Inside Park Slope’s Life-Changing Lesbian Bar

Text and photos by Jeanette Spicer

My first time at Ginger’s was the night before the NYC Pride March in 2013. It was a Saturday, the evening of the NYC Dyke March, which I hadn’t heard of at the time. A friend asked me to join her at Ginger’s; it gave me the ability to also explore my curiosity as a budding lesbian, which had been precluded by our mostly heteronormative and homophobic culture.

We entered Ginger’s and it looked like a women’s locker room, but more crowded; I had never seen so many women in one space. The bar and backyard were packed, a DJ was playing and bodies were moving. Everywhere. My friend’s date brought at least 10 other women, all different lesbian archetypes: the lawyer, the butch, the femme, the athlete. It was like The L Word. By the end of the night, I met a person who would later be my first girlfriend. I will always remember that night and how it altered my life.

Ginger’s is more than a bar; it’s a community. Spaces like this are lifelines in a hetero-dominated world and bar scene; to be surrounded by your own feels like heaven.

Sara

Ginger’s remains a special place to me, and I go as often as I can. During the pandemic, when Ginger’s was shuttered, the idea that it could permanently close was devastating. Lesbians have so few dedicated spaces, even in one of the largest cities in the world, so the bar’s resilience during challenging times was crucial.

Recently, I returned to Ginger’s to capture what it’s like since reopening. The bartenders are all new, except for Perry, who has been with Ginger’s since it opened in 2000; the orange 1970s decor has been replaced by more subdued, modern furnishings; the backyard redecorated but still covered in ivy. Over the course of five days, I learned what this space means to its patrons: to younger lesbians and queer folks who are finding community for the first time; to Ruthie, a woman of color who grew up in New York City in the ’60s and ’70s and is a longtime regular (not to mention a pool shark); and to Yera, a bartender whose lesbian identity is supported and celebrated here. Their struggles remind us of the ongoing importance of preserving safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community.

Sophia (left); Mollie (right)

Welcome to Dyke Slope

Mollie, Park Slope local:I’ve lived in the neighborhood for four years. I usually come to Ginger’s with friends. I like the area because it is an old-school lesbian neighborhood, especially with Herstory Archives in the area. 

Cheryl, longtime Park Slope resident:I’ve lived in Park Slope since 1989. I bought a house here with a partner on Garfield and 5th Avenue and knew a lot of female couples, lesbians, with families. It was an affordable area to buy a house and raise a family. Most rented and would have parties at their houses. There weren’t a lot of places to go out in Park Slope, so we often went into the City for the lesbian clubs and bars.

Prospect Park has a women’s softball league. I played for a while. My partner was a black belt in karate and used to go to a women’s martial arts center on the park side of 5th Avenue, upstairs on 8th Street. There was also a restaurant years ago on Flatbush near Grand Army Plaza run by a Filipino dyke: La Papaya.

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First Time at Ginger’s, and Reasons to Keep Coming Back

Ruthie, Ginger’s regular: I introduced myself on my first night here 20 years ago and got to know people, the bartenders. I observed everything. Eventually, Ginger’s asked me to work the front door, which I did for a few years, and now only during Pride.

Nelle, local: The first time I came here was during my first Brooklyn Pride in 2011, which was very gay and so packed. There were a lot of hot women.

Massi, Ginger’s regular: Ginger’s is Brooklyn’s only lesbian bar. It was an exciting place for me to come into eight years ago. I have been several times over the years and come as often as I can.

Essence, recent regular: The community is the biggest draw. It feels different here than other LGBTQ+ community spaces. It is very open and feels safe, both physically and emotionally.

Back in Business

Ruthie:I was disappointed when Ginger’s was closed. Mostly I hung around my shop. I am a barber and own my own shop, Ruthie’s Neighborhood Barber Shop, in Park Slope. But it felt great when Ginger’s reopened. [Owner] Sheila was here and I was so happy. The new bartenders that work here are sweet too.

Sophia:The people have gotten hotter. The younger crowd is also interesting because it is harder to gauge if they are queer. The switch in the aesthetics of what people wear and how they present themselves has made it harder to decipher their queerness.

Joyeux:Ginger’s has a lot more offerings drink-wise since it reopened. The drink menu feels more expansive in terms of options aside from straight liquor and beer.

Behind the Bar

Yera, Ginger’s bartender:When I was a teenager growing up in Venezuela, my parents kicked me out because they found out I was going to gay clubs in Caracas with my gay cousin. I have been independent since then, to the point that when I moved to the States in 2015, I never said goodbye to anyone in my family. Growing up in a super homophobic, religious household ain’t fun, I will tell you that. The first word that comes to my mind when someone asks what it’s like to work at Ginger’s is “surreal.”

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I have resented the struggle in New York way too many times—as an immigrant from Venezuela I got stuck working in the service industry for seven years—and it wasn’t until I started working at Ginger’s that I was able to work in a place where being a lesbian is celebrated instead of attacked, insulted, shamed. It is just…surreal. I can’t believe I work in a place where I am paid to be me. It’s a blessing. I am very lucky.

Discover more of NYC’s notable lesbian spaces with this insider’s guide.


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