But like other small businesses across the United States, Minko’s bar was hit hard by the pandemic. He’s had to shut the bar for months, and even had to get rid of its food menu at one point — a significant cut into profits — based on state quarantine orders. And though the Alibi Lounge has reopened, it’s operating on reduced hours and with only 25% capacity indoors.
“Our revenue’s gone down,” Minko told CNN. “I’ve talked to other small business owners, and some of them have just decided to quit.”
“The honest truth is that there’s a lot of that added pressure,” Minko said. “The Alibi is like a beacon of hope, and if I close it, then where do the LGBTQ people in my community go? It’s heartbreaking.”
Why these bars hold such importance
Part of the reason that closing bars like Minko’s is so troubling is that gay and lesbian bars have held particular importance in LGBTQ history — and still do.
They were often used for organizing and activist events. When churches didn’t want to host LGBTQ people, they would congregate for Mass and worship at these bars.
“We often forget that even same-sex dancing was illegal up until the ’60s or ’70s,” Eric Gonzaba, an American studies professor at California State University at Fullerton, told CNN.
“These were once the only places where so-called ‘immoral content’ was allowed.”
Even now, the importance of such bars as safe spaces for a community that often finds the outside world unwelcoming and hostile can’t be overstated.
“These gay bars have always serve as central spaces for LGBTQ people,” Gonzaba said. “We should be fearful of losing that kind of community factor.”
The number of gay bars is already falling
Gonzaba, who has been studying gay nightlife for an upcoming book, said gay and lesbian bars reached their peak during the period between World War II and the 1970s. As gay neighborhoods popped up around the United States, so did the demand for the bars as safe spaces.
“Things were already harder because these bars catered to a population that made less money,” Greggor Mattson, a sociology professor at Oberlin College and author of the study, told CNN. “Normally, these bars might spring back or others will reopen. But with the pandemic, that’s not the absolute, whole truth anymore.”
Japonica Brown-Saracino, a sociology professor at Boston University, said she isn’t surprised by the findings, particularly when it comes to bars that cater predominantly to lesbian or transgender patrons.
“Lesbian bars have always struggled historically,” she told CNN. “On average, women make less money than men. There’s less disposable income, there’s more turnover. And sometimes we forget how different experiences can be within the entire LGBTQ community.”
The reason for their decline is complicated
But Brown-Saracino points out these interactions aren’t the same as those at gay bars.
“I don’t think they’re equivalent, although these apps can bring connection through queer attachment,” she said. “But in my research, there is this desire for being in a room. Dating apps can also lead to engaging only with people that are closer in age to you. There’s not that opportunity to have intergenerational and other unexpected connections.”
Gonzaba said he is optimistic about the future of bars and doesn’t think they’ll go away.
“I think it’s totally conceivable that we might see a rebirth or a renaissance once people can interact again,” Gonzaba said.