Reports on the demise of lesbian bars — a subject of much concern in the years leading up to the pandemic, with numbers dwindling to as few as 16 across the U.S. in 2020 — have turned out to be exaggerated, at least in Chicago where a small group of LGBTQ publicans are defying the narrative that drinking spots by and for queer women are no longer relevant or necessary.
But despite all expectations to the contrary, the city’s small clutch of lesbian bars and pop-up parties are seeing a fresh surge in popularity, with long-running party series Slo-Mo kicking off its most ambitious events yet and a wildly popular silent book club at Dorothy in Ukrainian Village. The most rapid and dramatic growth, however, is on display at Nobody’s Darling, the Andersonville cocktail bar from co-owners Renauda Riddle and Angela Barnes that was a James Beard Award finalist in 2022.
In September, Riddle and Barnes unveiled an eagerly awaited expansion that connected the tavern at 1744 W. Balmoral Avenue with a neighboring space to add a second bar and 45 additional seats. Originally a long, narrow hallway of a bar, the new section provides extra comfort and breathing room, but there are more than just logistical advantages to the addition. The project signals that there is indeed a significant demand for the cocktail bar’s inclusive approach — one that welcomes transgender community members and attracts patrons from the South Side and even from out of state.
“The response [to the project] has been overwhelmingly positive,” Riddle says. “We were continually asked about the option of reserving our original space for private events and now, with this expansion, we’ll be able to accommodate those requests with the added bonus of not needing to close the bar during regular hours.”
Excitement about the bigger, more boisterous Nobody’s Darling was palpable in the early evening hours of Saturday, September 23 as groups of patrons snuggled into a large U-shaped red booth in the bar’s new section. To some, additional seating may not sound like a particularly bold move, but its presence speaks to the inclusion of people with disabilities and older patrons — a relative rarity in queer nightlife venues.
Prior to construction, customers often found themselves shoulder-to-shoulder without space to groove to the music or even gesture with too much vigor. Now there’s room to mingle, talk, and toast with new cocktails named for Black queer legends like Nina Simone (mezcal, sumac, ginger, banana) and Eartha Kitt (gin, Aperol, Earl Grey, cucumber bitters).
Though their Andersonville project is now complete, Riddle and Barnes are already turning their attention to their next big move: a second location on the South Side of Chicago, “an area that’s far too often overlooked,” says Riddle. LGBTQ bars are very few and far between in the area, with rare exceptions like Jeffrey Pub, one of the oldest gay bars in the U.S., and clubbier spots Krave and Club Escape.
Plans for Barnes and Riddle’s South Side outpost are in the very early stages. In the meantime, explore the scene at their freshly revamped Andersonville original in the photographs below.