Fifteen. That’s the meager number of lesbian bars remaining in the United States, down from approximately 200 spread across the country at their peak in the 1980s, according to the Lesbian Bar Project, which supports and advocates for lesbian bars. Denver alone had seven lesbian bars in the ’80s, including Ms. C's and Three Sisters, according to the Center on Colfax.
But Denver does have one of the country's fifteen remaining lesbian bars, and what a bar it is! Blush & Blu is not just a watering hole; it's also a community gathering place and a haven for creativity.
Blush & Blu embraces you like a warm hug when you walk in. The bar staff is welcoming, even if they've never seen you before. They ask you about yourself and then offer drink recommendations from the extensive cocktail list (coffees and teas are also available). I go for the Ruby Rose ($6), a blend of Three Olives strawberry vodka, orange and pineapple juice, soda and grenadine that's an homage to queer femme icon Ruby Rose.
The clientele is just as welcoming; many of the customers are part of the community that first came together at this place. Along with the bar, the main floor includes a stage for the numerous events that Blush & Blu hosts, which helps it attract a diverse crowd. On this particular evening, it's a comedy show, but the venue also offers everything from karaoke nights to open-mic poetry.
Downstairs opens into a quiet area filled with queer literature, where tarot readings can be found some nights. The second floor is stocked with a pool table and arcade games.
Before she founded Blush & Blu, Jody Bouffard owned two other lesbian bars. One was tHERe Coffee Bar and Lounge, which she opened at 1526 East Colfax Avenue in 2005; in 2008, she opened Her Bar at 629 East Colfax. She sold both bars in 2011 (X Bar is now in the Her Bar space), but got the tHERe location back just a year later. She reopened it as Blush, and then in 2013 expanded the bar, renamed it Blush & Blu, and persuaded Portland, Oregon-based Voodoo Doughnut to open its first Colorado store in part of the building.
That, too, helped build community. "People would come in and eat their doughnuts over here. On the weekends, I would turn on cartoons for the kids so families could come in; moms would have Bloody Marys, dads would have beers, kids would have hot chocolate," says Bouffard. "I did good."
Unfortunately, many other lesbian bars across the country haven't done as well. Bouffard attributes their demise at least in part to skyrocketing rent. "Rents in the ’90s and 2000s were not what they are today," she points out. "So the majority of the big ones that all closed down is because they got forced out from rent. ... Lexington Club in California definitely got pushed out from rent." That bar was considered a landmark in the LGBTQ community and was the last lesbian bar in San Francisco before it closed in 2015.
The pandemic only made things tougher. But Bouffard's landlord helped her out with rent over the past year, and the Lesbian Bar Project also provided funds during the months that Blush & Blu had to close entirely for COVID.
Although Blush & Blu is billed as one of the last lesbian bars, it's a safe space for anyone in the LGBTQ community, and even attracts a straight clientele that doesn't like the "meat market" vibe at other bars, Bouffard says. Blush & Blu's theme is inclusivity, and it will not tolerate intolerance.
"At the end of the day, it's a queer space. So I cater to the LGBTQ part of the community," she explains. "I may be a lesbian, and it's tagged as a lesbian bar because most of the staff is lesbian, I guess — but I also have trans employees, and queer employees who are non-binary and don't identify as lesbian at all. So I think that the people I have working for me help foster that village feel.
"It's always been a village to me," she concludes.
Blush & Blu is located at 1526 East Colfax Avenue; it's open Tuesday through Saturday from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. (closed Monday). Get more information at 303-484-8548 or blushbludenver.com.
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