On a quiet corner in New York City’s West Village lies a legendary queer locale. The words “Bar and Girl” are written across the front awning, boldly welcoming queer women to Henrietta Hudson, the oldest lesbian bar in New York City.
Lisa Cannistraci has owned and operated Henrietta Hudson for the past twenty-eight years. She opened the bar with her business partner Minnie Rivera in 1991, after a beloved lesbian spot where she bartended closed down.
The bar is everything to Cannistraci, and she has devoted her life to ensuring it continues to thrive. “It takes total dedication,” she says. “Relationships have come and gone because of my dedication to my business, and I’m fine with that. This is really what I do, but you can’t make it about you…the customers and the staff are the stars.”
Cannistraci said she learned to run the business “one mistake at a time,” but after so long, she seems to have gotten it down to an art. At a time when many people are debating whether lesbian bars are sustainable businesses, Cannistraci isn’t afraid at all. Surviving, she says, is about knowing when to pivot, when to reinvent the bar.
“We’ve done that at least three times,” she says. “Because the landscapes change, the way people are going to bars is changing…When I opened in ’91 we had a jukebox. That was it. People came to drink and hook up and be in a safe space and have that feeling of community. Now they want an experience, everybody wants an experience. It really challenged us, but we did it.”
Nowadays, DJs come from all over the world to play at Henrietta Hudson. Sometimes, they have burlesque dancers. They regularly host events for all members of the queer community, and not only those who identify as lesbians.Whether it is comedy for queer women or a queer sports team’s post-game celebration, Cannistraci is constantly filling the bar’s calendar .“We’re affiliated with hundreds and hundreds of not for profits,” she says. “We’re affiliated with every LGBTQ sports league under the sun. We have regular programming every week.”
While she will continue to market toward queer women, she hopes she has made Henrietta Hudson a place where anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+ wants to be. She doesn’t care whether or not it is known specifically as a lesbian bar. “I don’t care what they call it,” she says. “I just want people to come and have a great experience.”
At the end of June, Henrietta Hudson will celebrate World Pride in New York City in a very big way. On June 29th, the bar will host Siren, its annual lesbian-centric party , for which Cannistraci spearheads the building of a nightclub from scratch on Watermark Pier 15. This year, she will use the same space the night before to host Pride Soup, otherwise known as Queer on the Pier, for the entire queer community.
At the end of the day, what has kept Cannistraci working so hard all these years is her love of making people happy. “I just open the door and see everybody so excited and happy,” she says. “There’s so much gratitude around it. People really consistently just say thank you so much, and that keeps you going.”
Source: How The Owner Of NYC’s Oldest Lesbian Bar Has Kept It Open (And Thriving) For Almost Thirty Years
By Molly Sprayregen, Contributor
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