Mashable is celebrating Pride Month by exploring the modern LGBTQ world, from the people who make up the community to the spaces where they congregate, both online and off.
On a usual Pride Month at The Abbey, a gay bar in West Hollywood, tens of thousands of people come through to celebrate. In fact, the Pride parade ends right in front of the bar.
“Pride is traditionally our biggest weekend of the year,” said David Cooley, CEO and owner of The Abbey, The Chapel and Within, all gay bars in the neighborhood.
Cooley is far from alone, however. For queer bars and clubs across the United States, the weekend of any particular city’s Pride March — the climax of Pride Month, celebrated in June to commemorate the Stonewall riots — is their biggest money maker year after year.
Lisa Menichino, owner of the famed lesbian bar Cubbyhole in Manhattan’s West Village, said that the day of the annual Pride parade would bring in a week’s worth of sales. Further, the entire month is a financial boon, bringing in twice as much each week than it does the rest of the year.
This year, however, isn’t the usual. “This year sucks, quite frankly,” said Menichino. “The loss of [Pride] in real time is absolutely devastating.”
This is the first time in 27 years that her bar isn’t open. “We never, ever close our doors — not on 9/11, not in hurricanes, not in blackouts, not in blizzards,” said Menichino. “We always have this policy that we will keep our door open and have a place for people to come when there’s tragedy going on or inclement, horrible weather.”
That changed on March 16, when Cubbyhole closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Queer club owners who spoke to Mashable echoed similar sentiments about the loss of business and celebration this year, with all of them closed at some point due to the pandemic. Already some, like famed bar in San Francisco, have lost their space. Even the Stonewall Inn — where riots sparked the queer liberation movement — .
“There have been a lot of lows — emotionally and mentally and financially,” said Eric Sosa, one of the owners of queer club C’mon Everybody in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. “The last three months have felt like three years in a way… We’re trying to make ends meet and we’re applying for loans and we’re trying to raise money.”
Los Angeles’s Akbar usually celebrated Pride with a huge party in their parking lot. Scott Craig, one of Akbar’s two owners, told Mashable that hundreds of people flocked to their parking lot parties. While bars in Los Angeles county were allowed to open starting June 19, Craig will hold off reopening Akbar until rates of new cases are lower.
“This year we can’t do a darn thing,” said Craig. “We’re kind of just patiently — or impatiently — waiting for the okay [to reopen].” In the meantime, Craig and his team are cleaning the bar and rearranging furniture to best adhere to social distance parameters for when they can reopen.
“Our dance floor — which was quite a popular dance floor in its time — is now going to be a lounge,” Craig said. It’s not exactly easy to dance six or more feet apart from your fellow partiers.
“Our dance floor — which was quite a popular dance floor in its time — is now going to be a lounge”
Indeed, some spots are preparing to open as soon as they can, but with fewer patrons and a lot less partying. The Abbey, for example, is currently open as a restaurant with limited capacity inside. “To help let more people celebrate, we are doing a lot on our social media channels,” said Cooley. “We’re hosting drag shows, including our Drag Brunch, on Instagram Live and Zoom.”
Like The Abbey, other bars have taken to celebrating virtually. During June, every day at 4PM — when Akbar usually opened — they post a . Akbar’s employees each elected someone they admired in the LGBTQ work to be a queero (queer hero), said Craig.
Over in San Francisco, the bar Midnight Sun is also celebrating on Facebook with their group . Joshua Cook, the general manager of both Midnight Sun and another gay club, Beaux, said there’s an online celebration in the group with music videos, memes, throwbacks, and photos.
Cook is also creating a video with the help of drag performer and a plethora of people who work at the bar: Bartenders, security guards, barbacks, managers, drag queens, hosts, go-go dancers, and DJs. The video will have three elements: Employees answering several questions that’ll stream together in a montage; drag queens performing the same song edited to appear as a group performance; and bartenders doing their own version of the by passing their homemade cocktails.
In Brooklyn, C’mon Everybody and queer club House of Yes both put on digital parties for their patrons as well.
“We were originally inspired by the work of, the first group we saw bringing dancers together using video conferencing tools,” said House of Yes’s marketing and cultural director, Jacqui Rabkin. Rabkin and David Kiss, the club’s music director, took the idea and began building their digital club program with the blessing of House of Yes’s owners.
On a typical Saturday, 500 people will come to House of Yes’s Zoom ‘club,’ said Rabkin. Sosa said C’mon Everybody, a newer and smaller venue, has around 20 percent of their usual capacity of 200 at their virtual parties.
“It’s still a great outlet for people, especially since people have been quarantined at home,” he said.
Cubbyhole has virtual happy hours and other events in the works as well, said Menichino.
While these parties at least provide patrons with an inkling of the partying they’re used to, they’re not the same. “Nothing is going to compare” to usual Pride, Menichino said. “It’s so much more important than just the parade. It’s also like the fact that the younger generation can learn the history from older generations… Gay Pride brings everybody together.”
Not only do virtual parties lack usual festivities, but they also don’t compensate monetarily for the loss. “It’s not about you know making a profit for us,” said Sosa. “It’s about bringing people together and trying to bring some joy in what everyone is going through.”
As C’mon Everybody is considered a concert venue, it won’t reopen until New York City enters phase four; Sosa said he hopes that will occur in October. Even with limited capacity, however, opening won’t bring in the same pre-pandemic revenue. Sosa said the club’s profit comes from bar sales while ticket sales go towards the artists; 50 percent fewer customers, for example, means 50 percent fewer bar sales.
Not only will fewer people be allowed inside, but they’ll have to be masked. “I’m going to really need the cooperation of Cubby customers,” said. “I know how frustrating it is… I’m just hopeful that in people’s eagerness to get out there and celebrate, that they’ll cooperate.”
The pandemic has also derailed other plans. Sosa and his team planned on opening another bar called Good Judy, in South Brooklyn, but it’s been put on the back-burner. They’re planning to open it in limited capacity in phase three and utilize its outdoor space.
In the meantime, these places — just like businesses in other industries — have opened GoFundMe campaigns for patrons to support. C’mon Everybody’s community has supported them, said Sosa.”We’ve been able to raise some funds via GoFundMe,” he said. “We’ve been really grateful for that.”
Cubbyhole’s previous owner advised Menichino to keep money stored for a rainy day, and she did have almost two months’ worth of savings — but this is lasting longer than two months, which she realized after a few weeks. She set up a as well, and raised over $62,000 with only a $30,000 goal.
“I wasn’t sure how it was going to go over because there’s so many people in the same boat doing the same thing,” said Menichino, “but Cubbyhole is such a special place and our fans are so loyal and devoted to it, that the response was overwhelming. It was amazing.”
In the midst of raising money for their bars and clubs, these owners and general managers have also made a point to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Normally if Cubbyhole was open, Menichino said, she’d donate money. Given that the bar has been closed for months, she’s not in the financial position to do so. Instead, she partnered with the Emergency Release Fund — whose mission is to help queer and medically vulnerable people get out of New York City’s Rikers Island jail and ICE detention — to create for a two-week long campaign ending June 25. The profits go towards posting bail for those in need.
Over in San Francisco, one of Beaux’s bartenders organized a for Black Lives Matter earlier this month, a peaceful protest and rally for queer allies of the movement. “It’s important work,” said Cook, “and we’re happy to do it.”
C’mon Everybody planned on launching a handful of virtual parties this month, but they cancelled them due to the ongoing protests. “We really wanted to make that sort of our focal point right now,” said Sosa, “The Black Lives Matter movement is really important to us right now, and it’s definitely taken precedent over Pride.” They’ve taken to the movement on Instagram.
This year has ushered in dramatic change — including the public discussion about police brutality and Black Lives Matter — but in terms of the pandemic, both Sosa and Cook said they hate the term “the new normal.”
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“I am not going to say this is the new normal,” said Cook. “This is an interim period.”
Ultimately, all these bars hope to reopen to their former glory — even when exactly that will be is uncertain.
“I am not going to say this is the new normal”
“It’s difficult to predict what House of Yes will look like when the pandemic is over but YES we will be reopening,” said Rabkin. “We’ll keep innovating and changing with the times, as we always have. We’ve survived a fire (House of Yes #1), a rent-related-shutdown (House of Yes #2) and now (House of Yes #3) we’re surviving a pandemic.”
“It has to open, it cannot close,” Menichino said of Cubbyhole. “It means too much to too many people, not just myself. And I will find a way to open it again, and make it a success again.”
Cooley said that The Abbey patrons continue to post on social media about how they await the day it’ll reopen in full capacity. “I think things will build up slowly over several months as restrictions ease,” Cooley said. “Eventually, we’ll be able to have big spectacular events again.”
While it may be far off, Craig awaits the day where there’s nothing stopping everyone from dancing — and hugging — at Akbar. When asked what he’s looking forward to when there’s a vaccine for the coronavirus, he said, “I think there’d be a solid week of very heartfelt hugs. It’ll be a marvelous thing to witness to see all that.”
“And then of course,” he continued, “a good sweaty dance floor.”
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