Monday, September 30, 2013

Revival of "Women Only" Space in India

Revival of "Women Only" Space in India

Usually I post on lost womyn's spaces, because that is the predominant theme in the west--one of loss. But in other areas of the world, women don't shy away from taking control of their own space. In fact, they are increasingly demanding it as both a strategy to fight patriarchal violence and as an end in itself.
Interesting that so many of the comments treat women's space as a false either/or. We can either develop spaces for women where they are safe OR prosecute rapists, educate men, etcetera. 

If anybody wants to spend their time trying to teach the menfolk that it's not nice to kill and mutilate women, be my guest. Plead with them all you like on how they need to take responsibility for their own actions. I just haven't seen that all the lectures and moral hand wringing have done much good so far.

Meanwhile, developing women's institutions, businesses, transportation, and parks is an excellent place to start. It gives women breathing room, space to organize and talk, and the time to make strategy. It puts the power and initiative in OUR hands, and not in the hands of the men. 

From the Washington Post:

In wake of gang rape, India sees rise of ‘women only’ taxis, buses and parks

NEW DELHI — In the months since a gruesome gang rape riveted India, a “women-only” culture has been on the rise here, with Indians increasingly seeking out women-only buses, cabs, travel groups and hotel floors.

One city is preparing to open a women-only park. And in November, the government is launching a women-only bank it hopes will empower women financially.
In a country where reported sexual violence is increasing — despite heightened attention to the problem — many say the women-only spaces are a welcome refuge from lewd looks, groping and unwanted male attention. The concept appeals to women across a broad spectrum of Indian society, including a 60-year-old named Sarita, who recently traveled to New Delhi from a village in Maharashtra by train and said she still had to squabble with male passengers who tried to sit next to her in the women’s coach.
“It’s the ways of men,” Sarita said. “They’re not good. How can we coexist?”
But critics argue that the trend toward separation threatens the gains that women have made in education and access to new career fields over the past two decades, as the economy has rapidly modernized. It’s the men who need to change their behavior, they argue, not women.
“It’s appalling,” said Jayati Ghosh, an economics professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. “It’s a way for a patriarchal society to announce it’s not going to protect women. It’s simply going to segregate women and restrict their freedom, instead of securing it.”
“Must banks too go pink?” the headline of an editorial in the Hindu, a leading newspaper, asked recently.
Some women-only spaces — in trains, on Delhi’s Metro system — already had existed before December, when a 23-year-old physical therapy student was gang-raped and injured so severely she later died. The country’s male-dominated culture is rooted in religious customs and societal norms that date back centuries, and the sexes were long kept separate in schools and temples.
But the Dec. 16 rape and subsequent death penalty sentences for the four attackersdrew intense attention to the problem of sexual violence against women in India, where reports of rape have increased more than 25 percent in recent years, statistics show.
Some women believe the harsh sentences will have little impact and feel the harassment problem is getting worse, forcing them to retreat.
A scramble for change
After the gang rape, state governments across India scrambled to do something — anything — that would calm a public increasingly agitated about sexual violence. They installed help lines for crime victims, more street lighting, better surveillance cameras.
But it was the idea of creating more safe places for women that really caught the attention of bureaucrats. The city of Coimbatore, in the southern part of the country, announced plans to spruce up a decrepit park and limit it to women, who would also have access to a gym with a female fitness trainer. Localities from Assam to Odisha created women-only bus lines. The ministry of tourism began pushing even small hotels to add female-only floors.
And the government announced plans for a $161 million banking system exclusively for women, the Bhartiya Mahila Bank, with a predominantly female staff and 25 branches across the country. It is set to be launched Nov. 19, the birthday of Indira Gandhi, the former prime minister and the country’s most revered female icon.
A spokesman for the finance ministry, D.S. Malik, said that the new bank is a “major step” toward correcting the gender inequity in credit and banking in India, where only 26 percent of women have a bank account, compared with 44 percent of men.
But some women’s scholars and advocates don’t believe segregating the sexes is empowering, saying it could have a negative impact in the long run.
“The attempt is to shrink women into limited spaces,” said Ranjana Kumari, the director of the Center for Social Research in New Delhi. “Women still have to come out and walk on the same streets and work in the same offices and shop in the same markets as men.” Limiting such spaces out of concern for women’s safety “is not at all a good message,” she said. “It encourages segregation and more violence.”
‘It’s not really safe’
One recent evening, Aishwarrya Kapoor, 20, a recent college graduate with a sociology degree, wanted to attend a birthday party at a club near a mall in downtown Delhi. As it happened, it was the same mall at which the victim in the gang rape had watched the movie “Life of Pi” with a male friend before heading home on a bus, where the attack occurred.
Kapoor’s mother was adamant: The young woman could go to the party only if she hired a cab driven by a female for the night.
“Because in India, even though we are in the 21st century, with any [male] cab driver it’s not really safe,” the young woman said.
The company Kapoor hired, Sakha Cabs for Women, was founded in 2010 in Delhi and now has 12 female drivers, with 62 others in training. After the gang rape, its founders say, business increased 50 to 60 percent, and they’re often booked several days in advance.
One of the young drivers, a college student who goes by one name, Geeta, 21, said she thinks her female clients feel more secure traveling with her than with a male.
And yet.
“I think it’s horrible women have to find watertight compartments, so to say,” Geeta said as she shifted gears and sped through Delhi’s clamorous traffic, horns honking in her wake. At 4 feet 9 inches tall and 99 pounds, she has to sit on top of a tapestry pillow to see over the steering wheel.
“There should be women in all walks of life and all fields of life,” she said. “Where we don’t feel isolated.”
Suhasini Raj contributed to this report.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Garbo for Women

Apparently defunct website for Garbo for Women
Garbo for Women

Location: Stavangerweg 900, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Opened: January 2007

Closed: ?

This fairly incoherent account about Garbo for Women comes from a website devoted to all things Greta Garbo:

In Amsterdam (Holland) there is lesbian bar called Garbo for woman. Garbo has been set up to allow  lesbian - and bisexual women to meet other women. This is possible by dancing with each other or drink with each other a drink.

Hmm. Methinks somebody had a drink (or two or three) before scribbling this out. Anyway, a link is provided for the Garbo for Women website, but it's dead. Which made me initially suspect that Garbo for Women was a lesbian bar that is no more. 

But at, it is claimed that this isn't (wasn't?) really a bar at all, but more of an occasional party thingy. Perhaps it was one of those lesbian places that went "gay" or "queer" and then lamely tossed off one party a month for the ladies?

Every 3rd Saturday of the month. Special women-only dance party. Women are mostly 25+, bit mixed.

Fodor's says something similar:

Garbo for Women (From Facebook)
This women-only dance night for lesbians and bisexuals takes place every third Saturday of the month at the popular bar-restaurant Strand West. If you like, you can also have a bite to eat beforehand.

But now we are provided a link that shows that Garbo still exists--at least in the compromised party form. 

Their facebook page has lots of neat pictures and illustrations, but if you aren't fluent in Dutch, there isn't much material you can read. 

Here is one of the few first hand reports I have found. This is from January 2011:

I found it so interesting that young girls in their late teens and early 20′s are getting the courage to come to places like Garbo’s and be “present” in their authentic identity at such a young age – but I found it just as fascinating that so many ladies over 60 were there!  At one moment, I must have been in the granny section, as I looked around and saw many ladies in early, mid and late 60′s enjoying themselves. They looked like everyone’s Oma – in a lesbian dance club!
Overall a thumbs up for Garbo for Women New Years and 4 year anniversary party.
Sounds like a neat place. That is if it ever existed as place--and not just as a once-in-a-while socializing "gift" to women. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sisters Nightclub


Sisters Nightclub

Location: 1320 Chancellor Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Opened: June 21, 1996

Closed: August 2013

From South Florida Gay News:

Philadelphia’s Only Lesbian Bar Shuts Down

Citing financial difficulties, the owners of Sisters Nightclub shut down Monday after 17 years in operation. Sisters has been the only full-time lesbian bar in the city since its inception June 21, 1996.
Denise Cohen, who managed the club since its opening, said in a Facebook posting that business owner Jim Ross notified her of the closing Monday morning.
Cohen did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The building, 1320 Chancellor St., is owned by Mel Heifetz, while Ross owns the business.
After a series of calls and emails, Heifetz told PGN he would not comment for this story.
There is a sign on Sisters’ door that the building is undergoing renovations and will reopen in the fall, but it is unclear if the business or building has been, or is in the process of being, sold. Heifetz refused to comment on the matter.
Sisters interior - vacant
Heiftez purchased the three-story building on July 12, 1994, for $86,000. The city assessed the property at $70,400 each year from 2010-13, but that figure jumped to $746,400 for 2014, seemingly because of the city’s new property-tax evaluation. The adjoining building, home to the now-defunct Key West Bar, is also empty.
Cohen said in her posting that there will be no closing party, and noted that sudden closings are not uncommon in the bar and restaurant industry.
Response to Cohen’s Facebook posting was strong, with more than 200 “shares” by the next day.
Cohen said on her personal Facebook page that Ross was equally upset when he shared the news with her.
Sister interior, with women jammed around the bar
“This is not something he wanted to do and I know he is just as devastated for his staff, for his business and for his community,” she wrote. “There just wasn’t enough sales to continue operations and without that support we could not grow, we could not change, we struggled in this economy and it took its toll.”
Knock owner and Woody’s founder Bill Wood echoed the surprise many expressed via social media.
“I’m still a little confused by it all,” Wood said. “Usually you hear rumors and people commenting if no one’s going there or employees saying that they’re having a tough time. But I don’t think anyone heard anything like that.”
Sisters dance floor
PGN columnist Suzi Nash ran the club’s Thursday-night karaoke event since Sisters opened.
“I’m sad to see an institution like Sisters close down,” she told PGN. “As the host of karaoke since day one, I’ve seen so many people gather and grow and seek solace, joy and companionship at the bar. Over the course of 17 years, I’ve had couples who met on the karaoke stage get married and people who made their first tentative foray into the gay community at Sisters grow into activists and proud members of the community. It’s been an anchor for the lesbian community for both the patrons and the many nonprofit organizations they’ve supported. She will be sorely missed.”
The City of Brotherly Love Softball League is one such organization that Sisters supported.
Women’s division commissioner Jen Brown said Sisters was a fixture in the league.
“Since opening, Sisters was one of the CBLSL’s top sponsors and supporters, Brown said, noting they often sponsored several teams per season. “They helped us host fundraisers for the league and for their teams. When I shared the news of their closing with some softball players from other cities who visited for our World Series in 2011, each of them had a story about Sisters from their week in Philly. That really shows how special they were to our league and our community.”
The club was also a popular gathering space during events like OutFest and Pride.
Franny Price, executive director of Philly Pride Presents, which runs both events, said Sisters filled a needed gap.
“Every city has a girls’ bar. Every gay community has one. Sisters was ours,” Price said.
As news of the closing spread Monday, personal accounts of nights and days at Sisters abounded.
“I couldn’t wait to turn 21 so that I could go to Sisters for the first time,” Brown told PGN. “After eight years and countless visits, I can’t remember one that didn’t create a memory: singing karaoke with strangers, dance-offs with my closest friends and a lot of laughs. I never felt more comfortable in a club than I did when I was at Sisters. It felt great to be around other people who were like me — where I wasn’t defined solely by my sexual orientation.”
William Way LGBT Community Center archivist Bob Skiba said this is the first time since the 1940s that Philadelphia is without a lesbian bar.
“It leaves a huge gap, there not being women’s bar right now,” he said. “This is the first time since World War II that there has been no women’s bar in Philadelphia. So that’s a pretty big thing.”
Wood referenced a recent Inquirer article about the demise of a number of LGBT bars in the suburbs, potentially owing to the mainstreaming of the community.
“I think a lot of bars now are trying to not segregate by sex so maybe that’s the problem,” he said. “Maybe it’s good that the lesbian community isn’t just going to lesbian bars, but it’s still a great loss. You hate to see anybody close, especially after 17 years. They provided a really big service for a really long time.”
Even with more bars integrating men and women, and LGBTs and allies, Price noted that it was important for women to have a space to call their own.
“It was kind of like a sense of security and safety knowing that, as a gay woman, there was somewhere like Sisters. Whenever there was something coming up, people would look to Sisters to see what was going on there because that’s where the bulk of the lesbian community went,” she said, noting that Sisters stood apart from the venues that offer LGBT events but that don’t identify as LGBT establishments. “I have a problem with the ‘gay night’ or ‘ladies night’ thing. I like to think we’d be welcomed every day. And we had that at Sisters. Whenever anyone would come to the city and ask where the girls’ bar is, you’d say, ‘Sisters.’ Now what are we going to say? ‘Well, Wednesday night you can go here’ or ‘Tuesday night you can go here.’ It’s sad.”
While Sisters held the distinction as the city’s only lesbian bar, it also was the longest continually operating lesbian bar in Philly history.
Skiba noted there were a number of women’s venues open simultaneously in the 1970s and ’80s, but none as long as Sisters.
Sneakers, on North Third Street, was open for 11 years, PBL for a decade, Hepburn’s on 12th Street for six and Mamzelle’s above The Bike Stop for four.
The land where Sisters is located was, in the mid-19th century, home to stables for rental horses. From the 1930s-’80s, it was Frankie Bradley’s restaurant and later Hesch’s restaurant, which closed in 1987.
Depsite Sisters’ closing, Price said supporters should revel in its longevity, which she attributed to the work of Cohen and her staff.
“[Cohen] did something nobody else did in Philadelphia, and that’s keep a women’s bar open for 17 years,” Price said. “Look at how incredible that is when you think back to all those bars that couldn’t stay open. She managed to keep it open for 17 years. That’s incredible. I’m hoping someone says, ‘Do you want to open a new women’s bar?’ to her because she knows what she’s doing.”
The Big Gay Boat Party, a monthly LGBT party on the Moshulu staged in part by Cohen and Sisters, will continue, with the next event being held Aug. 25.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pi Bar

Pi Bar (2007)
Pi Bar

Location: 2532 25th Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Opened: February 2007

Closed: November 2008

Back in 2007, when the new Pi Bar won the Citypages Best Lesbian Bar award, it was (apparently) an unapologetic dyke place:

Don't insult the competition by pretending it doesn't exist: Lesbians won't abandon St. Paul's Town House or the moveable dance night Twilight anytime soon, while plenty of ostensibly gay male hotspots are also female favorites. But Pi is the first by-and-for-queer-women club since the demise of Club Metro and Lucy's Saloon in St. Paul, and it feels good. Located around the block from Memory Lanes in what used to be an American Legion, the hopping venue might be the first local dyke bar to establish itself (and rapidly so) as a hangout, restaurant, disco, and concert hall in one.

Though this is NOT to say that the dudes weren't hanging around Pi, because they were:

There are men here, too, and the club's "gender-inclusive" bathroom, for those in between, is both practical and suggestive of the spirit here.

Here's another review from December 2007. Similar attempt to straddle that gap between "lesbian friendly" and "friendly for everyone:"

In days of yore, the lesbian bar scene was apparently pretty sparse. Though there were various Dykes Do Drag events throughout the year, few specific locales catered to this untapped niche market. Some gay bar patrons even went renegade, hilariously hijacking ladies' nights around the city at various sports bars. But now that Pi has been on the scene and thriving for over a year, there's at least one Minneapolis pub out there that is openly lesbian-friendly. The bar hit the ground running when it opened, hosting a myriad of live music nights, film screenings, and free pool. And though the scene is lesbian-friendly, the emphasis is on friendly, for everyone.

As is typical, customer opinions could be a bit on the rough side. Here's an opening night review from yelp:

Ok, so there hasn't been a lesbian bar in Minneapolis for years and everyone is so overwhelmed by the opening of a new one that they don't notice:

1. It's opening night and there is no sign.  Just walk into this random low-slung building in the middle of a residential neighborhood.  Riight.
2. The building is a converted VFW (or somesuch club meeting house) and has not been redecorated at all.  The coatcheck is full and the bathroom signs are done in marker and taped up.
3. Inside they are serving disgusting looking hot dogs & other State Fair-esque food (minus all of the delicious fair goodness.)
4. Right next to where people are eating their hot dogs, ugly ugly women are gyrating.  Where do you people come from?  Mullets and flannel disappeared with Clinton, if not before!
5.  The place is so overwhelmed by mullet & flannel toting ladies that it takes me 30 minutes (literally!) to get a drink, each time!  I seriously ordered two drinks at once because I couldn't stand the thought of standing in line again.
6.  Did I say line?  What happened to Minnesota nice?  No one was standing in line - everyone was cutting!  Understandable when you've been wanting another drink for THIRTY MINUTES!

The highlights:
1. Genderqueer friendly bathrooms for my friend
2. They finally played some Michael Jackson, I chugged my drinks, and danced like I would never return.  Oh wait, I never would.

Seriously folks, Minneapolis is becoming a pretty hip place; you'd think it could do better than Pi.  I've lived all over and can speak to the fact that this was the worst bar experience I've ever had.  An event like this should teach the city entrepreneurs that the lusty ladies of MN are desperate for a place that will cater to them - and, sadly, are willing to settle for any crappy ol place that designates itself "lesbian."  Good luck, Twin Cities - hope Pi got better after the opening!

And so it goes, with a mix of both positive and negatives. Here are a few random comments from citysearch:

Everyone seems welcome. Haven't tried the food, but the menu looks interesting. The drinks are O.K.. I have been there four or five times, and I have always felt welcome and comfortable.

This place seems as though they are trying hard, but it really has not connected well with the community of women visiting the establishment.

worst experience ever. Okay ladies! I've been known to not give "our community" a fair shake but my experience at PI was one for the books.

Choosey Lezzies Choose Pi. I must be honest. The first time few times I met friends for a drink at Pi I found much to be desired.

Great girls night out... :) Fantastic food.... Two words: Nibbler plate! 

I love the fact that Pi is gay/ straight/ and transgender friendly. You could bring your girlfriend, your boyfriend, or both. :) Definately much more "girl friendly" than other gay bars in the city.

Pi--best bar on the planet!.

"Not" the Place to go!. My girlfriend and I finally decided to go check out this bar/resteraunt after all the positive and cliche publicity it got in the community. Not only is it not easy to find, when we did walk in the door the first thing that was said to us was, "Give me your IDS." I'm not even sure what the "IT" thing was that checked out ids.

At some point, Pi Bar began to identify as more "queer" than lesbian--as this self-description shows. This kind of "progression" is very common when there is not a clear commitment to being a lesbian space:

Pi Bar patrons
Pi is a queer bar in the broadest sense of the word. We are the island of misfit toys. It is a totally awesome magicland that appears to you if you stare at it long enough like one of those pictures that were popular in the nineties. Art, music, bands, shows, food, sex toys, love, free pool, and booze. No haters please.

By November 2008, Pi Bar was in serious trouble--seems they had some monetary problems, namely a balloon mortgage--and were going to lose their space unless they could buy the building out right. The owner set up a fund for patrons to make donations. 

That is not to say that donors could expect anything in return (like an ownership interest). This created a certain element of community misunderstanding and ill will when some fundraising appeals implied that Pi would become "a community-owned space--sort of like the Green Bay packers." $100,00 was successfully raised, but it was not enough. 

It's interesting that these articles referring to the fundraising did NOT use the "L" word. On the contrary, Pi is referred to as a "meeting place for queer women, the GBLT community, and alternative people of all stripes." 

But I guess all that groovy inclusiveness didn't save the place in the end. 

OutHistory has a post-mortem on the closing of what they call "first bar/restaurant that exclusively catered to queer women in Minneapolis." In addition to the poor economic times, they blame the poor location:

With few Minneapolis business models to follow, owner Tara Yule implemented the successful techniques of St. Paul’s old “lesbian” bars; she invited community organizations to use her space, and she welcomed a diverse clientele to the bar’s pool tables, nightly events, and spacious dance floor. 
Pi Bar exterior
Unfortunately, Pi’s borderland location between the Seward and Longfellow neighborhoods proved difficult to reach—the bar’s clientele could not reach the venue easily by public transportation. Located in a concentration of light industrial buildings, the bar was not supported by a coexisting residential community. Previous spaces for queer women used residential settlements as a primary business support—this was the case for the Lesbian Resource Center--located near Loring Park and a lesbian settlement on nearby Garfield Avenue--and the Amazon Feminist/True Colors Bookstore near Powderhorn Park.

This is a common problem with lesbian bars. Because of budgetary constraints, they are often pushed into marginal locations outside "gay" (i.e. gay male) neighborhoods or other more desirable retail/entertainment areas. And of course, this just sets them up for failure.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Blu Jeans Cafe

The former Blu Jeans Cafe
Blu Jeans Cafe

Location: 3606 West Sylvania Avenue, Toledo, Ohio, USA

Opened: ?

Closed: 2002

One of the current owners of OUTSKiRTS, a still existing (!) lesbian bar in Toledo, remembers the following about the Blu Jeans Cafe:

Lexi had former Toledo lesbian bar Blu Jeans in mind when she approached her mom about opening OUTSKiRTS. The venue had been a refuge for Lexi as a teenager.
“We got kicked out at 9 p.m. if you were under 18, but I could go there and play darts and no one would call me a boy or question me going to the bathroom and it was just the first real safe space where I felt like I could go and be myself,” Lexi said. “It was a really, really cool bar and honestly the first place I ever felt really accepted in Toledo. That feeling is what we wanted to make sure to keep providing for the community.”
On a site devoted to Northwest Ohio Gay History, there is the following recollection:
I kind of miss Blu Jeans Cafe, which was in a strip mall on Monroe just west of Sylvania Ave. Great food. Played a lot of pool there, too.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


The former Gilda's

Location: 1515 West Laskey Road, Toledo, Ohio, USA

Opened: 2004

Closed: 2011

Gilda's never had much of an internet presence. 

Clubfly duly notes that it was a lesbian bar, now closed. The only description:       
Girl orientated bar/longe [sic] with dancing. TG friendly...

No customer reviews. 

An article on a (still existing!) lesbian bar in Toledo called OUTSKiRTS mentions Gilda's. Seems the current OUTSKiRTS owners used to manage Gilda's:

Lexi and Johanna took over the former Gilda’s on West Laskey Road in 2008, not long after Johanna’s husband and Lexi’s father, Dennis Staples, died.

“Since we were both his main caregivers, we had a lot of free time and were like, ‘What are we gonna do?’ so we said ‘Let’s buy a bar,’” Lexi said. “That was the next logical step, obviously. Since neither of us are big drinkers and neither of us have ever owned a bar before.”

The learning curve was steep, Lexi said.

“The thing that has been craziest for me to learn has been that you can’t turn it off. I’m always thinking about it,” Lexi said. “It’s also all us. If painting needs done, or a toilet needs fixed or light bulbs need changed, that’s us.”

Two years ago, they moved the business to its current location at 5038 Lewis Ave.
“It’s cool to have gotten this far in this economy, that we’ve survived this long. A lot of lesbian bars in the country are closing or having fundraisers to stay open.”