay bars has switched ownership three times.

In major cities, there’s a trend that is pretty indicative of lesbian behavior (and women altogether). Since lesbians tend to be more domestic, lean towards monogamy and pair off quickly, lesbian bars continue to shutter while bars that cater to gay men continue to expand. The general behavior of gay men is so vastly different from lesbians and tends to include more hooking up, more alcohol consumption, and more money spent at bars. This is the same reason why apps like Grindr and Scruff work so well for gay men, but any lesbian equivalent tends to fade pretty fast. Iconic girl bars like The Lexington in San Francisco and The Palms in West Hollywood have closed down after decades. Lesbian nights in West Hollywood are perpetually shuffling, trying to find locations that are willing to accommodate girl parties when there is a lot more money to be made by throwing straight nights or gay male nights.

This habit of only going to gay clubs when you need them is pretty typical. It’s also a lot easier to avoid the masses and pick and choose what you want through Tinder or OKCupid. At the same time, it contributes to the closing of lesbian bars and the cancellation of lesbian nights. By not patronizing those businesses, they aren’t around when we want them post-break up. We also don’t foster the growth of the lesbian community. It’s hard to give people a place to be when we don’t go to them when they do exist.

Morgan Cohn is a recent LA transplant to NY, splitting her time between working in digital publishing, writing, and discovering what seasons are. Follow her on Twitter!