The Lesbian Bar Project is an important, inspirational series that could have used less SponCon
In the 1980s, gay bars spread like the Coke, which flowed freely through Wall Street. It wasn’t the safest of times, but the wlw crowd (women who love women) found community in lesbian bars. The Lesbian Bar Project—originally a fundraiser to support gay bars during the Covid pandemic, now a small group dedicated to empowering lesbian spaces—estimates there were about 200 bars in America at the time. Today, due to queerphobia and the rocky financial reality of nightclubs, there are only 21 lesbian bars across the country. The Lesbian Bar Project (the new limited-edition documentaries born out of the fundraising campaign) seeks to chronicle the stories of three of those remaining locations in three very different parts of the country. And that usually works.
“We’ve been telling you for two years that there aren’t many lesbian bars left in America,” DeLaria says in trailer. “But this isn’t a sob story.”
Produced by Roku Brand Studio and Mast-Jägermeister US, the docuseries, which premiered October 11 on The Roku Channel, is directed by Erica Rose and Elina Street and hosted by Lea DeLaria. The show is at its best and most fun when the filmmakers explore the stories of the bar owners. There’s a particularly touching lunchtime scene with Houston Pearl Bar owner Julie Mabry, her sister, and her mother: It was incredible to see a family of women talk about how queerness, addiction, and climate change have impacted their lives — all at the Grilling?
“Remember that night?” Mabry asks her sister, pointing to a photo of herself as a young girl in a new album her mother was making to replace an album destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. The photo shows the first time Mabry went to a gay bar with her sister. “I remember it was the first night I saw you really happy and yourself,” says her sister. “You really have become who you are.”
However, the series doesn’t have much of a narrative thread beyond the stories of the bar owners. The show often feels like enhanced internet videos made by The Lesbian Bar Project (the collective) to help fundraise during the height of Covid. And the episodes don’t feel like a TV series with connective tissue; Using the chapter format means each bar is bifurcated for the rest. A 45-60 minute documentary would have been more compelling.
DeLaria’s hosting is also unusually distracting in this format. She only introduces the bar and its owner at the beginning of each episode from a plush set, and her work in front of the camera feels cheesy and unnecessary.
The episodes are least engaging in the last five minutes when they essentially build Jagermeister commercials. The brand sponsored the Lesbian Bar Project through its #savethenight initiative, which supported bars and clubs during the pandemic. Unfortunately that’s the end of it The Lesbian Bar Project feel like sponcon. In short, enjoy the first 25 minutes of the episode and maybe use the last five to refill your drink.
But the show has enough moments that feel informative and moving to keep watching. The filmmakers use Pearl as a backdrop to explore the expansive ways in which lesbian bars have opened up to their customers. One of Mabry’s biggest worshipers is the leader of the Kings of Houston, a drag king performance group that hosts a weekly show at The Pearl. As a Houston native and occasional Pearl visitor, I loved seeing the bar open its door to an all-encompassing look at queerness.
In Phoenix, Arizona, Boycott Bar’s Audrey Corley describes how women’s sports gave her life meaning, so much so that she became a basketball coach — a job that eventually led to her owning a bar that caters to the women she loves trained, had worked. And in New York City, the show puts the spotlight on Henrietta Hudson, the country’s longest-running lesbian bar, built literally by lesbians who donated labor, supplies and their boomboxes. Lisa Cannistraci, who directed Henrietta for more than 30 years, says on the series, “I feel like it was a calling, and once I made a commitment, I never let go of it.” Cannistraci said her mother know how to make a dollar out of 25 cents, which informs how she runs her business today.
So much queer history is lost because we just haven’t been valued as human beings for so long. It was dangerous to keep strange paraphernalia, let alone study the movement with rigor. As queer historians struggle to preserve decades of history before survivors die, the oral histories of how these bars came to be are more important than ever.
But just recording history is not enough. To that end, the fundraiser raised more than $117,000 for the 21 lesbian bars that remain in the United States (his 2021 effort raised more than $150,000—roughly $5,000 per bar!). at least one organization that aims to keep this type of common room open for me to visit.
https://jezebel.com/the-lesbian-bar-project-is-an-important-inspiring-seri-1849655537 The Lesbian Bar Project is an important, inspirational series that could have used less SponCon