- Cubbyhole is one of three predominantly lesbian bars left in New York City.
- On a recent Thursday night, we ventured out to capture the scene and get a feel for its history.
- We met newcomers, longtime customers, queer activists, and even an astrologer.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
There are only three lesbian bars left in New York City. One of those is Cubbyhole, a tiny spot quite literally tucked away in a corner of Manhattan’s West Village.
The shrinking number of spaces for queer-identifying women has been well-documented. In 2017, the Village Voice asked: “Why Are All The Lesbian Bars Disappearing?” A New York Times op-ed similarly lamented: “I Want My Lesbian Bars Back.”
But while these spaces shrink and change, the populations they serve have only increased – or at least become more visible. A2018 Gallup poll found that number of American adults who identify as LGBT rose to 4.5% in 2017, and a third of Gen Zers do not identify as “exclusively heterosexual.”
On a recent Thursday night, we ventured out to the lesbian stronghold to survey the scene. As always, there was a sizeable crowd at the bar, which can be found at the inexplicable intersection of West 4th and West 12th streets.
Here’s a look inside the still-booming scene at Cubbyhole.
Cubbyhole is located in the West Village at 281 West 12th Street. The Lower Manhattan neighbourhood has played a big role in the LGBTQ+ history of New York City as well as the LGBTQ+ rights movement across the nation.
In fact, the West Village is home to The Stonewall Inn, a historic gay bar and national landmark that was the site of the famous gay rights riots in 1969.
Cubbyhole first opened in 1987 under the name DT’s Fat Cat. In 1994, late owner Tanya Saunders bought the name from the owner of a now-closed lesbian bar called Cubbyhole. The spot once known as DT’s Fat Cat has been called Cubbyhole ever since.
Since then, it has served as a go-to hangout spot for NYC’s queer community. On our way into the bar, we ran into Kat (left), Katie (centre), and Tanisha (right), who are regulars.
Along with locals, Cubbyhole has attracted some of the biggest names in the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, in 2014, the bar was visited by the cast of “Orange Is The New Black.”
“Cubbyhole is a welcoming place. It doesn’t matter what you look like, or how you identify, or even how old you are; everyone is welcome here,” Kat said.
Cubbyhole’s $US3 margarita Tuesdays are a big hit with the crowd — and if you come on the earlier side on a weeknight, you’re likely to get some free pizza. The bar also offers happy hour (which includes half-price well drinks, domestic beers, and house wines) until 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
But remember to bring cash: The bar doesn’t take credit or debit cards.
Stacy Lentz, co-owner of the Stonewall Inn, is a Cubbyhole regular.
Lentz said that she’s been coming to Cubbyhole for 20 years, and was good friends with Saunders. Lentz is a queer activist and is the CEO of the Stonewall Initiative.
“I love sitting here and talking to the average gay, lesbian, queer woman about the issues that affect that cause,” Lentz said. “I think a lot of our leaders don’t have those conversations. They don’t sit there and talk to somebody who’s making under $US30,000 a year.”
While Lentz certainly spends plenty of time down the street at Stonewall, she said that Cubbyhole has its own distinct – and valuable – feeling.
“To me, where Stonewall’s an iconic amazing bar that I own and am happy to represent, this was a very ‘Cheers’-like neighbourhood local, lesbian hang-out. Super friendly,” Lentz said. “This space lends itself to conversations because it’s so small that you’re going to interact, and you’re going to talk, and you’re going to meet people of all age ranges, women, people of colour, trans women.”
In her years of coming to Cubbyhole, Lentz has had her own brushes with fame. She said one of the most interesting people she’s met was Bill Murray.
“I had a drink here with Bill Murray one night,” Lentz said. “And I approached him, obviously just having a conversation, and I said, ‘I don’t want to be a jerk, but I got to ask one question. What was it like to kiss Scarlett Johansson in ‘Lost In Translation’?’ And that, as a lesbian woman, was my question and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing.’ And we instantly bonded and had drinks.”
Regardless of the night, the bar always draws a lively crowd mixed with long-time customers and curious newcomers.
From celebrities to drag nuns to “Harry Potter,” there’s always something interesting to see at Cubbyhole.
Cubbyhole is known and loved for its eclectic decorations. Here, it’s decked out for Valentine’s Day.
Saunders, the bar’s original owner, reportedly had employees save things that were red and green. Lisa Menichino, Saunders’s friend and coworker, told the Villager that “Tanya considered them lucky.”
And while some are holiday themed, ornaments of all shapes, sizes, and colours hang from the ceiling year round.
The music that’s played at the bar is selected by the bar-goers. The jukebox in the back boasts a huge selection of music — from classics to current hits.
Since there are only three lesbian bars left in New York City, Cubbyhole is considered a special place to members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community. Michelle (left), Maggie (centre), and Christine (right) described Cubbyhole as a safe place where everyone is friendly to one another and conversation is everywhere.
As we talked to the night’s bar-goers, a supportive, friendly community is exactly what we saw.
“I actually moved to New York and I didn’t have a lot of lesbian friends at all,” Michelle explained. “It was just awesome coming to Cubbyhole because most of my best friends now are from Cubbyhole. I feel like I formed a community I needed.”
Jorge Fernandez (left) and Samantha Stott (right) said they both come to Cubbyhole at least once a week. They’re roommates who are both getting their masters in opera.
“The environment is really friendly and homey,” Stott said. “And also the people are – they are never the same. So you always see people you have never seen before, and it’s really cool.”
Fernandez added: “Everyone’s just really doing their thing and we’re all having fun.”
While the space is less than 600 square feet, having several different seating options makes it feel more spacious.
Randy has been a bouncer at Cubbyhole for two years.
“I love the Cubbyhole. They’re my family,” he said.
Danny (left) has been serving up drinks at Cubbyhole for about 10 years.
Danny described Cubbyhole as an all-inclusive scene that is accepting of all members of the queer community.
“If you’re good people, we want you here,” he said.