This Entrepreneur Is Using the Metaverse to Build an Immersive Lesbian Bar

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Elena Rosa is a Los Angeles based artist who wanted to create a world of gay storytelling where people of all genders, sexualities and identities can learn about gay bar history. She drew from photographs, writings and interviews with former bar patrons and bar owners to bring L-Bar to life. Rosa sat down with Jessica Abo to talk about her interactive online bar and salon, and her advice for anyone trying to create a sacred experience.

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Jessica Abo: You’ve spent many years working as an actor and performer and say you’re really passionate about creating different worlds. What is it about creating an environment that lights you up?

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I love the building environment. I like to think about our architecture and how it frames our identity. I have a special fascination with Byzantine churches, the way the public can walk into the dome, it’s heaven on earth and a focal point of it all. Focal is straight forward. There is one truth, there is one belief. And if you look to the left or to the right or above you, there are images of saints reflecting that truth and confirming that truth. I love to think about how it informs us in those places.

Unlike the lesbian bars that were our saloons and taverns, they are usually very dark. And they may be down an alley or they may be down a flight of stairs, but they’re dark. In the beginning, 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 that encourages experimentation and venturing into the unknown. It is full of mystery, and I believe is where agency can be found.

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

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

I think back to my own gay bar history, and I landed in San Francisco and I just came out and I’d go to this bar on Sunday and Sunday was Women’s Day. I don’t remember drinking alcohol. It wasn’t about him, the bar for me. But, on a subconscious level, I felt this was the flip side and I couldn’t wait to get to the bar. It was the other side of who you are, walking into a place, walking around and seeing people in the mirror. I think there is a clear understanding that someone else is like you. It really is a lifeline. I was very religious, and to me, that was everything. That was everything for me. But, I don’t know whether I realized it at the time or not, but I needed it. I needed that mirror for myself at that time, from people, from those women of that time.

What is the status of lesbian bars today?

Well, there aren’t many lesbian bars left. According to the Lesbian Bar Project, which raises funds for the remaining gay bars in America, there are 25 gay bars. I believe that in order to understand why they have disappeared, we need to understand why they existed. Lesbian bars are very different today. They are far more inclusive with the language. I think when I was going to bars, there were a lot of different identities and ways of being, but they weren’t talked about. or, if they were, it was not foregrounded by him. I think the bars were more foreground than desired, at least when I was coming up. Now, there’s language, and inclusivity is at the forefront, and I think that’s really great. I think this is great. Sometimes, I wonder if we need the term lesbian bar if we need lesbian bar anymore.

It’s interesting to think about. I also think, I’ve noticed that the intergenerational aspect of bars is no longer there when I was coming up. I remember I used to go to bars early and I’d talk to old dykes about how to shoot pool and how to be and whatever, and there was a lot of communication between the generations, and that’s not the case now. It is related to the online world. A lot of my old friends have wonderful, wonderful relationships online and they don’t need to go to bars. So, it’s not a bad thing, it’s just different. Times are very different today.

What will one feel upon entering L-BAR?

Inside the L-Bar, you will be introduced to a world, dare I call it, a gay fairytale world. There are tons of cities in the world that you can click on, and when you do, you’ll find bars, lesbian bars, presented to you. These times actually existed. They are from 1925 to 2005. Now, I created these bars, these are digital art interpretations, I created them based on oral histories from former bar owners and bar patrons. So, you can listen to those interviews inside the space as well. You can meet friends or make new friends there, sit on a bar stool and listen to the likes of Joan Nestle, Jewel 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 of looking at history differently by living inside it, owning that history, hearing the stories of that history, and sitting inside it and sharing your own story. I think it’s just another way of documenting and another way of experiencing oneself through history.

I think it also shows how important and sacred gay bars were to a lot of people, and sacred to our history in terms of identity formation and shedding and ways of being in the world.

What’s next for you and L-Bar?

I’ll go off on this platform that I use called Ohay, which is amazing. They are closing on 31st December, so L-Bar will also be closed. I am currently applying for a grant and looking for funding to move the project elsewhere. I am also making a documentary on the history of lesbian bars.

What advice do you have for someone who is trying to create a sacred experience whether through the metaverse or a brick-and-mortar environment?

I think it’s important to personalize whatever you do, whatever you create, to fill it with your heart, because I think people will disagree with you and they won’t like what you 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 it’s to everyone’s liking. I think it’s really a conversation.

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