Two New Lesbian Bars in Washington, DC

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Washington, DC was once home to the nation’s longest operating dyke bar, Phase 1, which opened in 1971. The bar closed in 2016 after battling gentrification, rising rents, and the general LGBT trend starting in the aughts of moving away from LGBT-specific spaces, as lesbian historian and DMV native Bonnie Morris put it. The Navy Yard neighborhood was home to many gay bars, including Joanna’s and Club Madame. Around the city, lesbian coded spaces or gay bars with lesbian nights numbered at least 15 according to local historian Ty Ginter at the DC Dykaries history project.

DC is among America’s gayest places, with the most recent Gallup poll finding 8.6 percent of residents self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

In June 2018, there were no permanent lesbian/bisexual women’s spaces in DC. There are lesbian parties, such as the popular OverEasy tea dance and Taste, which is a monthly dyke takeover of mainstream bars. Then in August, as if Diana herself had shot a big gay arrow right into the target of the nation, there were two. Very different in vibe, the spots offer a range of experiences for lesbian and bi women any night of the week.

A League of Her Own

2319 18th Street NW, Washington, District of Columbia 20009

Staff outside A League of Her Own – Photo Stephanie Archie

A League of Her Own is a garden-level bar with its own entrance underneath the shiny, friendly, Pitchers gay men’s sports bar. Jo McDaniel, who used to bartend at Phase 1 and Phase 1 Dupont Circle (a short-lived offshoot of Phase 1 on 8th Street SE), has the experience required to promote the perfect atmosphere for lesbian and queer-identified women. McDaniel is quick to point out that all are welcome and that the space is centered for lesbian, bi and queer-identifying women of all ages and classes. “It’s always a party but we’re looking to be a chill, relaxed environment.”

The bar is something like a sports bar, with warm woods reclaimed from old barns, flat screen TVs. Perhaps at some point those will broadcast sports, but in its opening days, they show A League of Their Own and The L Word. Four of the TVs are for group video games.

The space is unpretentious by design, and McDaniel wants to buck the trend among gay men’s bars of creating an ‘elite’ experience through rude waitstaff. Of her staff she jokes, “Friendly? Weird, I know. So happy to be here? Weird, I know.” In order to make the space truly inclusive, she says there will never be a cover charge. “It’s already an expensive city. It’s expensive to live here; it’s expensive to drink here. Our most expensive drink is $9. You can get a pint of craft beer for $5.”

Opening night at A League of Her Own

She also says she’s not filling the social calendar with events. She wants the community to dictate what happens in the space. She says she’s already got a lesbian book club, queer parenting group, ultimate sports club, and others who have requested A League of Her Own to host. “I want the community to say ‘Here’s what I need it for.’ This is just a space. What happens within it depends on who is in it.”

XX+

1926 9 Street NW, Washington, District of Columbia 20001

XX+ Partners – Photo Mariah Miranda

Located upstairs in chichi Italian restaurant Al Crostino, XX+ is a lounge with moody lighting and soft places to ‘get boo’d up’ in the words of owner Lina Nicolai. I spoke with partners Nicolai as well as Chef K.B. and manager Tasha, close friends who each bring together their favorite things about going out to create an upscale yet chill environment. “We want an atmosphere where you feel fancy, where you can speak, feel relaxed and not like you’re in a dive bar. Lesbians deserve better too.” said Nicolai. “It’s important to have the variety but lesbians can be bougie too,” Tasha said.

Craft Cocktails at XX+

There’s a rotating art exhibition on the walls, a pool table, signature cocktails, and a playful, foodie-focused menu, but it’s not pretentious at all. “We make it a point to approach people who are by themselves to speak to them or try to introduce them to others in the space. I don’t want anyone to feel alone in this space, I want them to feel like this is their home and we can make a family all together,” said Nicolai.

“We have a pool table, we have a loungey space, we have this long bar for everyone to lean. On the weekends we have good music so you can get up and vibe and dance.”

They want to do event days, workshops, such as finance 101 for the LGBT community. They also plan to host charity events and give money back to the community.

The team is acutely aware that lesbian and queer-identified women need spaces of our own, and that it can be hard to maintain a boundary when men enter the space and act inappropriately. They have rules to keep everyone safe and assured me they “take no shit” and will throw out, without hesitation, anyone who compromises the safety and comfort of women in the space.

Rules intended to keep everyone safe are posted at the top of the stairs as you enter the space, right next to the bouncer. It’s a nice touch to making women feel safe, even if a woman brings her male friend along. So far, it doesn’t appear to be an issue, since, even as the space fills on a Friday night, strangers meet and become friends around the pool table and the plush couches.