Kristin “Dave” Dausch’s aspirations for Dave’s Lesbian Bar were purely local when they formulated the idea for an Astoria, Queens-based space that would operate as a lesbian bar and music venue by night and mutual aid facility by day. Dausch organized the first pop-up for the project within a matter of months (along with several partners whose initials conveniently add up to BDSM, as Dausch pointed out), debuting in July 2021 with the idea of raising funds for an eventual brick-and-mortar space. Partnering with local bar Heart of Gold and utilizing Astoria’s 31st Avenue Open Street program, the official launch of Dave’s Lesbian Bar amounted to something that far exceeded Dausch’s expectations.
“My hope was that 200 people would show up,” says Dausch. “And 700 people showed up. I was really just trying to see if there was a need, and that became abundantly clear.”
Subsequent pop-ups, happening monthly with various themes when weather and/or Covid have permitted, have continued to draw crowds, escalating to as many as 1,500 people showing up for a Valentine’s Day Heartbreaker’s Ball held at Astoria’s Czech and Slovak social club Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden. Dausch capitalized on its utilitarian dining-hall feel to recreate the playful vibe of a high school dance. “It really fulfilled that fantasy of a prom I wish I had,” they say. “And it was really cool to queer a space that has iconically not been.”
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The attention Dave’s Lesbian Bar has attracted — not only from eager participants but also from media ranging from neighborhood blogs to The New York Times to Good Morning America — hints at the fact that Dausch is more than just filling a social gap in their local community.
In 2021, Lesbian Bar Project launched its campaign to bring attention to America’s dwindling lesbian bar scene, where only 21 bars remain, down from a high of about 200 locations in the 1970s and ‘80s. Consequently, Dave’s has continued to draw people from well outside of the Astoria community. “People are coming from all over,” says Dausch. “We’ve had people from Brooklyn or South Jersey or Philadelphia.”
With the fundraising for Dave’s Lesbian Bar almost complete, Dausch spoke to VinePair about building a neighborhood lesbian bar, and the importance of dedicated queer spaces.
1. First things first: How did the name Dave’s Lesbian Bar come about?
It comes from a few things. I was in a relationship with a man named Dave when I came out, who is very lovely and supportive and who has actually been helping with the bar. So that’s one reason that’s more personal to me. I also love that it’s kind of a nod to other neighborhood Astoria businesses, like Dave’s Kitchen & Bath Cabinets and Dave’s Shoes. That friendly, neighborhood, lesbian bar feel is really what I’m going for. And the last reason is, I’m a non-binary, trans queer. So I love having this hyper-masculine name right next to this hyper-feminized word, and really letting people ask questions about that. I like the gender f*ck of it. And it’s a great conversation starter, because everybody wants to know who Dave is.
2. And you also call yourself Dave?
Oh, definitely. I’m very regularly and very happily called Dave. Generally, when it comes to business matters with Dave’s, I call myself Dave. It’s been eye opening to see how much more respect that name garners. And also, it’s a little gender euphoria for me. As somebody that likes to teeter on both ends of the gender spectrum, being called Dave feels good.
3. What’s the current status for opening what will be America’s 22nd lesbian bar?
We haven’t found a place that we’re in love with yet, but we are currently looking at spaces. We haven’t found the perfect spot because we have a lot of things that we want, and we want to be there for a long time. Do I hope it happens before the end of this year? Yes. Am I in some giant hurry? No. The important thing is to make something that has lasting capabilities rather than get something together quickly. I did just start training at a bar to get myself familiar, but the great thing about reaching out to the community to be involved in a community space is that I don’t feel like everything’s on my head. I don’t need to be the world’s best bartender to open this bar, you know? Our DMs are flooded with queer bartenders that want to work with us. I’m very excited by all of the people that have offered their help. Starting this month (April), we’ll be back on the open street for pop-ups, and we will move locations and be on a different block every time so that we can include more neighbors in the project.
4. Why were you personally compelled to be a champion for the lesbian bar movement?
If I’m gonna be working hard every day, I want to be working hard where I feel like it’s making a difference. So in that way, I felt personally compelled. The only reality in capitalism where I can see myself being happy in any capacity is by trying to build infrastructure in my own neighborhood and making music with queers. So parts of it are, you know, selfish. I believe music heals, and I believe that just showing some kindness in your neighborhood goes a long way. And lesbians have always been at the forefront of mutual aid.
5. You’re also creating a model of how lesbian or other queer bars benefit not only the LGBTQ communities they serve, but also their local communities.
I believe that my local community would absolutely say that. I have been overwhelmed by the amount of love and care and consideration I have felt from my neighbors in Astoria. And honestly, I was not anticipating that. I’ve been proud of Astoria that they’ve embraced such a thing. We’ve been partnering with different local bars for every pop-up and small businesses have been donating prizes, and an important part of what we do with Dave’s is give back to the community. For things like our second pop-up, which was a battle of the bands in August 2021, you had to bring a school supply to donate as admission, so that we could fill a bunch of backpacks for over 100 families directly in the neighborhood. And we’ve been collecting canned goods at every event to donate to the Astoria Food Pantry.
6. Lesbian bars haven’t seen the same level of ongoing success that gay bars have nationally. Do you have a personal sense though your experience with Dave’s of why that might be?
The dream when I first started scheming up this idea was that I wanted to have a queer involved at every level, but when I look up local real estate in Astoria or when I try to find partners or even a lawyer, the more I look up the people who have power in this community, they’re all white, cis dudes. So those statistics are not surprising. Men have always had the money, so of course male-dominated spaces remain open.
7. Have you sought partnerships with any queer-owned beverage brands for Dave’s?
We’re not really looking for sponsorships yet. I’d like to keep it as community-oriented as we can. But at least for the pop-ups, we do always have Dyke Beer at all of our events, and they’ve donated to our GoFundMe. Since we’re partnering with local bars, if they only carry major brands, we want to at least have Dyke Beer present because it is a queer-owned brand. We don’t take any of the bar sales otherwise. That stays in the hands of the local businesses.
8. Are there any queer bars either in New York or elsewhere that have inspired you?
I’m inspired by every queer space; I want there to be queer spaces in every neighborhood. I don’t want to be the only lesbian bar in Queens. I don’t want that. I want so fu*king many of them. We have three in New York. We have the Cubby Hole, we have Henrietta Hudson’s, and we have Ginger’s in Brooklyn, and I love them all for different reasons. But I don’t think Dave’s is doing what any of the other bars have done. I mean, lesbians throughout history have always been at the forefront of mutual aid, so that — and making music a focal point in a queer bar — is new, or at least I haven’t seen it.
9. What would need to change in order for bars that are not specifically queer spaces to become more inclusive to queer folks?
I think that queer people need designated queer spaces, 100 percent. But I think all places could be a little more gay. And I think that the ways that you do that are small and simple, like putting that rainbow flag in your window next to the credit cards that you accept. It might seem like nothing or a small thing, but it literally is a flag to me that I could be safe in this space. As a queer person, I will always notice if you have a tiny little rainbow flag on your door, and I know that at least somebody in the thought process of this space considered that queers should be safe here. It’s something that tiny [and] insignificant-seeming to be a big flag for somebody in the queer community to feel safe. I want every bar to have one. I could never see enough of it.
10. What’s been the biggest signifier that you’re doing something especially important?
More and more people always want to get involved. That’s how you know that you struck a nerve with something important. It started out being my dream: I want to make music every night and help my community every day. And when everybody else is like, “Yeah, that’s also my dream,” you realize we’ve all just been craving a space to be together and to try to build a world that doesn’t look like the one we have now.
11. What is your favorite part about doing this work right now?
Community. When my band is playing and I look out and see a scene full of queer faces beaming, glowing, like, legit queer joy? That’s enough of a motivator. I’ll lift 50 amps a week for that. It’s hard work. It’s demanding. I’ve got 76 tabs open at any time. But I would not change it because it’s very obvious that we need more spaces for queer joy.