These flaws were the impetus behind As You Are. “Our community brought to light a lot of mistreatment endured in the gay bars [they] worked in,” says Pike. “So we went out on our own.”
The “queer bar” is not a complete reinvention of its predecessor. Rather, it’s a natural next step in the evolution of LGBTQIA+ nightlife. Call it the hipper, younger sibling of the gay bar, with less focus on the gender binary and more on personal autonomy and social accountability. These spaces hold true to a similar mission—the desire to build community, organize, and share information—but prioritize the safety of their patrons, especially in regard to consent.
As LGBTQIA+ communities have grown and evolved, so have their needs for intentionally curated safe spaces. When catering to a community at risk of a wide variety of physical and emotional harms in the outside world, Pike says, you must be sure that the spaces you create don’t replicate that potential for harm. As You Are, therefore, is a place people can come if “they don’t always want to spend time being objectified or sexualized on a night out.”
It makes sense that the sexualization of bodies has become a central point of queer-centered nightlife, given that gay people have so often been forced to hide their sexuality in the outside world. But it becomes problematic when the presumed access to other queer bodies that has become commonplace at gay bars results in the violation of consent. At The Back Door, guests know from the outset that “in order to have a safer space, consent is mandatory,” says Smoove Gardner, who opened the bar in 2013.
“People want to know the establishment is going to stand up for them if they are mistreated,” Pike says. “What happens in the dark no longer stays there, and it is helping us be a kinder, safer community that is truly inclusive. Our community is holding ownership accountable and expecting change; if we don’t get it, we don’t patronize those spaces anymore.”
Many in this new cohort of queer bars and cafés are bolstered by ambition, choosing to offer more than just booze-fueled dance parties to a generation that is less interested in getting drunk to have fun and increasingly aware of the substance abuse issues that exist within the queer community.
Wicked Grounds, a kink café and bookshop in San Francisco, offers classes on sexual safety and exploration in a completely alcohol-free environment, opting to build community with coffee instead. Similarly, Detroit Vesey’s, a queer cyclist-centric café in L.A.’s Arts District, offers exclusively coffee, smoothies, and zero-proof cocktails for patrons looking to recoup after a bike ride.
At Brooklyn’s newly minted Oddly Enough, owners Caitlin Frame and Laura Poladsky created a menu of exciting alcoholic and nonalcoholic cocktails that live gaily side by side, and complement small plates like black-eyed pea dip with roasted parsnips and lamb meatballs with blueberry coulis. (The bites alone are worth a visit.) Chicago’s Black- and queer-owned bar Nobody’s Darling also proudly features a selection of elevated alcohol-free cocktails that allow anyone choosing to stay sober to still partake in the party.