On a recent Saturday afternoon, Hot Donna’s Clubhouse turned part of Pan Pacific Park into a lesbian popup space.
About 500 people, most of them queer, lesbian, or gender non-conforming, attended the event in Los Angeles’ Fairfax District. They spent the warm summer day socializing, mingling, dancing, and playing various games including the wet T-shirt relay race.
Lauren Richer, the 32-year-old founder of Hot Donna’s Clubhouse, hopes her plans for a brick-and-mortar version of the space will change the lesbian nightlife landscape in Los Angeles.
We “don’t have a safe space for lesbians who maybe don’t want to party, don’t want to drink, don’t want to be part of the club scene,” Richer, a West Hollywood resident, said during an interview at Pan Pacific Park. “It’s important to have a space where there are other people that miss having fun and meeting people that they love and meeting new friends.
“They don’t have that at the moment,” Richer said. “They need a space for it.”
If Richer is successful, Hot Donna’s Clubhouse would fill a void and meet a vital need in Los Angeles.
The City of Angels, the second-largest city in the nation, is a desert for lesbian nightlife. The megaopolis doesn’t have any bars or clubs catering to queer women or lesbians, and hasn’t for several years.
In 2017, a Los Angeles County’s lesbian bar, the Oxwood Inn, shut it doors. The 45-year-old San Fernando Valley watering hole was well known in Los Angeles’ lesbian nightlife scene.
West Hollywod’s last lesbian bar, The Palms, closed in 2013.
According to the Lesbian Bar Project, only 21 lesbian bars exist in the U.S., with only two listed in California: Gossip Grill in San Diego and Wild Side West in San Francisco.
But, the recently re-opened bar Redz in Boyle Heights serves Latina lesbians and queer people.
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Hot Donna’s Clubhouse
Richer wants to build an inclusive space that caters to queer women, trans woman, and gender non-conforming individuals. The Hot Donna’s Clubhouse team is hunting for a location in West Hollywood, Silverlake, or Echo Park.
Another Hot Donna’s Clubhouse meetup will take place Friday in Downtown L.A. The location will be texted to those who buy tickets, and vaccination cards will be required for entry.
The popup at Pan Pacific Park also was a fundraiser, generating a little more than $30,000 through ticket sales, merchandise, and the after party at The Naughty Pig in West Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard.
Richer says they will need approximately $2 million to open a brick-and-mortar space, hire employees, and purchase decor. While some investors have helped inch that number forward, the venture still needs a “big boost in funds,” she said. Hot Donna’s Clubhouse has activated a GoFundMe.
The size of the future space is yet to be determined, but Richer’s plan is to open a place later this year that serves two functions: room for events in the daytime (e.g. coffee pop-ups, queer art galleries and hair-cutting) and an evening space to dance, drink, and let loose.
[It will be] “where all your queers are in the garage together, having a drink laughing about something that they get. And it’s a space where people can feel safe and accepted,” Richer said.
Queer Field Day
The buzz around Hot Donna’s Clubhouse picked up steam when Queer Field Day, a group that hosts unofficial LGBTQ+ meetups in Southern California, got involved.
Co-founder Lily Brown’s TikTok presence helped Queer Field Day draw large crowds and show the demand for LGBTQ+ events that aren’t men-focused.
Richer said partnering with the Queer Field Day team to promote and emcee the Pan Pacific Park meetup gave Hot Donna’s Clubhouse a boost.
Lesbian safe space
Back at the park, Katy Felkner, who moved to Los Angeles last summer for college and volunteered at the popup party, said Hot Donna’s Clubhouse would be a much needed safe space.
“As a femme presenting person, I don’t really feel very safe in straight bars, and I don’t necessarily feel or look like I belong in bars that cater to gay men,” she said. “So it would be really nice to have a bar where I feel like I’m the target clientele.”
Richer understands that pressure. Richer and Hot Donna’s Clubhouse supporters are charting a path that hasn’t always worked. Places like Cuties (a now-closed queer coffee shop in L.A.), have tried to create a similar space that’s not nightlife-focused. But it closed last August when the owners couldn’t see a way to pay their bills and continue to operate during the pandemic.
“It feels really overwhelming to be leading some kind of new movement, new space in L.A.,” Richer said, “especially since there isn’t anything in the entire Los Angeles County.”