Of the 200 lesbian bars open throughout the U.S. in the late 1980s, only 21 remain—one of which, Slammers, has been located on East Long Street in Columbus since 1993. But why is there so little knowledge of the history of lesbian bars in Columbus? And why is it so important to make those histories known? Ali Alkhalifa and Jayasree Sunkireddy, student researchers at OSU, set out to make such local stories and recollections of the history of lesbian and queer women’s bars in Columbus better known. They were determined to dedicate more attention to women’s involvement in the gay bar scene and the safe spaces they created in the process. Interviews with Jill McDonald, former owner of Wall Street Night Club, and Bobbi Moore, the current general manager of Slammers, complement their archival research, which spanned The Lantern, Columbus Alive, The Columbus Dispatch, other Columbus newspapers, and various articles. With this information, Ali and Jayasree created an informative and conversational podcast about the history of queer women’s bars in Columbus and how these bars were spaces integral to community and freedom. Their efforts have led to a collaborative exhibit, which includes the podcast, photos, and a summary of their research.
This exhibit explores how women-first spaces have impacted the community and the purpose they both used to serve and continue to serve. There is very little knowledge of the history of lesbian bars in Columbus, which is what partly what drew us to this research topic. Many LGBTQ nightlife spaces in the U.S. today are either gay male-oriented or safe spaces for everyone to convene. Furthermore, there are only 21 lesbian bars left and only one (Slammers) in the entire state of Ohio. Lesbian bars may be more difficult to come by, but they have so much untapped potential—their contributions to women’s history and queer history span generations (and counting).
To better document local queer women’s histories, we interviewed two women who run or used to run queer women’s bars in Columbus. Firstly, we interviewed Jill McDonald, the original owner of Wall Street Night Club, one of the most famous and successful lesbian bars in the 1980s and 1990s until it was forced to shut down in 2015. Our second interview was with Bobbi Moore, the current general manager of Slammers, which is the last standing lesbian bar in the state of Ohio. With the knowledge from these interview testimonies, we hope to bridge the gap of knowledge about queer women’s spaces often erased and forgotten by reclaiming their histories. We also want to examine the purpose of these spaces, as well as interrogate why they have been disappearing since the 1990s. Finally, we will discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic, and other problems, have prevented queer nightlife spaces from staying open. But, mostly importantly, we will discuss the survival strategies lesbian bars use to stay alive, despite all odds.