Lesbian bars are on life support. New York City has four — four more than you’ll find in Los Angeles, Boston, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia. Combined. Blame the internet, which made it easier for LGBTQ people to meet potential partners without a dedicated physical space. Also, straight people are increasingly comfortable with queer-friendly spaces in general, so same-sex couples aren’t restricted to the windowless, dungeon-like hiding spots LGBTQ folks were relegated to during your parents’ lifetime. Yes, things have gotten much better. But when you’re part of any minority group, sharing a space with people who share your identity is priceless.
Roving parties and pop-ups for lesbian, bisexual, and queer women in New York City aim to solve a problem all adult New Yorkers face: making friends. Even in the mainstream, that’s a challenge. It’s even tougher to find and genuinely connect with people who share your minority sexuality, especially when events catered towards LGBTQ people are often about drinking, dancing, and hooking up. You don’t go to a weeknight party called Choice Cunts to make a cool new queer pal.
Lesbian parties revive LGBTQ nightlife
So at 10pm on a Wednesday night, I find myself floating on an inflatable rainbow unicorn in the pool at a Times Square hotel. Pink lights illuminate women of all ages, backgrounds, and (apparently) relationship statuses as they slink into the small but festive body of water.
“This is the most L Word I have ever felt,” my friend chirps over the sound of a song by some lady-fronted pop band streaming from the DJ stand. We agree that this, LezSwim, is definitely better than the summer we spent pretending to get along with the (much older, at the time… not so much now) cast members of The Real L Word in the backyard of Metropolitan. In some ways, the party seems too good to be true: It’s the type of casually queer women-only gathering that seems to only exist in the fantasy of premium cable TV. And yet, this type of ticketed, roaming gathering exclusively for LGBTQ women is popping up across the boroughs, led by people who feel passionate about community and friendship.This party is distinctly different from other lesbian-specific nights at bars, like Hot Rabbit, Misster, or Lesbo-a-GoGo (RIP my youth) — for the most part, attendees are here to make friends rather than hook up. Or, at least, to spend a few hours with folks in a safe space amid an otherwise straight environment. Expanding their network and social circle of LGBTQ women is a bonus.
“A lot of people are moving away from traditional parties — it’s so much fun to be around gay women outside of a party club scene,” says Simone Davis, the 32-year-old Bushwick-based organizer of Girl Social, which hosts LezSwim, as well as LezzerTag, LezBrunch, and other lesbian events. She considers her Girl Social’s events to be a type of “adult recess” that allow LGBTQ women to unwind, to play. “Mental health for queer people is a big deal: LGBTQ people suffer from a lot more [mental health issues] at higher rates,” Davis says. And something as simple as a “shared experience” can slake that stress.
Ladies move offline and back into the real world
Pre-Tinder, lesbian-dedicated spaces were primarily hookup joints. This new, growing circuit of pop-up parties and socials prioritizes community over going home with the cute girl you’ve been stalking on Instagram (but that can happen, too). The guests at Girl Social’s events include groups of friends, couples, and solo attendees. At LezzerTag, Davis has guests wear name tags, and those who are single (and looking to mingle) can add a green dot below their name. “If you tell me you’re shy, I’ll introduce you to people or set them up to talk with one of my bubbly friends,” Davis says. “The whole point of this event is to come make new friends — whether you’re single or otherwise.”
Davis likens her daytime and evening events to others around the city: Babetown, Queer Bazaar, and many more. Events catering to specific interests and hobbies like dining, drag, bowling, or dancing, make it easier than ever to meet and befriend like-minded queer women in dedicated spaces. “It’s almost a natural progression of people really coming into their queerness, and queerness being more accepted in society,” she says. “We’re coming out of nightlife and want to do things in daylight.”Babetown is a broad daylight (and often later) pop-up brunch and dinner series lead by Alex Koones, a 29-year-old Dumbo chef who has worked for Jean-Georges among other restaurants. “I’m not always good at expressing emotion, so I feed people instead,” says Koones, a self-described lifelong party-thrower. In 2011, she started Brunch Me Baby, a donation-based, BYOB, bi-weekly queer pop-up.
The series paused when Koones moved to New Orleans (home to zero lesbian bars); but after returning to Brooklyn, she resurrected Babetown in 2016 as a ticketed event. Two years later, spots sell out fast. “I can’t get my head around how big it’s become,” she says. A connection through Girl Social helped Koones find a space (a hurdle to accomplishing anything in New York City) to host her meals. Her first menu consisted of comfort food like brisket and roasted carrots, co-prepared by her mom.
Twice a month, Babetown’s events include such draws as a whiskey tasting, a vegan BBQ, “Babesgiving,” a Passover Seder, tasting menu-style dinners featuring up-and-coming queer chefs, game night, and a Long Island pool party. Volunteers who open their homes to the pop-ups are given comp tickets. Similar to Girl Social’s events, the crowd is a blend of young professionals, creatives, singles, and couples of various backgrounds and ages.
“People have been able to come alone and make a million friends. It’s very nice,” says Koones. “We try to put people in an environment to be their best selves. It’s all about broadening the community.” Koones is planning a video series where she’ll demonstrate how to host a Babetown-esque event. “We’re moving away from just dancing and drinking,” Koones says, noting the range of events she’s seen lately: an open mic, a softball night… and the “power lesbian experience” at Ellis Presents.
Ellis Presents was founded last year by four 20-something women, and it’s a different sort of model. Invite-only, Ellis seems to deal in exclusivity, a twist in this proudly inclusive community. The concept is reminiscent of The Dalloway, a swanky SoHo gastropub run by America’s Next Top Model‘s Kim Stolz and The Real L Word‘s Amanda Leigh Dunn from 2012-13. The Dalloway remains ingrained in my and other queer women’s memories (informal survey) as being pretentious and elitist, with the best sections of the bilevel bar often reserved for the owners and their well-coiffed, well-funded friends. Even we fancy New York lesbians (hi!) don’t always jive with a haughty scene.
After graduating from college and returning to their native New York, Ellis founders Kelsey Hunter and Sage Fuchs (who are a couple), and Jane Goldstein and Blaire Preiss (who are also a couple) wanted to meet queer women like them. They found the two lesbian bars in the West Village weren’t quite the right surroundings. “We wanted to make friends,” Goldstein, a 24-year-old who works in marketing, emphasized to me when I met with the four co-founders in Fuchs and Hunter’s stylish West Village apartment.”Other queer women friends,” specified Preiss, 23, who works in talent management. She noted the difficulty of meeting other queer female pals in spots traditionally designed for hookups, especially when you’re coupled.
“We love going to the lesbian bars,” Goldstein says. “But we wanted a new, fresh environment where no one felt like it was their turf. Taking people away from the space they’re most comfortable in can encourage people to be open and meet one another.” Ellis started with a list of 200 invitees. That roster of potential guests has ballooned to more than 2,000, just by word of mouth. They’ve hosted an East Hampton bonfire beach party, a movie night, a secret concert, and in April, a one-year anniversary gathering.
Barbra Silvosa became friends with the Ellis founders after scoring her first invite from a friend who was handling the collective’s PR at the time. “It’s not something that excludes people, but rather, gathers like-minded girls in cool venues,” says Silvosa, noting that she likes how each event is distinct and yes, exclusive-feeling. “I expected it to be the same as the other girl parties, but Ellis was different. The crowd is definitely friendlier and more attractive, and the Ellis hosts are so welcoming and warm.”
Allie Shulman, a 27-year-old Brooklynite who works in the music industry, discovered Ellis via Instagram. When she was invited to a rooftop party, she was skeptical. “I wasn’t really keen on going at first,” she says. “There had been so many people trying to put on the ‘next best lesbian party,’ but after going to a few, they all seemed the same: late-night drinking in a dark room, not really getting to know anyone else.”Finally, during a bout of gorgeous weather and feeling especially single, Schulman made the trip to the rooftop and found herself entranced. “Ellis events offer an atmosphere that encourages people to talk to people you don’t know,” she says. “I don’t really know how — maybe because at Ellis you’re at a great location with like-minded people. You don’t want to go in and out or leave early like other bars. There’s always a desire to go to the next one. It feels good to be able to walk into these events and see people who you’ve seen before.”
Tali Schwartz, a 25-year-old photographer living in Brooklyn, scored a first-round invite to Ellis last year. “It kind of reminds me of The L Word, how all the lesbians end up connecting because we know someone that knows someone else that invited you to Ellis,” Schwartz says. She scored her invite by chatting up Hunter and Fuchs in a West Village pet shop, proving that, truly, any space can be a queer space for making friends.Sign up here for our daily NYC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun New York has to offer.
Melissa is a writer based in Brooklyn. Most nights, she hosts her own lesbian social club called order takeout and stay home.
As spring makes its way through New York City, not only do we get to enjoy beautiful weather, stunning cherry blossoms, and cool activities priced at $Free.99, but it’s also the perfect time for some limited-edition desserts.
With Easter fast approaching, bakeries are filling their shops with tons of chocolate eggs, carrot cake-flavoured everything and all types of flavours that offer both nostalgia and innovation within the city’s dessert landscape. After you’ve picked up a cake from the city’s best new bakeries, from Easter Bunny Churros to Carrot Cake Macarons, here are 8 Easter desserts to try in NYC right now.
Throughout April Various locations
There’s great news for devotees of Magnolia Bakery’s Classic Banana Pudding: For Easter, the spot is mixing up the iconic dessert’s vanilla pudding with some carrot cake. The Carrot Cake Pudding is filled with freshly grated carrots, coconuts, pineapples, raisins, and walnuts. And if both bananas and carrots aren’t your thing, they’ll be offering their Classic Vanilla Cupcakes in pastel colours with a Cadbury chocolate egg hidden inside.
Through Easter Sunday NoHo and Seaport
Known for their celebrity face and meme-worthy decorated cookies, fans of Funny Face Bakery know that a new fun design is always just around the corner. For Easter, they’ve created the adorable Hoppy Easter decorated cookie that resembles a classic box of marshmallow Peeps. Along with that, they also have the return of their fan-favourite Caramel Pretzel Chip cookie flavour, plus a set of three mini-decorated cookies perfect for gifting.
Friday, April 7 through Easter Sunday West Village
With the ever-changing flavours at The Doughnut Project, it’s super easy to miss out on trying out a new debut. But this Easter weekend, there will be two new flavours available. One is of course, a carrot cake doughnut topped with a cream cheese glaze, and the other is known as the Doughnut Nest-a French cruller “nest” with a cream-filled doughnut hole “egg” in the centre.
Wednesday, April 5 through Easter Sunday East Village
For stellar vegan desserts this holiday, head to The Fragile Flour, a plant-based bakery and dessert wine bar. They’re known for going all out for each holiday with a variety of new pastry options that you can pair perfectly with a glass of wine. This Easter, they’ll have a whole dessert menu that’s both delicious and gorgeous for posting on IG. The menu includes Stuffed Carrot Cake Cookies, a Lemon Cake (whole or by the slice), some festive cupcakes, and specialty macarons.
Through mid April Midtown
For a luxurious take on Easter chocolates, browse the selections available at Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate. You can even pick the Easter Signature Chef’s Selection for a special box curated by award-winning chefs. For something other than chocolate, choose between the Carrot Cake Macarons or the cake flavored Easter Marshmallow Trio, both of which are almost too cute to eat.
Throughout April Nolita
This churro-centric spot is putting the cutest Easter spin on their crispy cinnamon churros by twisting them up into bunnies and bunny ears. At Churreria, choose from a Bunny Churro Lollipop topped with your choice of chocolate or dulce de leche and sprinkles, or the bunny ear churros in the Ube and Matcha ice cream sundae or the Ube Milkshake, both of which are made with ice cream from il laboratorio del gelato.
Throughout April NoHo
You’ve surely seen this croissant tons of times while scrolling through IG or TikTok, whether it’s the Pain au Chocolat one or the latest of the month. Known as Suprêmes, these filled croissants went viral and continue to live up to the hype each time a new flavour comes out. April’s flavour-sour cherry amaretto with a Luxardo custard and toasted almonds. While you’ll have to be super early and wait in line during one of their three drops of the day to get a taste, we promise you it’ll be worth it.
Seasonal Various locations
We all know the iconic cookies from Levain-they’re gigantic, perfectly crispy and chewy, and well worth the long lines. For spring, the shop is launching a new flavour: Caramel Coconut Chocolate Chip. Filled with gooey caramel chips, fresh shredded coconut, and melty dark chocolate, it’s one you’ve got to try while it’s still around. To further celebrate the new season, all of Levain’s storefronts will be decked out in spring floral displays, serving as the perfect backdrop for pictures.
Alaina Cintron is an Editorial Assistant at Thrillist. Her work can also be found in Westchester Magazine, Girls’ Life, and Spoon University. When she’s not at her desk typing away, you can find her exploring a local coffee shop or baking a new recipe.