She went to college at 14, earned her MBA at 21 and opened her own international consulting firm soon after. Now in her late 30s, financial wizard Annetta Budhu is reincarnating Hudson’s Street’s beloved Rubyfruit as the much-anticipated RF Lounge. GO met with the charming and talented exec at her West Village condo to talk about her latest venture and the future of the lesbian scene.
GO: Your accent is very exotic. Where are you from, and what brought you to New York?
AB: I was born and raised in British Guyana, South America. I came to New York when I was fourteen, went straight to Queens College, got an MBA in finance from St. John’s University and went to Wall Street to learn the biz as a stockbroker and a trader. I was President of Stock News Now, and Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of GlobalDesktop. Eventually, I went on to open my own financial consulting firm, A. Budhu Consulting.
What was it like growing up gay in South America?
I don’t know—I was still a kid when I left. As a child, I knew I liked girls, but I didn’t know what that meant, and I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I sorted it out over the next couple of years in New York, and began to come out as a lesbian in my late teens.
You’re a financial consultant; what ever inspired you to invest in a lesbian bar?
When I read in the New York Times that Rubyfruit was closing down, I was shocked, because I live in the neighborhood. DJ Stacy [Ledwith], whom I know from Rubyfruit and Stonewall, mentioned it to me and asked me if I’d talk to [Rubyfruit proprietor] Debra Fierro. I said sure. After meeting with Debbie I said to myself, I can’t let this place get bought out and become a straight restaurant. It’s a gay bar. So I decided I would invest in Rubyfruit and come on as a partner.
What role has Rubyfruit played in your Big Apple experience?
As a student in New York, I started coming out, going to gay clubs and bouncing around to different venues, one after the other on the circuit. Rubyfruit was one of the places that I bounced into, and
it was a nice neighborhood bar. It was tough to see it fall on hard times.
In an obviously uncertain economy, are you concerned about the risk?
I’m only doing it because I care about the community. I want to maintain the integrity of the lesbian scene and bring it all back to the West Village. The economy’s another matter, and it will ride itself out. We’re going through a crisis, but people still need to go out and do their thing. The drinks at RF will not be expensive, just a little bit more than what I paid for them, in order to carry the business. I will not venture into, shall we say, price gouging. It’s not a moneymaking venture; it’s a labor of love.
What is your vision for the new RF Lounge?
I’m renovating the whole thing to make it an upscale lesbian lounge—with a lesbian staff. Part of my goal is to create as many jobs as possible for gay women. That’s my commitment and that’s what I want to give back to the community.
We hear RF Lounge will be a morning, noon and night operation…do tell.
The downstairs level will be a lounge. It will open about ten in the morning and serve coffee, tea, chai, lattes, croissant, muffins, that sort of thing. It’s going to be totally Wi-Fi, so you can come into the lounge with your laptop and have a coffee and a muffin and relax. Then around lunchtime we’ll have sandwiches, soup and salad. At four o’clock we’ll have high tea. Then around seven o’clock there will be small plates, tapas from around the world. After that we’ll have live entertainment and dancing.
Who will entertain? What kind of events are in the works?
The group Betty is behind me on this, and Amy Ziff will be handling my entertainment. We’ll have a DJ booth upstairs. We’ll watch soccer and have theme parties, private black-tie events and catered events for professional women’s groups. I also want to promote lesbian artists and showcase their work downstairs on the wall.
With dozens of bars for gay men in this city, why do you think there are so few full-time lesbian venues?
New York is very expensive, so it’s difficult to support a seven-night-a-week lesbian club. Also, I think lesbians tend to nest at home a little more than gay men. I think many women have been waiting for a comfortable yet classy lesbian-specific venue that’s easily accessible.
How will RF Lounge enhance the lesbian scene overall?
RF Lounge will provide a home base—a single, all-purpose lesbian venue where women can have a drink or a great meal alone or with a partner, socialize, meet new people, network, or maybe meet someone that could be special in their lives.
Look into your crystal ball…what do you see in RF’s future, as well as your own?
I think it will take on a life of its own, because there is a niche for a nice, affordable lesbian lounge in this city. For me, everything has fallen into place. I’m in a great relationship, and it’s a happy coincidence that I bought this condo, which happens to be right up the block from RF, shortly before I came on as a partner. So it seems like it was meant to be.
Speaking of things falling into place, how about the election?
I totally wanted Barack Obama to win. I think he will be good for the economy in the financial crisis that has stemmed from deregulation and other factors. It’s going to be a huge challenge, but I know he will prevail. He’s a smart guy, he’s a thinker, and he surrounds himself with lots of good people. So I’m very proud to have voted for him and I’m thrilled that the Democrats have picked up so many House and Senate seats.
No such luck with Proposition 8…
That’s another matter. I think it’s a situation that has to be handled over time, but I keep my faith. What’s important right now is that we get some legislation passed that lets us share our lives.