On June 29, in the waning days of Pride, New York’s lesbian and queer women were greeted with good news: a new lesbian bar might soon open in Queens.
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The announcement came from Astoria-based open mic music organizer, Kristin Dausch (they/them), who officially launched Dave’s Lesbian Bar by Instagram video. Although they hadn’t “found the perfect space yet,” Dausch told their followers that they planned on holding pop-up events around Queens every month to raise funds and interest until Dave’s can open in its permanent home.
At a time when lesbian bars have dwindled across the country, and the remaining ones are struggling to survive, Dave’s Lesbian Bar would be something of a unicorn: the rare example of a lesbian bar launching in the post-Covid world.
Dausch tells me that they were inspired to launch their own bar precisely because so few lesbian spaces exist. “There are no lesbian bars in Queens,” they said when we spoke by Zoom earlier this month. On top of that, “I then saw all of these articles coming out about how there are no lesbian spaces, and I was like, ‘I have been on that same wavelength.’ “And that was it, I guess. That was enough for me to be like, ‘I’m going to at least try.”
Dausch is no stranger to social organization. For three years, they’ve brought Astoria’s musically-inclined — and its musical queers — together for Show and Tell, the open mic they run weekly at the Ukehut, which bills itself as New York City’s only ukulele shop. Working with Show and Tell, and seeing people come together over music, also inspired Dausch, who works as a nanny in their day job, to launch their own permanent venue. “I want to do this every day of my life,” they realized.
Their vision for Dave’s Lesbian Bar is twofold. As an entertainment venue, their goal for Dave’s is to feature live music every night of the week, with events like live band karaoke, drag kings, and burlesque. Ideally, they would also like to hire a lesbian house band; paying musicians to have a steady gig “would be my dream,” they say.
Music is just one half of the equation. By day, Dave’s will provide space for community mutual aid, serving the Astoria community — a critical part of Dausch’s vision. “I love Astoria Mutual Aid,” they tell GO, referring to the network of community-based organizations that provide resources to the neighborhood during the Covid pandemic. “We need more of this. If we can just have one hub, like, if Dave’s Lesbian Bar … [had] a section that was the free store, or a place where you could drop off dry food goods for the pantry, those types of things matter in communities.”
Another possibility would be to offer free bartending classes geared toward community members, specifically Black trans sex workers, who are looking to develop other marketable skills. Or, possibly, use space as a networking hub connecting community members to queer-owned businesses. “I’ve had tons of ideas,” Dausch says. “Let’s see which ones come to fruition!” Just so long as Dave’s is used for community betterment. “I am never turning down the opportunity to help a neighbor. And I think that will be the mission of Dave’s Lesbian Bar: if I have it, you have it, too.”
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As for the name — which, admittedly, is a tad odd for a lesbian bar — “Dave” serves a few purposes, too. It plays with traditional perceptions of gender, “which I’m really proud of,” Dausch says, but it’s also a homage to Astoria, with its multitude of Dave-named businesses (Dave’s Shoes, Dave’s Kitchen and Cabinets). “I just want [the bar] to be welcoming, synonymous with comfort and ease.”
Plus, on a more personal note, Dausch had been dating a man named Dave when she came out. They are still friends.
Bringing people together, whether over music or mutual aid, is what Dave’s is all about, and why it’s necessary to launch now, when so many businesses — and so many lesbian bars — are either closing or struggling. “People now more than ever are desperate for connection,” Dausch tells me. Now that we’re starting to reopen, “people are going to be looking for spaces to connect.” Still, it’s a pretty big leap from running an open mic to opening a lesbian bar; while Dausch was pretty sure they had a good idea with Dave’s, launching the campaign on Instagram — and putting the idea out into the world — was still somewhat daunting. Was the world — or at least queer community of greater New York City — really craving new space?
The answer, of course, was yes. Within a week of launching the campaign, Dave’s Lesbian Bar received over 5K in donations. Although Dausch jokes that it would be a riot to fund the bar on donations from cis white heterosexual Daves from around the country, so far the bar’s primary donors are lesbians, and not just from greater New York City; they’re received donations from as far away as California. And although the response has generally been “incredibly positive,” Dausch says, there have been a few naysayers who’ve warned just how difficult opening a lesbian bar in this climate will be. Not that they’re deterred. “Everything that has been hard that I’ve done has been rewarding.”
As a permanent venue, Dave’s is currently in the early stages of its development. Dausch is assembling a business advisory committee with other Astoria business owners and has even lined up a few investors. Based on estimates from other area business owners, they anticipate that Dave’s will open in its permanent home by 2023.
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For now, Dausch is prepping the first in a series of pop-up events which they hope will run monthly until Dave finds its home. The first, an outdoor/indoor event in partnership with Astoria beer bar Heart of Gold, will be held on Saturday July 24. It will feature seven queer-led bands, free queer books from the Rolling Library, a rack of free clothes from the Astoria Free Store, and undercuts provided by Hairrari. Music and community mutual aid: the key elements Dausch wants to bring together in Dave’s Lesbian Bar.
“Having a space that I could go — especially because I want mine to be a venue, a space, typically for musical queers — that would have changed my whole life early on,” Dausch says. “I want to provide that. I want to be the change that I want to see in the world. I want to have a space for people like that.”
Dave’s Lesbian Bar’s first pop-up event is on Saturday, July 24 from 2-11 p.m in Astoria, Queens. Outdoors from 2-7:30 at 31st Avenue and 37th Street, with live music from 3-7:30. Indoors at Heart of Gold from 8-11, featuring music by Goldilocks and DJ Dylan.