WHEN LISA CANNISTRACI OPENED HENRIETTA HUDSON IN 1991, getting the word out was a major undertaking. There were no group texts, no Facebook, and no Twitter—let alone a robust internet. She did things the old-school way: spending hundreds of dollars and countless hours mailing advertisements for the bar’s parties. “Six of us would sit around a long table and stuff envelopes, then you had to seal them and stamp them, and then—they were really heavy—you had to carry them to the post office,” she says.

Those humble beginnings, including her first bartending gig at the original Cubbyhole in New York City’s West Village in the mid-1980s, influenced her approach to managing lesbian bars. When that Cubbyhole closed in 1990, Cannistraci never envisioned opening a bar herself. It was Minnie Rivera, community organizer and entrepreneur, who approached her with the idea and, within a year, a bar was born. Nearly three decades later, she’s still standing.

In fact, Henrietta Hudson is now the, featuring lesbian icon JD Samson. This social panic is valid: Lesbian bars have served as refuges for queer women seeking safety, solidarity, friendship, and sex; they’re veritable fortresses against both misogyny and homophobia. And their loss has been reduced to oversimplified observations (“Gentrification!”) and, frankly, sexist blaming (“Lesbians don’t want to pay for anything!”). Despite some notable doors shuttering in recent years—like The Lexington Club in San Francisco and Sisters in Philadelphia—a small but mighty group is still alive, innovating, and serving their people.

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