Location: 1) 10 Davol Square 2) 1 Allens Avenue 3) 150 Point Street, Providence, Rhode Island, USA
Opened: July 1, 1989
Closed: March 2006
Deville's is one of the very few lesbian bars I know of where the owner took the trouble to narrate the history of their place. Wish other bar owners would do the same! From Gina Bartolomucci:
On July 1, 1989, Deville's opened it's doors for the first time at 10 Davol Square Providence, RI. Although it doesn't seem that long ago, it was quite a different scene for the gay community, women in particular. With no internet or in your face gay publications, with no Will & Grace or Logo TV, the gay life style was still not fully understood or accepted and finding a safe, positive and fun environment for women was nearly impossible. With this in mind, it became our objective to provide these things and make Deville's the best women's club in New England. Through the years, Deville's grew from a cafe with window seats and board games, to a full blown night club, but always maintaining our roots by keeping the 2 separate. In 1997 we moved to 1 Allens Ave. and it was shortly after that Providence was named one of the top 10 places for lesbians to live in the US by Girlfriend magazine, naming Deville's as one of the reasons it was in the top 10. In 2001, Deville's was forced to relocate once again, by means of eminent domain and the highway project, closing us down for nearly 2 1/2 years. The chances of finding a new location and reopening looked bleak but on June 6, 2003, Deville's opened once again to a standing room only crowd.
In 2006, after much soul searching, I made the decision it was time to move on and close Deville's while we were still on top. Our last night was wonderful with so many faces from throughout the years and so many wonderful tributes and stories, it made me feel so good and so proud to know what Deville's meant to so many people and that we had lived up to our goals.
This piece by Tanya Rogers further explains some of Deville's history--and how and why she came to an end. Many of the reasons are depressingly familiar: changing socializing patterns, location issues, taxation and rising rents.
New England's Cadillac of lesbian bars soon will be no more. Deville's, Rhode Island's only lesbian bar, will be closing its doors after 17 years of service.
After moving twice during its historic reign, the current Deville's has existed on Point Street in Providence for the past two years. Owner Gina Bartolomucci, a resident of Smithfield, R.I., has mixed feelings about closing her business.
Before opening Deville's, Bartolomucci was in sales and she says that career provided her with strong experience for her bar business, as well as the name. She was the only one in a group of her sales colleagues who knew the name of the wicked character in 101 Dalmatians, Cruella Deville. From then on, she was known by the nickname Deville.
Bartolomucci says that Deville's went "full circle." It first opened on Point Street in Providence, then moved to Allens Avenue, and after two years of a search for a new location caused by the relocation of the I-95 I-195 interchange, it landed on Point Street again.
Deville's began as a regular bar. Bartolomucci wasn't seeking a certain type of patron. Because it was owned by a lesbian and gay male, it attracted a mostly gay crowd. After her business partner left the business, Gina made Deville's an all-women's bar.
Bartolomucci shared that some of her best times at Deville's were when it first opened. Initially it was "just a cafe. Friday and Saturday nights were a blast. The place was crowded with women, from wall to wall. It was simple then, those days and those people." As she reminisced, Bartolomucci said she had a great times with her staff. She would insist the bartenders had fun. As she shook her head, she stated, "We have all been together for a while."
Current bartender and icon for Deville's, Stacy Iasimone, from Johnston, R.I., started going to Deville's when she was 19. She considers the women she works with a second family. "Bartending at Deville's has helped me develop and come a long way as a person," stated Stacy. When asked about what it is like to work for and with Bartolomucci, she stated, "She is tough, but everything she says and does comes from experience. She takes on a lot of responsibility but allows me to hold my own as a manager."
"More friendships formed than romance at Deville's," claims Bartolomucci. One of her challenges has been that today's generation does not care as much about socializing, as past generations did. "Socializing isn't an art anymore. People aren't communicating anymore," she professed. The Internet, especially, has hurt business, as it has done to many bars. People are chatting on-line, while in their pajamas and slippers, not dressing up and going to bars to meet people, the bar owner explains.
"Deville's was always a good, safe, clean environment for people to come out to," said Bartolomucci. That was always one of her goals. Now people aren't coming out at all. In the past, she helped so many people. She "brought them out of their shell." She gave people a place to go and be and not be afraid.
One of the reasons the bar is closing is because Bartolomucci fears Deville's will "just become another bar." She kept Deville's going after struggles with relocating, repeatedly, and all the stresses that brought, because she believed she was serving the community. There was a need for Deville's, a fun place, with good atmosphere, for women to go to, knowing they would be safe, she said. Now that society has changed, she said she doesn't feel there is a need for an all women's bar. She feels she has finished her obligation.
"There is no place like Deville's. I've traveled all around the country and there is no all-lesbian bar anywhere else. This was it."
"Closing is something I have to do for myself. I can't do this until the day I die," Bartolomucci exclaimed. She wants Deville's to end "on top." "Even Will and Grace knew when it was time to end," she said with a chuckle.
Another factor that inhibited business was the smoking ban. People don't want to smoke outside, especially in the winter. This adds to people deciding not to go out, Bartolomucci explains. Although she hasn't received a crank call or stalkers with religious pamphlets in quite a while, she still prefers the ladies not have to stand outside, for their safety. Speaking frankly, she stated, "There is still prejudice out there."
The recent property tax increase didn't help any of the bars in Rhode Island; this lead to a rent increase. Bartolomucci stated, "The current government administration is hostile towards small businesses. They are anti-clubs, particularly gay clubs."
However, Bartolomucci was keen to the reality that the city was mostly behind her business and never treated her and the patrons of her business with any form of prejudice. The city even worked to help her find a new location, after the bar had to move for the second time.