This entrepreneur uses the metaverse to create an immersive lesbian bar

This entrepreneur uses the metaverse to create an immersive lesbian bar

Elena Rosa is a Los Angeles-based artist who wanted to create a world of lesbian stories where people of all genders, sexualities, and identities could learn about the history of lesbian bars. She drew inspiration from photographs, writings and interviews with former customers and bar owners to bring L-BAR to life. Rosa sat down with Jessica Abo to talk about her interactive online bar and lounge, and her advice for anyone trying to create a sacred experience.

Jessica Abo: You’ve spent years working as an actor and artist and say you’re really passionate about creating different worlds. What about creating environments that light you up?

I love creating environments. I like to think about our architecture and how it frames our identity. I have a particular fascination with Byzantine churches, the way the masses can enter this dome, this heaven on earth and everyone has a focal point. Straight is the focal point. It is a truth, a belief. And if you look to the left or to the right or above you, there are representations of saints reflecting this truth and confirming this truth. I like to think about how it informs us in these spaces.

Unlike the lesbian bars, which used to be our saloons and taverns, they are usually quite dark. And they may be in an alley or on a staircase, but they are dark. At first, there were no windows, and where there were windows, they were covered with curtains, so you couldn’t see what was going on inside. I think it encourages experimentation and walking into the unknown. It’s full of mystery, and I believe it’s in this space that agency can be explored.

Why did you want to create a space dedicated to the history of lesbian bars?

I wanted to celebrate and honor the history of lesbian bars. I think these bars, especially before Stonewall, were bars that really allowed women to frame feminism and ideas of desire and ways of being in the world. So I wanted to honor that history and also honor the pioneers, all the people who crossed the street to enter the bar when it wasn’t right to do so.

I think about my own lesbian bar history, and I landed in San Francisco and I was just going out and I was going to this bar on Sunday and it was ladies day on Sunday. I don’t remember it was about consuming alcohol. That wasn’t the bar for me. But, on an unconscious level, I guess there was this other aspect and I couldn’t wait to get to the bar. There was this other aspect of walking into a place, walking into somewhere, and the people you see reflect who you are. I think the unequivocal understanding that someone else is like you. It’s a lifesaver, really. I was raised very religious, and for me, that was it. That was it for me. But, I don’t know if I realized it at the time, but I needed it. I needed that mirror for myself back then, people, those women in that bar.

What is the state of lesbian bars today?

Well, there aren’t many lesbian bars anymore. According to the Lesbian Bar Project, which raises money to fund the remaining lesbian bars in the United States, there are fewer than 25 lesbian bars. I believe that to understand why they disappeared, you have to understand why they existed. Lesbian bars are very different today. They are much more inclusive with the language. I think when I went to bars, there were a lot of different identities and ways of being, but we just didn’t talk about it. Or, if they were, it wasn’t brought to the fore by it. I think the bars were more driven by desire, at least when I was riding. Now the language is there, and the inclusivity is there at the forefront, and I think that’s really great. I think it’s wonderful. Sometimes I wonder if we still need the term lesbian bar if we still need lesbian bar.

It’s interesting to think about. I also think, I noticed that the intergenerational aspect of bars when I was going up wasn’t there anymore. I remember going to the first bars and talking to older dykes about how to play pool and how to be and whatever, and there was a lot of intergenerational communication, and that’s not the case now . It has to do with the online world. A lot of my older friends have wonderful, amazing relationships online and they don’t need to go to the bar. So that’s not a bad thing, it’s just different. Bars are very different today.

What will someone experience when they enter L-BAR?

Inside L-BAR you will be presented with a world, I call it a world of lesbian stories. This world is full of cities that you can click on, and when you do, you’ll find bars, lesbian bars, introduced to you. These bars have all existed. They date from 1925 to 2005. Now I made these bars, they are digital art renditions, I made them based on oral histories of former bar owners and bar patrons. So you can also hear these interviews inside the space. You can meet friends there or make new ones, sit at a bar stool and listen to the likes of Joan Nestle, Jewelle Gomez, Lillian Faderman to name a few. You can actually hear them inside the bars.

What do you think this project represents now?

I think this project represents a living archive. I think it offers a way to look at history differently by being inside of it, occupying that history, listening to the stories where that history took place and sitting inside and sharing your own story inside. I think it’s another way of documenting and another way of living through history.

I think it also shows how important and sacred lesbian bars were to a lot of people, and sacred to our history in terms of building and losing identities and ways of being in the world.

What’s next for you and L-Bar?

I’m going to quit this platform I’m using which is called ohyay which is amazing. They will be closing on December 31, so L-Bar will also be closing. I am currently applying for grants and looking for funds to move the project elsewhere. I’m also doing a documentary on the history of lesbian bars.

What advice do you have for someone trying to create a sacred experience, whether through the metaverse or through a physical environment?

I think it’s important in everything you do, whatever you create, to make it personal, to make it full of your heart, because I think people are going to disagree with you and they don’t like what you have to say, and it encourages conversation. I believe in conversation. I believe in difference, and I think that’s what sustainable business is all about. I don’t think everyone likes it. I think it’s actually a conversation.

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