A League of Her Own, one of the last lesbian bars in the United States, still serving as a safe space
By Miles O’Reilly, Tara Suter and Jed Sammons
There are only 21 lesbian bars within the entire United States, and only one — A League of Her Own (ALOHO) — can be found in Washington D.C.
Dave Perruzza, a gay man and bar-owner, opened ALOHO in August 2018. It is located in the lower level of Pitchers, the gay sports-bar that he opened just three months prior. The entire establishment is located on 18th Street NW, right in the heart of Adams Morgan.
Perruzza, inspired by his time managing JR’s—a popular gay bar off Dupont Circle—founded ALOHO to provide a safe and communal environment for queer women.
“I did it for a reason, I used to run JR’s and the amount of times we’d have lesbians coming in and asking where to go. I thought it was gross they had no place to go,” Perruzza said.
Historically, Washington D.C. has been home to a strong LGBTQ community. Gay bars are dotted across neighborhoods and the city has hosted the annual Capital Pride Parade for decades.
Nolan Phillips, a gay man and drag queen, has perfomed shows at many of D.C.’s bars. As a young student at George Washington University, Phillips has found the D.C. scene, particularly that in Adams Morgan, to be generally positive.
“There’s a lot of queer spaces, queer owned companies, a lot of friendly areas. I think it’s pretty representative,” Phillips said.
Although the nightlife scene is strong, particularly among gay bars, lesbian women enjoy little representation. According to Perruzza, this could be attributed to financial barriers inherent in the market.
“If A League of Her Own wasn’t attached to Pitchers, it wouldn’t have survived COVID,” Perruzza said.
Perruzza pays $54,000 per year in liquor liability insurance. In combining the bars under one roof, he is able to subsidize ALOHO through Pitchers’ profits.
“Say I break up the bar, as far as money during COVID, with just lesbians coming in, I don’t even think they did $25,000 a year,” Perruzza said.
There also appears to be a discrepancy in demand between the lesbian and gay communities.
“The myth that lesbian don’t go out is false, but ALOHO is not as busy as the gay bars. Gay men go out a lot more than women,” Perruzza said.
Barbi Lopez is the manager of ALOHO. A 29-year-old lesbian woman orginally from Argentina, Perruzza hired Lopez in October 2021 to ensure that the lesbian community would have a member running one of their communal spaces.
Although Lopez recognizes that D.C. is welcoming of the LGBTQ community, she wants more inclusion for queer women.
“I think we lack representation. Yeah, we have gay bars, but they’re not specifically for lesbian and queer women … I think creating those spaces, where it’s for us, created by us, so we have that sense of security,” Lopez said.
According to Lopez, lesbian underrepresentation stems from white-centered, patriarchal institutions that are historically rooted in American society.
“If you’re a man, you have advantages that most women don’t have. Whether you’re a white queer man or a white straight man, you have 10 million miles of advantage in front of the rest of the community,” Lopez said.
As a manager, Lopez said she is focusing on improving the representation of queer people of color and transgender people.
“We have a lot to do with including trans, and especially POC LGBTQ community … there’s a gap there and that comes from hiring, to management to ownership,” Lopez said.
Perruzza made a conscious effort to represent the trans community in his bars.
“When we re-hired it was very important to for me to hire a lot of transgender people. We hired seven trans people because I felt that it was important for gay men to see trans people,” Perruzza said.
A lesbian woman and patron of ALOHO, who preffered to be identifed simply as Coira, explained how the institution’s value as a safe space is heightened due to its rarity.
“I really don’t want it to go away. I love these two areas so much. They’re so beautiful and vibrant, and I would be really sad if they weren’t there anymore,” Coira said .
Another customer, Kelly McDonnell, is a queer woman and former student at American University. According to McDonnell, ALOHO represents the sub-minorities within D.C.’s queer culture.
“I have been to a few of the bars instead of just ALOHO, A League of Her Own, that I have entered that are very predominately cis, white male. And just kind of, I have felt that I am not presenting enough gayness,” McDonnell said.
Both Coira and McDonnell share Lopez’s desire for the creation of more lesbian-oriented spaces.
Perruzza remains optimistic about the future of D.C.’s LGBTQ bar scene, and welcomes additional competition.
“It’s getting better. People are always like ‘Oh aren’t you worried about another gay bar?’, and I was like ‘No, the more gay bars, the more it makes us a destination for people to come,’” Perruzza said.
Before this project, I was admittedly quite ignorant on LGBTQ issues. Although my brother is gay, I had had very little interaction with the queer community, particulary within D.C. I’ve walked around AdMo, especially up 18th Street, hundreds of times, and I always knew there was a strong gay presence but never really put much thought into it. When I joined this program and was deciding my beat, I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to cover a topic that I was personally connected to.