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 lesbian history world where people of all genders, sexualities and identities could learn about lesbian 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.

Jessica Abo: You have spent years working as an actor and artist and say that you are really passionate about creating different worlds. What is it about creating environments that light up?

I love building 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 all have one focal point. Straight ahead is the focus. There is one truth, one faith. And if you look to your left or right or above you, there are depictions of saints that mirror that truth and confirm it. I love thinking about how it informs us in these areas.

Unlike the lesbian bar, which were our lounges and taverns, they are usually quite dark. And they might be down an alley or they might 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 it encourages experimentation and stepping into the unknown. It is full of mystery and I believe that space is where agency can be explored.

Why did you want to create a space dedicated to lesbian bar history?

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

I think about my own lesbian bar story and I landed in San Francisco and I just came out and went to this bar on Sundays and it was ladies day on Sundays. I don’t remember it being about alcohol. It wasn’t about that, 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 a place, and the people you see mirror who you are. I think the unequivocal understanding that someone else is like you. It’s a lifeline, really. I was brought up very religious and for me this was everything. This was everything for me. But I don’t know if I realized it at the time, but I needed it. I needed that mirror for myself at that time, from people, from those women in that bar.

What is the state of lesbian bars today?

Well, there aren’t many lesbian bars left. 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 have disappeared, we need to understand why they existed. The lesbian bars are very different today. They are far more inclusive with language. I think when I was going to bars, there were a lot of different identities and ways of being there, but they just weren’t talked about. Or, if they were, it wasn’t foregrounded by it. I think bars were more rooted in lust, at least when I was coming up. Now the language is there, and inclusion is there at the forefront, and I think that is very good. I think it’s fantastic. Sometimes I wonder if we need the term lesbian bar anymore if we need lesbian bar anymore.

It’s interesting to think about. I think also, I’ve noticed that the generational aspect of bars when I was coming up is not there anymore. I remember going to early bars and talking to the older dykes about how to shoot pool and how to be and whatever and there was a lot of intergenerational communication and that’s not the case anymore. It has to do with the online world. A lot of my older friends have wonderful, wonderful relationships online, and they don’t have to go to the bar. So it’s not a bad thing, it’s just different. The 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 lesbian story world. That world has tons of cities you can click into, and when you do, you’ll find bars, lesbian bars presented to you. All of these bars actually existed. They are from 1925 to 2005. Now I made these bars, they are digital art interpretations, I made them based on oral histories from previous bar owners and bar patrons. So you can also hear these interviews inside the room. 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 believe this project represents a living archive. I think it offers a way of looking at history differently by being inside it, by occupying that history, by hearing the stories where the history took place and sitting inside it and sharing your own story inside it. I think it is a different way of documenting and a different way of experiencing oneself through history.

I think it also shows how important and sacred lesbian bars were to many people, and sacred to our history in terms of identity building and killing and ways of being in the world.

What’s next for you and L-Bar?

I’m going to move away from this platform that I use, which is called ohyay, which is awesome. They close on December 31st, so L-Bar will also close. I am now applying for grants and looking for funds to move the project elsewhere. I’m also making a documentary about lesbian bar history.

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

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

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