Where do you go for a Boston night out if you’re a queer woman?
Boston currently has no lesbian bar, as existing spaces like Vicki’s and Cavana’s were shut down decades ago. Queer women and non-binary people looking for love — or just a sense of safety and community — have few options outside of male-dominated spaces like Club Café or Legacy Boston, said local Thais Rocha.
“I’m grateful spaces still exist for the LGBTQ community; unfortunately, they’re centered more towards males,” Rocha explained. “It’s kind of sad, as a lesbian woman, having to go to a gay male-centered space to go out.”
That’s why Rocha cofounded LGBTQ Nightlife Events, an organization that throws several themed monthly parties catered toward women and non-binary people. The group held their first event in June 2021 and now host a variety of monthly parties, including an emo-themed night called Pity Party, yacht parties on The Sir Winston, a self-described “QTBIPOC mixer” called IssaVibe, and a Brazilian funk music night.
The group’s longest running event is Sapphic Nights, currently held at Vera’s in Somerville or Good Life in Boston, which celebrates its one-year anniversary this month. The now bi-monthly event is known for its long lines and packed dance floors.
At the first Sapphic Nights party at Good Life, Rocha was shocked by the number of people who showed up.
“Doors opened at 10, we hit capacity at 11,” she remembered. Future events continued selling out; the group soon had to stop offering pre-sale tickets for Sapphic Nights because it became too difficult to offer any spots to people who showed up the night of the event. “That party showed us that there is a need for this,” Rocha explained.
“We want to be open, we want to be free, we want to enjoy ourselves. And it’s very difficult to do that when you’re surrounded by eyes of people who don’t think the same way about you and are fantasizing about something different,” Rocha added.
Attendees at a Nov. 5 Sapphic Nights party echoed Rocha’s sentiments about the importance of spaces for queer women and non-binary people.
“It’s important to have a place that feels safe for [us] to be ourselves, to celebrate our queerness, and to experience collective joy,” said Maggie Swann, who drove all the way to Boston from Portland, Maine, to attend the night’s event.
“It’s hard to find people who are kind of looking for the same thing; in straight spaces it’s like everyone’s looking for each other,” said attendee Maria Buitrago, who was raised in Alabama and currently lives in Somerville. “In lesbian spaces, it’s comfortable — I can flirt with anyone and not make anyone uncomfortable. I’m allowed to flirt with anyone.”
“There’s not an[other] experience like this for gay women to exist in Boston. I think that’s an important thing that’s lacking,” said Natasha Cochran, a friend of Swann’s.
LGBTQ Nightlife Events organizers like Rocha and Dill Dillingham also emphasized that the group wants to make space for queer people of color. Diversifying their music choices, beyond the typical techno-house genres that dominate nightlife, is one way they hope to create a more inclusive space for attendees. A typical Sapphic Nights’ playlist could range from Jamaican dancehall DJ Beenie Man to reggaeton artist Daddy Yankee.
Rocha, who is Brazilian, explained, “Spanish music is one of our main genres that we play at Sapphic Nights.” She also helped start the monthly O Baile Funk LGBTQ party, which promises “Brazilian funk music all night.”
Dillingham, a friend of Rocha’s, started the group’s IssaVibe event on April 15. Dillingham, who identifies as a Black lesbian, has a TikTok account with over 235,000 followers and recalled when she asked them: “Where’s all the Black and brown [LGBTQ] people?”
“They were like, ‘We exist, we just don’t have a place to go to,’” she explained. She said people told her, “I want to go where I can hear Soca music or Reggaeton, where I can hear all these other types of things that aren’t so catered towards white people. Where I can hear Latino music, like I can speak it and everyone else around me is also hyped and singing the same words.”
That’s why Dillingham started IssaVibe, a monthly QTBIPOC Mixer at Union Tavern with DJs playing Reggaeton, R&B, and hip-hop. “When you can go to your home and just play what [music] you want and have no regards to it, and not feel like ‘Am I messing up the vibe?’ — that’s home. That’s the place where I want to be,” Dillingham said. The April 15 IssaVibe party took place at Boston Harbor Distillery and sold out.
Looking toward the future, LGBTQ Nightlife Events hopes to open their own venue so they don’t have to rely on borrowed spaces. After covering event costs, the group puts all remaining proceeds toward a fund (a bank account called “bar,” Rocha joked) to open their own venue. Rocha revealed that Jamaica Plain may be the location for the new space, though no details have been confirmed.
“There’s no queer women bars in Boston — we all want one!,” said Molly McIntosh-Case, another attendee at Nov. 5′s Sapphic Nights event.
Dillingham has a lot of hopes for a future venue, which would be one of only a handful of lesbian bars in the country. “It’s going to be a welcome home party to everybody,” she said. “I love that we’re going to be a destination spot for people to find home in.”