On an unseasonably warm spring night in mid-April, a line of lesbian, bi, queer folks, and their allies stood in line to get into Bushwick’s only lesbian bar, the Bush, at 333 Troutman Street, near Irving Avenue, which opened this month.
The Bush is part of a nationwide renaissance of post-pandemic lesbian-owned bars that caters broadly to a queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming community that’s more inclusive than ever. It’s a turnaround following the decline of lesbian bars nationwide, which were especially vulnerable during COVID, as chronicled by the Lesbian Bar Project. According to one report, as of early 2021, there were only three dedicated spaces for the lesbian community left in New York City. Ginger’s in Park Slope was the last remaining in Brooklyn at the time. More recently, the lesbian-owned Oddly Enough, servicing a queer clientele, opened last April in Bed-Stuy, and now Ginger’s is set to open a sibling location called Mary’s Bar in Greenpoint this summer.
The idea for the Bush — tag line, “a dyke bar for the queers” — started about six years ago, when friends Nikke Alleyne and Justine LaViolette started dreaming up a space where queer women in their 30s could be surrounded by other queer women.
“Connecting the community, and bringing our friends together has been a passion of ours for so long,” says Alleyne. The two decided that instead of saving for a theoretical wedding or home down payment, they’d cobble together funds to open their own bar.
Without a hospitality background, the co-owners turned to friends and their network to learn about bar ownership. The biggest piece of advice they heard: You need a million dollars to open a bar in New York. Spoiler: You don’t.
Once they signed a lease, the DIY projects began every weekend and many weeknights after their day jobs. “We’ve been really lucky,” LaViolette says.
Friends helped design and decorate the space, install audio and curate a DJ lineup, paint the walls, build bench seating, hang disco balls from high beams, and pour a swirly pearly epoxy bartop.
Alleyne and LaViolette plan to be hands-on owners. As a Black lesbian bar owner in NYC, still a rare title, Alleyne is proud to be visible and personable in the space. “Other Black dykes, Black queer people can see themselves in a space owned by someone who looks like them. It’s designed for them, for us,” she says.
Among cocktails, according to the menu, there’s “bitter and balanced’ Pillow Prince, the “sweet and aromatic” Island They, and the Basic Bish riff on an espresso martini. They also added mocktails, like the ILYSFM mixing lychee juice, fresh mint, and elderflower syrup. Classic cocktails, wine and beer are also available, as are Caribbean patties, sourced from Tower Isles Cafe, in Ocean Hill, for snacking.
“All of a sudden you’ve made a whole bar: It doesn’t take a million dollars,” says LaViolette.
With the opening, The Bush hopes to exist as a “space for dykes and everybody in between gaybies and theybies,” LaViolette says. “Everyone’s welcome. For us, it was important to use the word dyke because if you just say queer space it can become a cis male-dominated space. This is for the community, but not cis gay men specifically. This is a space for dykes, a space for us. We’re dykes.”
Open most days from 5 p.m. to 4 a.m., the Bush offers specials, such as discounted “Slutty Punch” (a rotating recipe with iridescence) on Wednesdays and perhaps future sober nights – and more events to keep things fresh.
“We want people to come in here and experience comfort and pleasure and joy,” LaViolette says. “We deserve options and I’m so glad that we have them finally. We’d love to see more.”