Hillary Clinton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Madonna, Amelia Earhart, Wanda Sykes, Janelle Monáe — one wall running alongside the space is decorated with an array of women of then and now, many queer, many who simply pushed the boundaries of gender and expression, power and politics, some just well ahead of their time.
Last week, on opening night, A League of Her Own was packed and the energy inside palpable. The space itself occupies the first floor of Pitchers, the city’s newest gay bar opening in the heart of Adams Morgan. The city hasn’t seen a dedicated space for lesbian and queer women in almost three years, a turnaround of a worrying trend that saw many cities, even the fabled San Francisco, close the last of its lesbian bars.
Again, the place is packed. “We have a space to be ourselves,” Alden told me. “A solid space,” she went on. There are plenty of gay bars in the city, but to have a dedicated space for women within the gay community is something different. Alden said that “it’s hard walking into a gay bar and knowing it’s not really yours.” A League of Her Own is seeking to change all that. A bar with a sort of sports theme, it’s fitting that one person I talked to described it as a new “home base” for queer women.
Casey, Amy, Robin, and June were congregating across the bar, all from D.C. and Northern Virginia. On the opening of a new queer women’s bar, “It’s about time,” one said. On the importance of queer spaces in the city, “it helps people find community,” they told me, adding that “the way in which we survive is through our connections.” Traditionally, gay bars have been more than just queer watering holes. Bars seem to take on roles as community centers, places to congregate and activate. Indeed in its short time, Pitchers has already raised thousands of dollars for local charities like Casa Ruby.
I found Kinsey and Esther upstairs socializing on one of the two roof decks at Pitchers. Kinsey looked around, turned back to us and noted that “this looks like a family reunion.” “I haven’t seen some of these faces in years,” Esther told me. The city’s last lesbian bar, Phase 1, sputtered along until finally officially closing its doors two years ago. Opening in 1970 in D.C.’s Barrack’s Row section of Capitol Hill, Phase 1 held the title for some time of the longest continuously operating lesbian bar in the country. The building sold for more than $3 million last year. The website is still up, though. On the return of the lesbian bar: “Let’s celebrate this shit,” Kinsey said.
Back downstairs, I chatted with Joe the bartender and manager of A League of Her Own. Since moving to D.C. some 13 years ago, she’s seen a turn behind the bar at practically every gay establishment in the city at one time or another. She described it to me as “if you put booze in a space, gay men will come. Gay men will come and connect with the space. Women connect with each other,” she said. For queer women, connections seem somehow more authentic, genuine, as networks are more often built on activism and shared experiences.
Waiting on her food order, I found Morgan, who came all the way from Fort Meade, Md., probably an hour’s drive. She seemed to echo what I had been hearing upstairs. “The one thing we have in common. . .is that we all have each other.” Just then Kinsey and Esther passed behind us, on their way back down the three or four steps to A League of Her Own. Kinsey put her arm around Esther, leaned in and said, “Hey, I’m really glad you’re here.”
I suppose people need their own bars, their own spaces, if not just to hear that.
Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.