Stacy Lentz & Anthony DeCicco: Where Have all the Gay Bars Gone?

Image: The Stonewall Inn, birthplace of the modern Gay Rights movement. Ben Hider.

LGBTQ nightlife is constantly changing, and in recent years LGBTQ bars have been closing at an alarming rate. Many are questioning if recent LGBTQ political victories and widespread social acceptance are reducing the need for exclusively LGBTQ nightlife. Some speculate that the gay bar, which was once our sanctuary and church, has lost its place in today’s society. However, with the new president and administration, we must make sure that there are safe spaces for the LGBTQ community and an opportunity for bars in general to become more mixed and welcoming to this demographic.

There are many reasons that have led to the ever increasing closing of gay bars even in cities that have large numbers of LGBTQ residents. The obvious ones of Tinder, Grinder and other apps that lead to meeting and mating with the swipe of a finger have clearly had an effect on the landscape that once was filled with hookup bars. Also, gentrification in gayborhoods has driven rents through the roof, and it has been tough for these bars just to be able to keep the lights on with these skyrocketing expenses.

There is no denying that the above factors have played a role, but probably not more than the acceptance we have seen with the strides not only legally for gay rights but also in changing hearts and minds within the overall American public. A new study by the NGLCC (National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce) shows that 10% of the population identify as LGBTQ, and a larger number of the youth population identify with this group more than in any age demographic. Also, a growing number of the population also considers themselves allies and supporters regardless of their own sexual orientation.

Hence, as we have gained more social acceptance and become more heteronormative, there has been a sharp decrease in LGBTQ bars and it has become more important than ever that these bars take action to preserve their customer base. In addition, it is relevant for bars in general to make sure they are becoming more welcoming and inclusive of this demographic that has less options in terms of the in-person ways to mix and mingle, and at times is opting for mixed spaces in general.

But that can be easier said than done as the LGBTQ community – and especially the bar and nightlife consumer – can be extremely fickle.

They have high expectations not only of what they are looking for in terms of entertainment value and atmosphere, but also where they will spend their dollars. The LGBTQ community has been extremely successful in harnessing the ability to use their economic power to influence and expedite their rights and the issues that affect the community. So, gone are the days of just throwing up a rainbow sticker and expecting to tap into or keep your LGBTQ client base. It’s imperative from every angle you are creating a space that, first and foremost, is safe and welcoming on all levels, and also is supporting the community in general. LGBTQ bars and clubs, as well as LGBTQ-friendly bars, have to offer up more than ever before to keep the client engaged. A great starting part can be by engaging your local LGBTQ community and hosting events and fundraisers focused on issues that impact them. To engage the LGBTQ community and earn their dollars, you must support gay causes.

Stacy Lentz and Anthony DeCicco (both owners of The Stonewall Inn), will discuss how to expand your niche base, how to create entertaining spaces and activities for a more inclusive audience, and how the LGBTQ community is visiting more straight bars (and how to tap into that market) at the  2017 Nightclub & Bar Show  in Las Vegas. Be sure to  register now  to attend their presentation, entitled "LGBTQ Nightlife & How it's Changing."

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