There was a warmth in the Bushwick loft, an energy that filled the room on a chilly New York evening, where Babetown was hosting its Thanksgiving event. Chef Alex Koones hosts the pop-up recurring dinner party for queer and trans women and non-binary people in changing locations every month, and this party is about creating a space where we can connect over a shared meal and drinks, a speakeasy of sorts hosted in an effortless style.
The craving for this kind of event is clear: Babetown tickets sell out within hours. Alex is now working to keep up with the growth of Babetown, and it’s people like her who keep queer spaces and energy alive in our communities.
GO caught up with Alex to talk about the genesis of Babetown and how you, too, can be your own babe.
GO Magazine: Can you explain where the desire to create this Babetown space came from?
Alex Koones: It’s kind of the same thing as a party I’ve thrown in my own space. From the time I was in college, I’ve loved to host a space every month, and there’s always food. I love to cook for people, even in times in my life where I haven’t been the best at showing warmth, or love, or affection… Feeding people does that. You can tell people how you feel by feeding them and bringing them into a comfortable environment.
As I got older and people would invite me to their place for a dinner party, I could see that people would get stressed out about having enough food, alcohol, that everyone was enjoying themselves. I remember thinking I don’t feel that; I’m extremely comfortable when I’m cooking and hosting for others, and if something goes wrong I know how to roll with it. I came to the realization that I’m good at this.
At the time that I was thinking about this, a friend of mine wrote kind of weird article about how cliquey they thought Wednesday at the Woods was and how [queer women] should just go to a regular bar, and I didn’t agree with this at all. I hated the article because I hate the idea of calling queer women in a bar cliquey because what they are in guarded. They huddle in groups together with their friends because they’re nervous to talk to each other. Everyone wants to make more queer friends, it can just be difficult to let that guard down.
GO: How have you seen the lesbian scene evolve over the years?
AK: There’s an art installation that’s been moving around the country about the death of the dyke bar and with it a panel discussion. A friend of mine was speaking at one of the event, Lisa Cannistraci who owns Henrietta Hudson’s, and she said, “You don’t need us to open up spaces for you, to open bars for you, you don’t need someone to tell you it’s okay to congregate in a bar. You can go congregate anywhere you want and create whatever you want to see in our community.” And I was like; she’s absolutely right! We can do anything we want.
When I was younger, I used to go to Choice Cunts like so many other people did. I watched that turn into Hot Rabbit and then it seemed like everyone was getting younger and younger. I suppose it was just me getting older. It’s difficult to say how much the scene has changed and how much I have changed. I do think the queer community has grown increasingly assimilated because we have things like OkCupid and Tinder and we can just go to non-LGBTQ bars to meet people. That leaves the queer scene limited to those who really want to party. And there are people who want to meet new queer people but maybe in a different setting.
GO: Yeah, clearly there is a craving for this, your tickets sell out so fast!
AK: They do, people keep congratulating me for doing a good job at promoting this party. But I tell people that it’s not, it’s a testament to how hungry our community is for more. People are ready for more.
GO: What environment can someone expect when they walk into a Babetown event for the first time?
AK: I think we create an environment that is incredibly warm and comfortable. There’s food and alcohol that’s very laid out. Everyone is greeting each other, smiling, very comfortable. I don’t want anyone working; I just want people there doing what they love. My friend Caitlin who cooks with me makes it fun; we enjoy cooking for everyone; it’s not a job for us. I think that when people walk in, there’s a full environment that has a hominess and warmth to it.
GO: How have you used your experiences as Michelin star chef to influence Babetown?
AK: In big kitchens, anything can go really wrong at any time, and it’s a big deal to fix it. So, I’ve had to learn from that. Sometimes things go wrong at events, and I think that I’m very good at staying calm and figuring out how to fix it quickly. Also, I’ve really learned how to communicate with food on a larger scale.
GO: What does it mean to curate a safe space for queer and trans women and gender-nonconforming people?
AK: There was another LGBTQ event I went to while I was thinking about creating Babetown and it was just a sea of gay men. I kept thinking about how all of these men have this opportunity and network of community to help build their careers. That’s in a way what Babetown is about for me, creating a network of women in the city. I think that all queer women and trans people should know each other and have access to our collective resources. Because we truly are stronger together. I want to create a space where people can be comfortable making that connection with a stranger who can maybe help them in their career, or make a romantic connection with someone they might not have otherwise met. For me, it’s an honor to have met people who can encourage and support me in what I truly believe in.
GO: What are some responses you’ve gotten from people who have attended Babetown?
AK: I’ve gotten nothing but extremely positive responses from people who have attended Babetown. Sometimes I read them and cry. There was one time when someone wrote me an email letting me know she had just moved to the city and were having a hard time making friends. She came to Babetown and met the girl she’s still dating and several friends; she said she felt seen at the event, which was really powerful to me.
GO: What can you tell us about the future for Babetown?
AK: There’s so many things I’d love to do: Babetown by Sea, Babetown Brunch, Babetown Speed Dating. I have this dream of queering up of a Powderpuff Football game with a BBQ. I have a lot of Babetown dreams related to giving back to the community and donating to non-profits.
Babetown is so much about connection. Building a world of connections and options for queer and trans people. I’m proud to be a part of it.
To get your tickets before they sell out, head over to beyourownbabe.com.