Nobody’s Darling Is For The Outcasts

“Every time I wake up in the morning tired, and trying to balance work and the bar, I think about the impact that we’re having,” says Riddle. “and will have for a good few more years to come.”

 ‘Be nobody’s darling; Be an outcast,’ reads the opening line of Alice Walker’s 1973 poem. “It really just speaks to everything that we are,” says Renauda Riddle, co-owner of Chicago Bar Nobody’s Darling.We move to our own beat, we are all about doing things the way we want to do things. We feel like we’re outcasts, because we don’t have any industry experience, we’re doing this our way, not because someone says this is the blueprint…it’s our blueprint.”

Renauda Riddle and Angela Barnes – friends for many years – were golfing during the pandemic, when Riddle told Barnes that the owners of a lesbian wine bar (the predecessor of Nobody’s) wanted to sell, and asked if she’d like to join forces. The time was right and the numbers were good, and in May 2021, Chicago’s darlin’ neighborhood bar opened its doors.  

Alongside their full-time jobs, auditor Riddle and attorney Barnes, sit on two Boards together, one of which is the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Riddle also used to run a pop-up party for queer women of color, called Clandestina (it’s still running). “An auditor and an attorney walk into a bar”could be the start of a bad joke, but for Chicago’s queer community, it was the start of Nobody’s Darling, a bar of pure excellence.   

Nestled on a quiet street in the laidback neighbourhood of Andersonville, Nobody’s Darling is one of two Black-owned queer bars in Chicago, and has been covered by major news outlets throughout America. “We’re very intentional about everything we do,” Riddle tells GO, “from our staff to our cocktails, our menu, to our space, even to the bathroom,” she says, referring to the walls lined with photos of Marsha P Johnson, Janelle Monae, and Grace Jones sipping cocktails. “We try and make people think, even when they’re having a cocktail.” This is abundantly clear when you’re sipping a G Bentley (a nod to Harlem Renaissance star, and tail-suit-wearing lesbian Blues singer, Gladys Bentley) or a Black Wall Street (honoring the prosperous Black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, decimated by white mobs in 1921). Nobody’s Darling, much like a craft cocktail, has been carefully and consciously created by its owners, for the community. 

Riddle, a self-proclaimed “cocktail snob” and her team create seasonally shifting lists of “addictive” drinks, that are so tasty, Riddle explains, that you’re thinking: “I’m gonna suck this down and I’m about to get another, but let me stop, let me slow down for a minute.” All while sticking to their mantra: “downtown cocktails for neighborhood prices.”

Come later in the evening, after 8pm, for a more electric atmosphere, Riddle recommends. “People are ready to throw their hair down, dance a little bit, have some good cocktails, just be their whole self in the space.”

In the afternoon, the bar is for chilled after-work drinks, cute dates and catch-ups, writers are often sprinkled around the venue, typing away during the quieter hours. “It always fascinates me,” says Riddle, “I’m like, how can you write with so much going on and you’re having a cocktail, too? I’m just amazed at how you lot focus.”

With so many commitments in their working lives, plus all of their volunteering and community projects, I ask Riddle if she would consider herself and Barnes activists. “I guess that’s what you would call us,” she says, in her dulcet Southern accent, her manner always chilled and humble. “I feel like I’m just doing what is expected of me when you have a certain presence in the community. They say, ‘if much is given to you, much is expected’; I feel like I have seen other women of color be active in our community and I understand the importance of that. It’s always important for others to see minority groups – those who aren’t usually seen on that level – to show up and be present.”

Though there may be a lack of direct experience in bar ownership for the pair, the efficiency of the space would never suggest as much. Besides, in a beautiful twist of fate, Riddle’s father once ran a bar in Chicago’s Southside. It’s where he met her mother, before they moved down South to create their family. “So I guess it’s in the DNA,” says Riddle.

The bar was popping off on the Saturday night I visited, all the writers had put their laptops on the coat rack and were now channeling Alice with an A. Walker Winter Martini. Nobody’s Darling has a joyful, cosy community feel, with a chic, sexy buzz too. The staff free-pour spirits into shakers and pluck bottles of red from the statement wine rack behind the bar, framed by exposed brick. There’s a complete range of ages, genders, and ethnicities, it’s an intimate bar – rectangular in shape – so strangers are conversing all around, while the likes of Gaga, Cher and FKA Twigs, pulse through the sound-system. 

Whenever Riddle and Barnes walk into their bar, you really know they’re there, something in the atmosphere directly shifts and alchemizes. You can feel their passion, their power. 

“Every time I wake up in the morning tired, and trying to balance work and the bar, I think about the impact that we’re having,” says Riddle. “and will have for a good few more years to come.”

Nobody’s Darling, 1744 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago Illinois

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