State of the Lesbian Bar: Were DC’s Legendary Lesbian Bars Just a Phase?

In Autostraddle’s The State of the Lesbian Bar, we’re taking a look at lesbian bars around the country as the possibility of extinction looms ever closer.

Phase 1, both the oldest standing lesbian bar in America and the last to remain in the nation’s capital, closed abruptly this month “for renovations.” The owner has confirmed it will reopen, but speculation remains over whether this is the end of brick-and-mortar lesbian spaces in DC — especially since, in the process of closing, he fired his longtime staff without notice and has yet to release a reopen date.

The bar is 45 this year, and it’s hard to imagine a Washington, DC without it. In fact, a Washington where there is no Phase 1 looks a lot like other major cities across the United States — it has no lesbian bar at all.


“If Phase 1 doesn’t open back up, it will definitely be an end of an era,” said Eboné Bell, Managing Editor of Tagg Magazine. “So many women made long-lasting relationships and memories at this venue.”

Indeed, it’s rare to find someone who — despite its location in the southeast quadrant of the city — has never been to Phase 1. As someone who came out in DC, I can vouch that going was like a rite of passage. (I can also vouch that the drinks were amazing and the karaoke night was a wild ride.) Phase 1 was where I finally got to be me — the new, shiny, lesbian me. I got to be raunchy, regular, and a little wild. I could dance provocatively without worrying men were looking on. I could watch women wrestle in jello, which was life-giving. And I could count on seeing familiar faces at the bar, being recognized as queer no matter what I wore, and feeling connected to something bigger than me every time I opened its heavy doors.

“How tragic is it that I only ever jello wrestled once?”Anna Kark, a self-described “standard hip young lesbian,” asked me in our interview. “What a delightful experience. Both of us fit what I like to call the ‘girly but burly’ category — pretty hair and even prettier triceps. I got her on the ground a few times, and it was a solid tie in the end because she twerked and I didn’t. No hard feelings, only fond memories and a deep sadness that the scenario may now never be recreated.”

“Before I was a Managing Editor of Tagg Magazine, I was a young lesbian trying to figure herself out,” Bell said. “Phase 1 played an important role in welcoming me into the queer women’s community.”

“I practically grew up in that bar,” an anonymous employee told Tagg about the abrupt closing. “I’ve dedicated so much of my life and time to that place.”

Should Phase 1 be gone forever, it wouldn’t be the first time queer women in DC lost a sacred public space. Lace and Phase 1’s nightclub location in Dupont Circle closed in late 2013. And prior to my own tenure as a professional lesbian in the nation’s capital, the community mourned the loss of countless others. Maintaining a bar, after all, means maintaining a business. Certainly, none of us expected these to last forever — but the thought of a DC without any lesbian bars is sobering in more ways than one.

“I think this is the crucial element of all of this: we have a history,” Michelle Carnes, who completed ethnographic fieldwork on Black lesbian strip club shows in the DC metro area for her phD, told me. “It’s not always been written down or honored as important. But just like spaces don’t close out of nowhere, they didn’t emerge from nothing either. It’s important for us to know our history — it makes us human, it makes it harder to dismiss us or uproot us when we have a claim to the city. Queer people are a people of a place and time, and we have as much right to space in the city.”

Feminism has taught us that the personal is political — and though it’s easy to think of these losses as minor dents in our community, what they represent is a sacrificing of our own shared space. The downfall of lesbian bars across the nation isn’t an isolated event; it goes hand-in-hand with the shuttering of LGBT centers, bookstores, and other businesses — and it’s an unintended consequence of the mainstreaming of the LGBT movement. Often, that mainstreaming erases anyone who isn’t white, male, or wealthy from the LGBT movement’s history — and it erodes our ability to claim space and, thus, claim that we matter.

“If marriage equality is your goal, preserving bathhouses probably isn’t your priority,” Carnes said. “But to me, these spaces represent a place of freedom, a place away from judgment, a place of belonging, a place of pleasure and community. We’re losing them and we must take that loss seriously, what we’re accepting in trade culturally, think about whether it’s worth it. To me, it’s worth it to stand up for these spaces. I don’t think we fully understand what we’ve lost.”

“It is incredibly challenging to create queer space in DC,” Alex DB, who co-hosts Bodywork, a queer dance party, with fellow DJ Abichula. “There are mainstream gay bars and parties, much like any other major city would have, but there is increasingly less space for those who may not fall into, or actively reject that category. I think for the most part we have a strong, tightly-knit community of queer woman DJs and partystarters, and I am so grateful for that. We run the gamut musically, we’re fun as hell, we give a shit about our communities and about each other. But we often find ourselves against the odds, no matter how successful or popular we become in our craft.”

Abichula echoed her. “This scene is made up by so many talented, wonderful, passionate people,” she told me, “and it’s mindblowing that we have so few physical spaces where people actually want us to throw parties. We are here, we are so god damn queer, but where is the space to express that?”

“People need to understand that equality doesn’t have to mean sameness,” Alex added, touching on how the mainstream LGBT movement has led to an end for self-segregated spaces like Phase 1. “We are becoming more ‘normal’ in the eyes of the mainstream, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want or need places to let our freak flags fly for a minute. Some of us don’t even want to be perceived as normal. I think queers are pretty perfect how we are.”

“There are accessible places you can still go to see baseball around here. Where am I gonna get my queer lap dance?”

“Spaces for anyone outside the box are at risk — not just here in DC but everywhere,” Carnes said. Citing the formerly formidable chunk of LGBT and BDSM bars that once filled southeast DC, she pointed to gentrification, a tourism agenda, and the Internet as causes for the ruin. “Venues for people who want privacy, to be left alone to be who they are with others in a safe environment — they tend to stick together. Southeast [DC] used to be that place — warehouse-style dance clubs, Bound DC used to be down there, Capitol Ballroom, Tracks, Wet/The Edge, Nation, the Crucible. There was a lot of real estate down there dedicated to people being free to be themselves, sexually or otherwise. All the venues together represented a formidable presence and no one was interested in Southeast so no one bothered us for some years.”

Until they did. That formerly formidable chunk of non-normative space eventually gave rise to a high-rise apartments and office buildings and a new stadium for DC’s not-much-heralded Nationals.

Wet/The Edge was the site of the longest continually running lesbian strip party in the country before it was gobbled up for development by the city.

Wet/The Edge was the site of the longest continually running lesbian strip party in the country.

“Southeast started to be consumed, slowly at first — and then, all at once with the stadium,” she remembered. “When you go down there now, you’d hardly believe what used to be there. But under the new coat of paint and shiny windows, I remember what was there and I miss it. I refuse to go to Nationals Stadium. You’ll never see me there. I had an amazing lap dance right around where home base is now. I hate the Nationals and I hate the stadium. There are accessible places you can still go to see baseball around here. Where am I gonna get my queer lap dance?”

Of course, the people who lose out the most when LGBT spaces are attacked are the ones who find themselves “othered” most frequently. In DC, the contrast between a booming gay men’s industry and a dying lesbian scene is stark. A 2013 article in The New York Times, The Gayest Place in America, cited the statistic that 10% of DC residents are LGBT, and makes its case for the city’s thriving “gay and lesbian” scene with stories of retailers, gyms, parties, drag shows, bathhouses and bars aimed at gay men only.

“DC has one of the most segregated queer scenes I’ve seen in any city I’ve lived in,” Emily White told me. White, who currently lives overseas, was a DC transplant by way of Portland, and noted in our interview that DC’s scene for queer people was monopolized by men. She was, of course, right. Most spaces billed as “gay bars” are filled with gay men, and target them so distinctively that women may not even feel welcome. For women and even men of color, the divide grows even further in a city where diversity is a popular keyword but not as popular a business strategy.

What this means is that the only people truly losing out when brick-and-mortar spaces close are, of course, the others. It’s now gay women who lack community, although gay men can find it across town at Cobalt, Nellie’s, Town, the new Town patio bar, and The Eagle. Gender non-conforming folks, of course, aren’t considered at all in a scene designed this way, and thus the only spaces that they can count on are pop-up parties at locations that may not be as safe as a consistently queer locale.

“Creating an alternate superqueer reality, even if just for one night, feels like a breath of fresh air.”

Alex and Abuchula, who host Bodywork.

Alex and Abichula, who host Bodywork. via Tia Thompson

But for those who are attempting, now, to sustain social events or spaces for a broad base of queer people or even just queer women — and in a climate where lesbian bars nationwide are being pushed to the brink of extinction — it isn’t inspiring to watch the oldest one standing fall down.

“It was the oldest running lesbian bar in the country! That’s a big deal! The fact of it is, I can no longer say to myself, ‘I am going to go to a place that is engineered specifically for queer women.’ I have to consult various calendars and the phases of the moon to see what Lesbian Night is available that particular evening and whether or not the space is safe,” Kark said. “At Phase, I knew that at any given time: I would not be the only queer lady, there would be four men maximum and I wouldn’t have to deal with them, at least one cute bartender would be in attendance, if something bad happened to me there because I was gay or because I was a woman — people would be on my side. ”

“In a city with high property values and skyrocketing rents, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain spaces for those of us on the fringe: queers, freaks, weirdos, whatever you want to call us,” Abichula told me. “Obviously transplant-queers like myself don’t have the worst of it; DC’s long term black community experiences the worst effects of gentrification, and anything we say must be prefaced with that. But beyond this, most spaces that are opened by and for queers (or at least are welcoming to us) either end up catering to the mainstream, or going out of business.”

What many of my interviews touched on is the new dynamic in nightlife for queer women looking for queer spaces in the District. Although all of DC’s queer women collectively mourned last year’s end to SHE/REX, a monthly girl-on-girl party that provided (in my own personal estimation) approximately 100% of us with a chance to get some and get down, the space was quickly filled or bypassed completely by countless other recurring and one-off parties for girls looking to meet girls, or even just queers looking to meet other weirdos.

Some queer party promoters are looking to create a different kind of space altogether. “There are lots of queers who aren’t gays or lesbians — and even some who are — that don’t feel comfortable at gay or lesbian bars,” Abichula said. In creating Bodywork, she and Alex were hoping to create a space for everyone, not just women — and, in particular, for folks who are rarely catered to at all in queer business. “Creating an alternate superqueer reality,” she told me, “even if just for one night, feels like a breath of fresh air.”

glittHER, Bodywork, Bare, the Sunday Tea Dance, and a host of other weekly, monthly, and otherwise consistent parties give us a chance to check out new venues, meet new people, and have a good time — but it’s not possible yet to measure what kind of impact that kind of scene will have on a community that sprouted, at the dawn of time, from brick-and-mortar spaces like Phase 1. It’s not possible for us to know, just yet, how our community will change now that we don’t have a central place to house it.

“As much as I like dressing up to go out, as much as I like my holigays, I would like a queer women’s place that isn’t a Special Event,” Kark told me. “It would be really nice if, after a long day of work, I could just put on my casual spiked heels and go get a drink at a physical location that I know contains queer women in it without arranging my social calendar around a Ladies’ Night days or weeks in advance. Can’t the world revolve around me at least a little bit, at least in this small way?”

Pop-up parties also offer an opportunity to turn “straight” venues into queer ones, although that also increases safety concerns for — once again — the most marginalized of our community in particular. In our interview, Bell noted that it can be fun to check out new restaurants and bars in the city with other queers, but sometimes it’s a risk to venture into an unwelcome space and trust that it will change for just a night.

“I think the brick-and-mortar spaces offer more of a sense of community, and a sense of safety,” she told me. “As someone who has been in unfortunate and harassing situations at “straight” establishments, the sense of safety and being able to be yourself is so important. I think the queer women’s spaces — brick-and-mortar — automatically provide this for its patrons. And usually staff is very aware of these issues. This is something that parties at different establishments can’t necessarily guarantee.”

Kark echoed these concerns. “I’m sure it’s not impossible to build a transient safe space,” she said, “but a physical foundation goes a long way.” She went on to tell me about a situation in which a woman was harassing her at Phase 1, and was asked to leave. “Ideally, bad shit never happens, and of course let’s not pretend that Phase is perfectly equipped to deal with it, but it did make me feel safe to know that neither staff nor clientele would excuse my being hurt by another person. Part of my lived experience — maybe part of being a loud, hyper-femme, gay lady who likes to go dancing and put my mouth on stranger’s faces — is that a lot of clubs, even so-called queer clubs, don’t care when somebody hurts me. Stressing about safety does not make for a sexy night. I’m sure other people have had other experience at Phase 1, but it was one of the only nightlife spaces in the city where I felt safe and sexy, and it really hurts to lose that.”

This isn’t to say that queer pop-up parties are any more unsafe than your neighborhood haunt, or that the people who run them don’t try to keep patrons safe. “No space is going to be perfectly safe or welcoming to everyone,” Abichula asserted about Bodywork, “but we wanna do our best, hear any criticism that people have, and do whatever we can do make it great for everyone.”

Despite DC’s pop-up parties and resilient queer community, the city that ranks consistently as one of the gayest in the country may not have much left to offer queer women. “I’m not sure there is a future for the lesbian bar scene,” Bell said. “I think we are seeing more women’s spaces disappearing with no sign of coming back.”

That doesn’t mean, of course, that queer women and folks who fall outside the boxes of DC’s standing scene won’t ever find home again. It just means we have to decide how to build it, how to sustain it, and how to make someone else show up.

“You can’t be all things to all people,” White said at the end of her interview. “Maybe there are iterations of The Planet that work somewhere, but it’s hard for a single business to do a good job at being a bar, a cafe, a venue, and a community gathering space, and maybe we shouldn’t be asking for all of that from the same location, since it usually seems to result in the location being a pretty shitty version of each of those things. I dream of a day when every city could have lesbian bars with no cover, good music, and a decent happy hour, and also have a feminist bookstore where poetry readings happen, and queer women owned cafes and restaurants that don’t have to be a part of any of those other things.”

“To tell you the truth, it is hard to say what is next,” Alex told me. “We have no choice but to keep doing what we’re doing. That sounds more serious than it may be, but we live in a city where at least eight gay or gay-owned bars have closed or been put in limbo in the last two years. That is a very serious and alarming pattern. I love my city and I think we have it better than many other cities, but we need these places. We always have and we always will.”

“If there is one thing I’ve learned in my research,” Carnes told me, adding that she wanted to end her interview on a positive note, “it is that in the face of systemic inequities, homophobia, sex negativity, harassment, the threat of job loss, death — we find places to be ourselves. We’ll make spaces our own under the worst of circumstances, even if just for a few hours. People risk it because that’s how important it is to us to find one another, to feel human, to feel desire and love and express it openly without shame… I am mindful of the resilience of our communities, the unwillingness to accept the message of the city, that there’s nowhere we belong. History tells us that’s not true. We’ll find each other, no matter what. “

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


  1. Speaking as a long-time DCer: part of the issue (and perhaps a wider conversation, or perhaps just me) – going to Phase was TERRIFYING if you were not with a posse of people who knew everyone. DC’s lesbian scene is incredibly insular. I’m kind of shy, so again this could just be me. But I still have never really felt at home with the DC lesbian community (though there are a fair number of lesbians here, so this could just have to do with the ones I know.) I’m engaged now, which gives me the opportunity/excuse to not really go out often (ironically, I met my fiancee at glitHER.) But all of my memories of Phase were going with friends, watching girls pick them up and leave with them, and then walking home alone because I was too big and awkward and tall to be hit on.

    (Also, Phase was always roughly 175 degrees.)

  2. This was beautifully written, and sad. I hope that Phase 1 does reopen.

    It all sounds familiar as well, melbourne never had as many lesbian bars as it sounds like DC had, but we’ve also lost the 2-3 spaces we had in the last few years, while booming, male only (by law) gay men’s bars exist. We have pop up parties, but yea it’s also really left me wondering what the lack of permanent spaces at the moment means for city.

  3. I was in DC for two months over the summer and going to Phase One was the first (and to date, last) time in my life I got to be in a permanent queer women’s space. I don’t think I can adequately describe what a relief it was to be there. We need these places, I need these places. Hopefully the closure is temporary as the owner says.

    • yes, i am crossing my fingers for it! really glad you got to see and be in phase before all this, at least.

  4. I can’t handle this news. At all! Phase 1 wasn’t even my favorite place ever but it was old and we were there. I’m seriously so sad.

    • yes, this. it didn’t have to be the place where everybody knew my name. it was just a place where i could always count on everybody knowing who i was was authentic and real.

  5. I was in DC back in November and tried going to Phase, but we were out too early, so I just got a picture of the building. I know that sounds cheesy, but I live in a town with no brick and mortar public spaces for queer ladies, so it was really exciting to even be in the same vicinity as a lesbian bar. I’m sad I might never have the chance to go now.

    • i hope for all of our sake that phase opens back up, and that you get to go, perhaps even as part of a meet-up hosted by me, because that sounds magical

  6. Check out phatgirlchic- as a resource for women’s parties in DC. Google the phrase and you’ll find the website

    The closing of lesbian bars definitely evokes a deep sadness. Since I travel frequently, being able to stop by gay and lesbian bars has felt very grounding- having the opportunity to connect with the physical space if not with the community present. I do agree with you Carmen, that bars fill and attempt to fill lots of community needs: social, sexual, spiritual, etc. This is probably extremely stressful on bars as institutions and for-profit spaces.

    I grew up in DC and since I left at 18, I built community in New York and Boston- going to bars and community events regularly. Gentrification has devastated the city in a way that when I returned many spaces were gone, unwelcoming or inaccessible. There are many racial and gender microaggressions against anyone that isnt a part of dominant culture and the “mainstream” gay scene. Usually when I’m home, I go to parties in a variety of spaces instead of one spot.

    Good luck folks in finding love and community! I met my partner working at a church summer camp

  7. One of the things I focused on about the lack of a dedicated space was financially supporting queer owned businesses but I hadn’t even thought about the safety issue. Way to take it to the next level Carmen. So many good points here I might just comment like 6 more times only with your quotes that are just so on point such as:

    “The downfall of lesbian bars across the nation isn’t an isolated event; it goes hand-in-hand with the shuttering of LGBT centers, bookstores, and other businesses — and it’s an unintended consequence of the mainstreaming of the LGBT movement. Often, that mainstreaming erases anyone who isn’t white, male, or wealthy from the LGBT movement’s history — and it erodes our ability to claim space and, thus, claim that we matter.”

    • Ok like this:

      “If marriage equality is your goal, preserving bathhouses probably isn’t your priority,” Carnes said. “But to me, these spaces represent a place of freedom, a place away from judgment, a place of belonging, a place of pleasure and community. We’re losing them and we must take that loss seriously, what we’re accepting in trade culturally, think about whether it’s worth it. To me, it’s worth it to stand up for these spaces. I don’t think we fully understand what we’ve lost.”

  8. About 2 years ago a friend told me that he as a gay man has enough options for safe space to go to if he didn’t like the guys at the place he was at. It’s a real shame to see these places close down. Have we studied to see why lesbian bars aren’t on the up, while gay male bars are keeping steady? Are queer women more likely to spend time at home, or with friends somewhere else, or is it gay men are more willing to go to the clubs/bars to be with friends, and meet new people?

    • I kinda assumed we all stay home or socialize in small groups. Especially, after we enter couples. I know I meet/see far more lesbians on the train then I ever see in the two LGBT bars I go to.

    • I think part of it might be that, in general, many organized LGBT spaces are now found in high schools/colleges (which of course is an issue right there). Before the late 90s people just coming out went to a physical building to find community, whereas now people go to their school’s GSA.

      Also I think that increasing numbers of youth are identifying as queer/pansexual/genderqueer/nonbinary where 10 years ago they would have IDed as lesbian/butch. And I’ve wondered why most of the people who ID as genderqueer/nonbinary/etc are AFAB rather than AMAB. Not trying to disrespect people’s identity, but I think it’s worth looking at how the identities surrounding lesbianism have changed over the last few years.

      • I’ve wondered about that too as a genderqueer amab person. Most of the genderqueer people I see on the net are afab and sometimes that’s not the best example(specially for fashion advice). Though I am also thankful to see a lot of queer trans women on the net to get inspiration from too.
        I’ve only been to a few lesbian clubs, but I haven’t met in person a non-binary person yet(maybe I have, but no one has introduced themselves using a different pronoun like I do). Though I did see a trans man or two at Dinah.

        I am not sure if that’s the case with organized spaces though as I still see a lot of flourishing venues for men who are into men(though to be fair I am near by boys town section of West Hollywood).

      • katie! i agree with everything you said. and also this, here, is a thing that i have been thinking about and talking about a lot over the past year, especially after hearing a speech from cherie moraga at butch voices about this shift –> “and I’ve wondered why most of the people who ID as genderqueer/nonbinary/etc are AFAB rather than AMAB. Not trying to disrespect people’s identity, but I think it’s worth looking at how the identities surrounding lesbianism have changed over the last few years.”

    • I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive. But it has to be in large part because of our habits. I can count all the lesbian bars in nyc- and I would probably include the few gay bars with lesbian nights in that count because its such a small number its depressing. But gay bars are everywhere and in huge numbers. Gentrification and higher rents are a factor, but if gay bars are still thriving then its probably because we aren’t going to bars enough to keep them in business. I mean, lets do a poll: what are you more likely to do in an average weekend: go out to a bar or stay in with your girlfriend and your cat? Because I’m guessing that for most people its the latter, however much I wish it were otherwise.

  9. I remember being really excited to go here when I visited DC this summer, but was really disappointed when I showed up half an hour after opening on a Friday evening and I was literally the only person. I paid the cover fee, sat there awkwardly while the staff ignored me, drank my beer, and left. Sad to hear it shut down, but seems like there were good reasons…

    • It doesn’t (or didn’t) really pick up there til after 11:00 or so. It can seem pretty dead and then suddenly everyone comes out of the woodwork.

    • yeah, i think maybe you were just too early! i have never been to phase and had it been “empty,” although there were some chill nights during the week where my friends and i could actually hear each other talking over the noise, which was rare. i always found that phase one was hoppin’!

  10. When I first came out (10 years ago?!), two (gay, male) friends took me out on my first night out to Phase I. We gayed it up, going to a gay gym, a gay restaurant for dinner and then Phase I for Open Mic night. They had never been because men need a female escort and were curious and I had never been because I was scared to death. So it worked for all of us. It was just enough to be there.

    Later, my now wife and I went there on our first date. We live in the burbs so we didn’t get there often but we tried to go once a year at least, just for the memories. I hope it reopens.

    • this was the sweetest set of stories. i, too, remember my first baby gay trip to phase, and all the trips after that. the sense of safety, community, and acknowledgement was so much to me. it was everything i wanted. it was, in all honesty, everything i needed.

  11. “ethnographic fieldwork on Black lesbian strip club shows in the DC metro area for her phD”… wow. WOW. I feel seriously envious of her phD topic.

    I’m from a tiny country with tiny lesbian scene and these stories from American big cities sound fairytale-like to me. Black lesbian strip clubs? Lesbian jello wrestling? Actual lesbian bars? (Also: A-Camp, wtf wtf wtf in what universe does this kind of thing exist?? US dykes, be grateful.) My city hardly has even bi-monthly girl parties, so all of this sounds amazing to me. But I’m sad to hear that the scene is decaying.

    I think online dating probably has a lot to do with the disappearance of lesbian spaces? People don’t have to go out anymore to find other queer folks.

  12. So like I live in Canada, in a small city, and there is hardly anything in terms of queer hangouts here. There are some pretty awesome organized parties that happen, but those aren’t very often as those are run by volunteers so that is understandable. The local queer bar closed a while back, and that was so unfortunate. It was a decent place to hang out, have a drink, and just chat with friends without feeling so awkward. There was a fairly queer friendly club but it closed too. There’s a permanent queer club, but it’s mostly occupied by cis gay dudes and I’ve personally experienced misogynist entitlement there the time I went. I’ve also heard that a lot of gender policing happens there. So yeah, not a lot of options. I think there are some queer clubs/bars in van, but that’s a whole ferry away.

    • Ugh, the misogynist entitlement of cis gay dudes. Frankly I feel safer in straight bars than in the only “gay and lesbian” club in town (there are a couple of clubs that are geared exclusively towards gay men, but I rarely go to those). Me and my gf never got any trouble from the generally quite liberal straight crowd of our city’s nightclubs. But the cis gay dudes… I could tell so many stories of harrassment and meanness!

      • YES. I had to correct my cis gay coworker yesterday when he called the other two accountants in his department “the girls.” He thought it was cute. I told him it was demeaning. To be fair, most cis gay guys I know are not that bad. I wonder if it’s a generational thing; the older gay men I know through an LGBT dinner group are incredibly polite and kind, and the younger guys I know are much more obnoxious.

  13. Random thoughts in no particular order:

    I’m sorry Phase 1 is closing. Gingers in Brooklyn luckily is still open.

    I came out in the mid-80s. Even though the queer bars were on the edge of town, had no names and were in basements of buildings in industrial areas, the bars were full of fascinating, dangerous, vibrant, non-mainstream alcoholic/smoking queers. We spent probably half our disposable income there (hard earned from hourly wage jobs). So in my experience, the mainstream gay thing isn’t so much the reason bars have closed, it’s just made bars very much less interesting places to be. Also, I don’t have $8 for a beer.

    We butch dykes also used sports as a way to find each other and to find women who liked butch dykes. I’d to see the national trends on that, because it’s sure different now (I still play). After the game wed all drink at the bar that sponsored our team, gay or not.

    I’m not falsely nostalgic for a time when beloved friends were dying of AIDS, and when it was so difficult to be out that addiction mowed down many queers. Because it’s still happening. Just that in the 80/early 90d the bars were the central place to see it happening

    I think that bars are carried by people in their 20s-30s, and from what I see, that age group only will go to heavily promoted places their “friends” “like” on a Facebook event page. Alright. Every generation gets to do their own thing. The prime years of The Lesbian Bar has probably passed, I think there’s been a cultural shift, and oldies like me happily shake our fingers at the whippersnappers, while we drink at bars that show Jeopardy! during happy hour.

    I still drink and party, but now it’s easier to arrange my life to be around people i can stand (prison abolitionist, feminist, gender non-conforming artists and activists). That’s lucky and that’s progress (also better sex).

    I’m very happy that I can more successfully avoid the mainstream queers! there’s not that many of them in my life, and they rarely buy a round.

  14. extrinsic causes: gentrification, anti alcohol social engineering and someone sitting at a desk and deciding how many glasses of beer we should be able to afford and setting prices accordingly – and people grouping more around generational than identity lines.

    intrinsic causes: insularity, ideological constraint, hostility to randomers (read, folks that would have bought drinks), general failure in hard electronica department.

  15. It seems like straight bars pop up and shut down all the time; is it that surprising when a bar closes its doors? But then someone has to be willing to open another bar in its place.

    There are more lesbians than ever; there should be plenty of clientele. But even straight bars are changing; they have games or specialty drinks or food or some other kind of draw. They’re not just a venue for dating and drinking. And because they no longer feel like a meat market, I feel more comfortable going there with straight friends than to a queer bar where it can sometimes feel predatory.

    • i’m not really sure where you found a straight bar that doesn’t feel predatory, because i’ve never found a straight bar that doesn’t feel predatory. i would rather get hit on by a million lesbians in a night at phase than one man who gets too close to my drink at velvet lounge.

      also, no, it isn’t surprising that straight bars shut down all the time. straight bars are often really terrible places attempting to compete with a zillion other places attempting to draw in a majority of a region’s population on any given night. straight bars aren’t a part of history. straight bars don’t build movements. i said it in my article, but i’ll say it again. when we lose these spaces, we lose our spaces, flawed as they might be. when straight people lose a bar, they lose a happy hour deal and a creepy dude who scans IDs at the door.

  16. Thanks for this great piece. I’m thrilled that you included so much on gender, race, class, gentrification, etc. It’s real in a way so many people usually ignore.
    I came out in 1978 in DC and went to the Phase a lot in the early years. Then the Hung Jury (which was only lesbian one or two nights a week, but had good music). In the past couple of decades (!) I haven’t gone out dancing much (except when de Lounge was open in Wheaton, great scene) because I’m too old to stay up late and I’m too old to appreciate much of the music. But it was still important that the Phase was a part of DC culture and history, and for the people who were still going. Sad.

    • ah, thank you for your comment! i am glad to get a response from someone who has more knowledge of the history than me – i tried really hard to play catch-up, but having only been here since 2008 and 21 since 2011, it’s hard to get a handle on a lot of the context here. i am really glad you liked this place and this piece! i agree with you 100% that phase meant something bigger than itself – and that that mattered. i’m sad to see it closed and i really hope it comes back.

  17. I’m a lesbian in DC in my mid-20s and my friends and I should be exactly the type of people to go to Phase 1 but I’ve never been in the year and a half I’ve lived here and I think a lot of people have hit on the reasons why. I agree with earlier posters that a lot more people these days identify on the queer spectrum (most of my queer female friends in the area don’t identify as lesbians, including my girlfriend and most of her queer friends) and when I moved here and asked them about Phase 1 most of them said they thought it was (1) dirty/too far away and (2) not friendly at all towards bi/pan women. I never went there so I don’t know first hand but I know that as a femme who sometimes feels like I need to fricken make out with my gf in the middle of a bar to prove I’m gay all of their warnings freaked me out. Finally as some people have mentioned there are parties that happen and enough lgbt-friendly bars closer to everything else that none of my friends feel excluded at (and okc and tinder exist) so its just easier to rally our mixed troop for nellies or one of the parties or even a straight bar in a queer-friendly neighborhood than it is to convice anyone we should trek all the way out to phase 1 and ditch half of our friends for the night. I think as our generation experiences less of the hardship of earlier generations we feel less willing to to make any sacrifices for an exclusionary space even if it is one made for us. I’m torn about this because I hate when you go to hit on a girl at nellies just to find out she’s the “straight friend” or having to plan my calendar around the parties (it’s raining/cold vs eternal celibacy) but I don’t really know how to change this.

    • i definitely think you would have liked phase, especially if you were looking for a place where people assumed you were a gay lady. isn’t that the point, after all, of a lesbian bar? that when you’re in there, people assume you’re gay? my experiences in gay male spaces or straight spaces is that, as someone who literally reeks of homosexuality, i am straight until proven not-so-innocent in the eyes of gayfolk and straight folk alike. that’s why lesbian bars are so important to the people i interviewed, whether they were femme or not. being read as what you are – queer – is something these spaces give us that no other space can or ever will.

    • Sisters in Philadelphia closed recently, equally abruptly and disruptively to its staff:

      “This isn’t to say (Sisters) didn’t serve a place and provide a context for women’s socialization in a city that is now devoid of any other lesbian-exclusive establishments. It did that and more – even if in its final, darker days. Because there’s also the staff – many of whom have been there since the beginning – and who abruptly discovered they would need to find work just a few hours after closing this past Sunday.” (August 2014)

      From this link

      It’s curious that the managers of the bar and the owners of the building in both cases seem so far out of contact with one another.
      Also, I’m pretty sure lots of bars where I used to drink were laundering money, so profit wasn’t the real motivation, it was more about both owners and customers wanting to keep things on the DL and off the police radar.

      When I read books like “Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name” or “Lovers At The Chameleon Club, Paris 1932,” it reminds me of how important physical spaces were.

      • Sorry Meg- that wasn’t a reply, just a thought.
        I guess I had your interesting comment open when I responded.

  18. I think the continuing advances in marriage equality are reshaping the lesbian community. I’m older and married, and I have zero desire to go to a bar, LGBT or otherwise. My wife and I would like to meet other gay/bi/trans friends, but we won’t leave our warm, suburban nest either. We went to Phase 1 once. We were there for 30 minutes, bored, and decided to go home and binge-watch House of Cards.

    I don’t think the loss of queer bars for women is a bad thing. Rather than trying the same-old, same-old (new bar, boozing it up), let’s embrace the change and find new ways of connecting that reflect current needs of the community. Of course, people have different needs, and some people will still want a brick-and-mortar meeting space. I just don’t think that can be the only answer.

    I really enjoyed this article. Interesting topic!

  19. Yes it’s awful but when so many women don’t bother their backsides putting money where their mouths are & supporting what IS there, how can venues survive?

  20. Wow It is so sad….. Lil did we know that OUR bar would have made it to be the oldest lesbian bar in the country. Jojo Giacone​. Who would have thought when I would wear my toolbelt boxers, Terri Mohl​ gave me and the nickname ToolTyme because of The Phase 1​, attaching blankets to the inside of the front walls to keep the draft out. It was a place that never was a phase for us, it was where we met new people to have join into our “Family”. A place to go to after DC Pride Day when it was still small enough to have at P Street Beach. We all can relate to the memories in one way or another, from myself going to the phase for the first time when I got kicked out of my parents house for being gay, crying, Mary (the Bar Manager in the 80’s) consoling me and helping me find a roommate to live with, to the times we would yell “Hot Damn” when it was time to have another round of shots with Trish Martinache​. Those are only a couple of memories for me. For me The Phase was never a phase like our choice of drinks were. It was a place for OUR family to meet, laugh and love one and another in a safe lil place called “THE PHASE 1”

  21. I’ve been reading lots of articles on the demise of the lesbian bar, and it seems to me that the reasons provided in some cases are fundamentally wrong. For example in the link to Lace, the former chef claims they want wrong by not “embracing the whole community.” Which, I suppose in real life practice means admitting more men and catering to them and their interests. This is the direction most lesbian bars have taken in the last few years and I think it’s a faulty strategy. Since I’ve been playing with the idea of starting a business, I’ve been reading a lot of marketing books lately. And the one thing that is emphasized again and again is that you have to offer your customers something unique, or at minimum, some kind of “value added” that makes you stand out in the market place. If your lesbian bar does not center women, if it is jammed full of straight dudes obsessed with lesbians and/or cruising swingers, then why go? You can default to some other criteria, like price, location, perceived quality of the music, etc. Why do women refuse to defend their spaces? Gay men have no trouble marking out their territory and keeping it theirs.

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  23. Unsure if this has been updated in a while- Phase 1 has officially closed for business as of January 2016. I live behind the bar- a real blow to queer women’s spaces here in DC. Actually, I don’t think any exclusively queer women’s spaces exist here anymore.

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