How Dave's Lesbian Bar builds queer community in New York
In my neighborhood of Astoria in Queens, N.Y., there's a Dave's for almost everything, from Dave's Shoes to Dave's Cabinets. It's a brand that camouflages itself into any local landscape — reliable but nearly invisible. And for the past few years, there's been a new Dave in town: Dave's Lesbian Bar, a pop-up event series that I've been involved with as a volunteer and a worker.
Dave's Lesbian Bar is a monthly pop-up event started by Kristin Dausch — also known as "Dave" — a Midwest transplant who landed in New York in 2009 and began working as a nanny while moonlighting as a singer, songwriter and performer. After taking stock of the community they'd built over three years of co-hosting the long-running local open mic program "Show N' Tell," as well as the emerging network of neighborhood mutual aid organizations that cropped up during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dausch started to dream big. Given the steady closure of lesbian bars across the country, documented by the preservation campaign The Lesbian Bar Project, they began to dream of building a queer-led bar and music venue in the neighborhood that functioned as a mutual aid hub during the day.
"It started out being my dream, wanting to make music every night and help the community every day," Dausch says. "And when everybody else is like, 'Yeah that's also my dream,' you realize we've all been thinking [about] the same thing — just a space to get together and try to make something new, try to build a world that doesn't look like the one we have now."
Undeterred by the difficulties of opening a venue in New York City, Dausch and a small group of collaborators fleshed out the Dave's concept and put together a fundraising model based around a series of pop-ups in different locations around Astoria. They knew there was much to learn about owning and operating a space, but at least they could get their feet wet by throwing a killer queer party once a month. Space was still a question, but the pandemic had given rise to a new network of "Open Streets," a city-sanctioned program turning commercial corridors into alternative use zones.
With a borrowed sound system and a kiddie pool doubling as a cooler, the first Dave's Lesbian Bar event launched in earnest on 31st Avenue, July 21, 2021, showcasing queer bands, offering haircuts and tattoos, and collecting food and clothes for the Astoria Food Pantry. The response was overwhelming. "We knew we wanted to do this and we had to try. It was happening even if only a handful of people came out," Dausch recalls. "But then 700 people showed up."
Since that inaugural event, Dave's has popped up in different places every month, evolving and growing a little bit with each party. At the "Heartbreaker's Ball" in February, attendees could get glammed out on-site with manicures, make-up and massages all provided by queer vendors, with a portion of the evening's proceeds going to the Queen's Center for Gay Seniors. Most recently, April featured "GROW," an Earth Day-themed block party with composting classes, a community clothing swap and more.
At the core of each event remains a focus on live music and mutual aid, and a communal energy that underlines both of those experiences. The fundraising alternates monthly between exclusively for the bar project and then sharing proceeds with different neighborhood initiatives including the Astoria Food Pantry and the Queens Community House. And you can always count on ten very gay bands and a raucous crowd where, to borrow a Dave's descriptor, "everyone is cute and everyone is nice." To date, Dave's has raised just north of $70,000 of their $100,000 goal for a future physical bar space, and almost $15,000 for various community causes.
Dave's fulfills a need for dedicated community spaces in New York City where queer people feel comfortable, safe and considered. But the events also support the organic development of a focused and supportive regional music scene. While the internet has democratized music-making and given rise to new, vibrant communities online, the support system of a strong regional scene has waned in the aftermath of shuttered venues across the city in the last decade, including the SideWalk Cafe and Death By Audio.
At Dave's, the energy around the bands is palpable and positive, with past performances from groups including shoegaze rockers like THEMME, power-punk duo Daisy Grenade and math rock group Rest Ashore. Dausch is a shrewd curator with excellent ears and each pop-up features a diversity of styles on the bill — from the coffeehouse to the blues bar to the rock club — but there is something ineffable, beyond genre, that binds the whole event together.
"For me, the beautiful thing is watching the different musicians — they become friends as they share the bill," remarks Sarose Klein, one of the primary producers behind the pop-ups. "They start to share members and introduce each other to venue owners, engineers and studios that are safe and nonexploitative of the queer community."
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