Refreshed, the beloved West Village lesbian bar Cubbyhole has reopened to thirsty queer women and the broader LGBTQ community just in time for springtime gatherings.
Fans lined the block for hours to get inside the refurbished cozy neighborhood bar — which bills itself as “NYC’s neighborhood LGBTQ+ bar (where all are welcome) — located at 12th and West 4th Streets in the West Village on March 28.
Cubbyhole’s owner, Lisa Menichino, closed the bar in January to do some much-needed upgrades. The 56-year-old lesbian projected the bar’s tender loving care project would take about six weeks. It took twice as long. Now the intimate bar has a 74-person capacity.
“When we had our opening day party, it was amazing,” Menichino told Gay City News.
“It doesn’t look like I changed [the bar] dramatically at all, but it looks fresher.”
Cubbyhole patrons told Eater the bar was important to them. Lynsey, 45, who was at the bar with her wife, 35-year-old Mariel, called it a “staple of the community. Lynsey and Mariel were only identified by their first names.
“You always know you’ll be around a community. It’s special. It’s such a vibe,” said Brooklynite Vanessa Carlone, 31, while sitting at an outdoor table with three leather jacket-clad friends sipping Dyke Beer.
Cubbyhole regulars Nina, 28, and their girlfriend Mariana, 24, donated to the bar’s Go Fund Me campaign that raised nearly $80,000.
“It’s pretty important for us to keep specific spaces for queer women, for the community,” Nina said. “If you want to experience queer life in the city, it’s here, it’s intimate. We need to support this bar as much as we can.”
Menichino was pleasantly surprised to see such a strong base of support for the bar when it reopened.
“I am very amazed by that,” she said. “I’m very humbled by that.”
Cubbyhole is one of the last three lesbian bars in New York and one of the last 21 bars across the United States to remain in operation, according to The Lesbian Bar Project.
The bar shut down in March 2020 in response to the pandemic and rolled with each wave of COVID-19, reopening outdoors only in August 2020 and shutting down in December of that year. It reopened outdoors only again in April 2021.
In January, Menichino closed the bar for the renovation.
“It had been on my mind and there were things that really needed to be done,” Menichino told Gay City News. She thought there would be time to do the upgrades during the pandemic, but closing the bar only had a “deleterious effect,” she said. On top of it all, the 60-year-old stone floor needed serious repair.
The 12-week wait, Menichino said, was worth it. While she appreciates the new floor, the fresh bar top is her pride and joy.
Menichino would like to make other upgrades to Cubbyhole’s exterior. However, the building and neighborhood are recognized historic districts, so changes would have to go through regulatory hurdles. She opted to leave those battles for another day and reopen the bar.
Cubbyhole fans were kept abreast of the renovations as Menichino documented the project on the bar’s Instagram page. Menichino posted photos and videos of when the floor was dug up, exposing the basement, and did a time capsule with mementos to place under the new floor.
“I tried to keep everyone involved,” she said. “I think for the most part, everybody was understanding.”
Cubbyhole knows a thing or two about surviving. Its original owner, Tanya Saunders, was a child refugee from Nazi Germany. At the beginning of the pandemic, Menichino nursed “a constant cycle of bourbon and frozen push pops” in bed while fretting over Cubbyhole’s future, as reported by Eater. But she listened to her supporters, shook off her blues, and fought back.
Cubbyhole was featured in The Lesbian Bar Project’s 20-minute documentary last year. Menichino was interviewed by lesbian actor and comedian Lea DeLaria (“Orange Is the New Black” and “Broad City”).
According to nyclgbtsites.org, Cubbyhole, originally spelled Cubby Hole, opened in the West Village, New York’s popular gayborhood, by Elaine Romagnoli in 1983. The bar’s original space was taken over by another legacy lesbian bar, Henrietta Hudson, in 1990.
The reimagined Cubbyhole in the West Village originally opened as DT’s Fat Cat in the space in 1987. However, the bar’s then-owner Saunders, renamed the bar Cubbyhole in 1994. Menichino worked with Saunders for 18 years. Menichino took over when Saunders died in 2018 at the age of 82.
Menichino feels the weight of importance and a sense of responsibility as one of the few lesbian bars standing.
“It was really important to me to get the bar into shape and to keep it going, to continue to make it the safe space and homey, comfy environment that people were used to because there are so few of them,” Menichino said.
Lesbian Bars Rising
At the same time, new lesbian or lesbian-owned bars have opened during the pandemic as queer women look for community and connection following the early days of COVID-19’s isolation.
The pandemic has seen some new lesbian bars open around the country within the last year. Menichino nurtures the revived interest in and growth of lesbian bars mentoring new queer women bar owners.
“I always want to make myself available,” to give advice Menichino said. One of her top pieces of advice are to people considering opening a bar is “if you want to make it a success, you have to love this business” or “invest in somebody who does.”
“That’s really important,” she said.