Lesbian bars in the United States are vanishingly rare. Events that commemorate them show the value queer spaces have in communities, research shows.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, there were upwards of 200 bars that catered to lesbian, bisexual, and queer women across the United States; now, there are an estimated 21 lesbian bars left.

Though the mass closures have left a void in many cities, lesbian bars are often celebrated and commemorated long after they shut their doors.

“I was immediately impressed and fascinated by the commemoration efforts,” says Japonica Brown-Saracino, professor and chair of sociology at Boston University College, who studied the impact of dyke bar commemoration efforts in four US cities—New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and New Orleans—in the five years before the pandemic.

She writes about the experience of looking at tribute events in the Journal of Lesbian Studies and American Journal of Sociology. The events were commonly billed as a way of repairing and reflecting on the history of dyke bars, and she found attendees were bonded by nostalgia and a recognition of the role gentrification played in shuttering many of these places.

“Some of the dyke bars that were commemorated were closed before event organizers were even born,” says Brown-Saracino. (“Dyke bar” and “lesbian bar” are often used interchangeably, but the word “dyke” was used by event organizers and attendees intentionally to signal that they were most interested in working-class lesbian bars, Brown-Saracino says, and that the label dyke has largely been reclaimed from once being a slur. Editor’s note: Although this article uses the word dyke to accurately align with the research and some in the lesbian community have reclaimed the word, some within and outside the LGBTQ+ community still consider it a slur.)

One event in New York was called the NYC Dyke Bar Takeover, and consisted of a walking tour of closed dyke bars in Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side of Manhattan in late 2017 and 2018. “It was almost like a ghost tour,” Brown-Saracino says. Attendees heard oral histories and interviews with former bar regulars and owners, while the tour stopped at two iconic dyke bars that remain afloat: the Cubby Hole and Henrietta Hudson. One of the attendees Brown-Saracino met was there because she felt lonely. She wanted to feel more connected to her community and make new friends.

Read the full article about lesbian bars by Jessica Colarossi at Futurity.