Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Iconic Lesbian Bar Henrietta Hudson Seeks Community Support To Stay Afloat Amid COVID-19 Closure

Photo by Molly Adams

Henrietta Hudson is a beloved lesbian bar in New York City’s West Village and is among those small businesses that have been the lifeblood of the community for decades. Following its recent closure in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the iconic bar is calling for community financial support after requests from government aid have gone unanswered.

Henrietta Hudson is fighting to stay afloat and keep from permanently shutting its doors. “Bars are recession proof not pandemic proof,” says Henrietta Hudson Co-Owner Lisa Cannistraci. She explains how over the years the bar has seen it all. “We’ve been through 911, the 2008 recession and Super Storm Sandy in 2012. In all of those instances, business increased because people needed a place to go commiserate and have a sense of community. We rose above those obstacles, but never could have anticipated or pre-pared for the onerous burden of a pandemic that threatens our very survival.”

Cannistraci closed down Henrietta Hudson not just because it was mandated by the governor, but also because it was the right thing to do. But compounding matters is that her applications for federal and local disaster and payment protection loans have been totally ignored. It has also been disheartening for Cannistraci to see news reports showing bigger businesses prioritized for financial assistance over small businesses.

Photo by Molly Adams

Henrietta Hudson is the longest operating lesbian bar nationwide and one of three that remain in New York. The other two are Cubbyhole in Manhattan and Ginger’s Bar in Brooklyn. In the late 80s there were an estimated 200 lesbian bars across the county, today there are just 16, according to recent studies, reports NBC News. 

Henrietta Hudson was established in 1991 to serve NYC’s lesbian community. In recent years, it has been less lesbian-centric, evolving into a safe space for vibrant diverse communities and embracing queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming patrons and staff.  

Beyond being an entertainment venue, it is also celebrated as a community hub, consistently utilizing its space as a platform for social change and the advancement of LGBTQ rights. This includes raising money and awareness for thousands of  LGBTQ non-profits. 

Photo by Molly Adams

“Way before it was fashionable to be politically active, we were politically active,” says Cannistraci, who was a part of ACT UP in the ‘80s and vice president of Marriage Equality USA when DOMA was struck down. “When I opened Henrietta’s with Minnie Rivera, it was a labor of love. We did it because we really liked to work with the community.”

Now in its 29th year, Henrietta Hudson remains an integral part of NYC's culture but must turn to the community for contributions to stay in business. The bar launched a GoFundMe campaign in April, having raised more than $23,000 thus far of a $40,000 initial goal. That amount is just enough to keep the bar going for two months. “We’re going to need to raise far more than that to keep the landlord satisfied until we reopen,” Cannistraci says. 

That might not happen until 2021 when Henrietta Hudson can reopen at 100% capacity. “You can't do social distancing on a dance floor or at a pool table or around a bar,” she explains. “We want to be there for our community when the pandemic is behind us and will only reopen when it is safe to do so.” With the current restrictive operations around capacity and social distancing, Henrietta Hudson could not yield enough revenue to sustain itself.

Cannistraci is asking people to help the bar stay in operation by giving whatever amount they can afford. LGBTQ people and allies may give via the GoFundMe site: ]https://www.gofundme.com/f/henriettahudson1. Or via the following apps: paypal.me/henriettahudson1; venmo @Henrietta-Hudson. Also Chase Quick Pay or Zelle using our email henriettahud-sonnyc@yahoo.com to donate. 

The bar is also currently hosting weekly ZOOM events from Wednesday through Sunday, showcasing talent and offering a sense of community to its loyal patrons. Visit www.instagram.com/henriettahudson/  for details. 

Pre Covid-closure, the bar hosted live events with such groups as Queer Girls Shenanigans, female-identified comedians, and Trans in the Wild, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering TGNC individuals. This Tuesday, May 19th, Trans in the Wild is hosting a “Save the Bar” Quarantine Bingo fundraiser. The virtual event will feature an ensemble of trans and gender-expansive community leaders as bingo hosts and performers. Several queer and trans companies have donated prizes including NGLCC certified supply company, Stealth Bros & Co.

“Queer spaces are very, very important for our community. A place where we can go be ourselves, feel safe and we all have similar experiences. They're not the same, but they're similar. I will reopen, mark my words,” vows Cannistraci. “Whatever it takes, I'll make it happen, We can’t wait to be in full swing serving the people we love and admire so much.”  

Written by Carolyn M. Brown, a journalist, author, playwright, producer, and founder of True Colors Project, a social enterprise that produces two annual events: My True Colors Excel Pride Awards and My True ColorsFestival, a multidisciplinary arts festival for and by LGBTQIAGNC+ storytellers. She is a member of the nglccNY Media and Communications Committee. @cmbrown_7


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