The Lesbian Bar Project is a documentary film series created and directed by Erica Rose and Elina Street. Hosted and produced by Lea Delaria along with The Katz Company and Jägermeister, the project highlights the “critical need to support the LGBTQIA+ community and spaces.” Originally released as a twenty-minute documentary in 2021, Rose and Street have now released an expanded three episode series on the Roku channel that brings viewers into the lesbian and queer bars of Houston, Phoenix, and New York City. Good Spirits News had the opportunity to speak with Rose and Street about the impact of filming in these safe spaces and how the queer community has affected the bar industry.
GSN: Does a business need to brand themselves as a “Lesbian Bar” or a “Queer Bar” to be considered a safe space? What are the benefits of branding a bar in this way?
Erica: I think that you don’t have to brand yourself a certain way in order to be a safe space. I think that if you are actually a lesbian in a queer space and you brand yourself that way, the community is smart and savvy enough that if it is inauthentic then that will be evident very fast. I think that the benefit is that you are welcoming a wide swath of people who are searching for community and space. […] the fact that there were only, at the time, 16 lesbian bars was completely disproportionate to the community that would [frequent] them. So I think the benefit of having a lesbian-identified or queer-identified space is that there are people waiting for that.
Elina: We have a dear friend that is one of the owners of the Stonewall Inn, and she started this program called the Safe Spaces Program with the Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative [that] offers training for certain spaces that can become “Certified Safe Spaces”. Meaning, understanding what consent means at the door and how do you guide your patrons into a safe environment from the beginning. And one thing we really pride ourselves in our community is that there is a lot of discussion about safety and consent. We’re lucky in that, but that should be in any space you enter.
GSN: Has your perception of a Queer Bar shifted since meeting with Julie Mabry, Audrey Corley, and Lisa Cannistraci? If so, how?
Elina: One thing we really wanted to highlight by documenting these three locations is that they serve very different populations. A Lesbian bar in New York City is not the same as a lesbian bar in Arizona. For us, it was just amazing exposure and an understanding of what these spaces represented. And it was an honor to enter those worlds and discover who was entering those bars. […] A lot of patrons come from families that aren’t accepting of their orientation, and they’re coming to Boycott seeking refuge, and Audrey is giving them that space.
Erica: In the process of making these episodes, it doubled down our intent to showcase how these are more than just bars. And I think we’ve proven that with these three stories, […] that was our vision: Here are the human stories behind the statistics, and here’s how the community gathers, is resilient and creates a space that is safe and affirming to the individuals in the community.
Erica: Queer culture is mainstream culture. I think that what’s happening is that there’s more integration than ever before. One thing is that a lot of queer bars talk openly about consent, political organizing, and servicing those in the community that are less fortunate than others. People ten or twenty years ago questioned “why do you have to be so political?” [to which Lisa Cannistraci replied in episode 3] “I’ve been really fortunate that Henrietta Hudson has been a platform for social change from day one. What’s political is personal to me, and it’s personal to this community. You know, because look what we’ve had to do, to fight for a little bit of decency to be paid to us.”
One thing heteronormative spaces can take from this is to talk about and embrace these conversations that queer bars were forced to [have]. Any progress that has been made in society is susceptible to being taken away from us, and if we’re not active and using our voice we are vulnerable to that.
GSN: What advice would you give to bartenders hoping to make their mark on the ever growing industry?
Elina: In a way, it’s similar to our work as filmmakers where we have to know our audience and understand that everyone has their own story. One thing we hear from these patrons is that they’re coming to these spaces in hopes of celebrating or breathing. You just never know who comes through these doors; it’s a very empowering position to be in that observer point of view. One thing that Lisa Cannistraci says is that she keeps her ear to the ground, she’s alway very in the know with what the younger generation wants, and working to bridge all the generations together. And I think that would be a bartender’s goal, to understand that.
GSN: What are your thoughts on the Negroni Sbagliato with Prosecco craze sparked by Emma D’Arcy? And how has pop-culture affected the bar scene as a whole?
Elina: I love Negronis! I think it’s really funny that there are trendy cocktails. When I moved to New York City ten years ago I wanted to be Carrie Bradshaw so I would order a cosmo everytime I sat down. Then after a few months I thought I would change it up. You go through phases, but I’m European and I love a good bitter drink.
Erica: I don’t drink anymore but I’ve been really into the phony negronis. We are filmmakers who are highlighting people that really know what they’re doing. We call them cultural architects because they’re able to create an environment that is reflective of pop culture and reflective of what’s going on in society. There’s crossover with what we do and what they do, we’re here to tell stories and listen to stories. And I think that’s what a good bartender should do.
GSN: Finally, what is your drink of choice, alcoholic or otherwise?
Erica: Right now I’m really into the phony negroni. Hands down it tastes like a negroni, I highly recommend it.
Elina: It’s not that hard to make cocktails! [*laugh*] That’s the other thing I’ve discovered with this project because we’re learning how to make the cocktails at the bars as we’re filming them. I took a liking to the espresso martini craze, so that’s been fun. We’ve been making it with our cold brew Jagermeister and it’s actually delicious because it is a liqueur and it lends itself well to the cold brew coffee flavor and it brings this herbal sweetness which is just really great.
GSN: Do you have a final message you would like to share?
Elina: I think a big thing is that there are not many representations about lesbian bars in the streaming world right now, and I think that this is really an amazing opportunity to have this show on Roku accessible, and visible and available for free. Our biggest message is to please watch the show, spread the news and show up to the bars. We have to keep those spaces alive, there’s still work to be done, and our storytelling mission is not going to end here.
Erica: There’s unfortunately a dearth of queer stories about queer woman made by queer woman for queer woman. So watch our show so we can keep doing this. You’ll cry, you’ll learn something, maybe both!
The three episode docuseries launched October 11th and is available free on the Roku channel. To learn more about the Lesbian Bar Project, visit: Lesbian Bar Project
Interview done by Autumn Ellen Rose for Good Spirits News