Lesbian Bars Are Back From the Brink

“In the past, the word ‘lesbian’ has had some cisgender associations, and we wanted to move away from necessarily ascribing any kind of gender to what we were doing while preserving the culture and intention behind the lesbian community and lesbianism in general,” Bielagus says. “But at this point, we use the words ‘lesbian’ and ‘sapphic’ pretty interchangeably.”

The duo has made minimal adjustments to their space, formerly a restaurant, with the exception of replacing some high-backed chairs with stools that work more flexibly with crowd flow. A patio with a bar reflects the Ruby Fruit’s openness to different sectors of the community. “Our crowd is very age-diverse,” Herbkersman says, noting that they’re open for breakfast and lunch and don’t stay open past 10 or 11 p.m. “We’ve got little kids [at the restaurant], we’ve got babies, we have families, we have 20-somethings grabbing a drink before going out to other parties.” They also attract what Bielagus affectionately describes as “heritage lesbians.” “They post up at the biggest, most prominent table in the room,” Herbkersman says. “It’s very much the power seat, and they always find their way there.”

Queer women in command

In addition to a few new options in San Francisco, the Scarlet Fox wine bar courts a sophisticated crowd from the LGBTQ+ community and beyond. Co-owner Kaela Miller, a sommelier with 20 years of experience in the wine industry, wanted something different from what she was used to seeing. “Being a queer woman, my experience was a lot more dive-bar situations, if you will, especially lesbian bars,” she says. “Everyone was welcome and it was very open,” but “they were always dark, with loud music. So it was not necessarily the scene that I wanted to go out in.”

Miller and her spouse, Kate Maeder, opened the Scarlet Fox in a former laundromat in the North of the Panhandle neighborhood about a year ago. “The space was just really a beautiful blank slate to work with already,” says architect MiKaela Leo, with “concrete floors, white walls, lots of natural light, tons of windows. It’s in a nice little neighborhood location with trees out front, and we just wanted to create something that would be light and bright, but also kind of cozy.” The bar has room for about 50 patrons, with a “wine wall” that puts the focus squarely on what Miller calls her “passion”: elevating women winemakers and vineyard owners.