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 storybook universe where people of all races, sexualities, and identities could learn about the history of a lesbian bar. She drew from photos, writings, and interviews with former bar patrons and pub owners to bring it up L bar to life. Rosa sat with Jessica Abu to talk about the interactive online bar and salon, and her tips for anyone trying to create a sacred experience.

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

I love building environments. I like to think about our architecture and how that frames our identity. I have a particular fascination with Byzantine churches, the way masses can walk through this dome, this heaven on earth and everyone having one focal point. Straight ahead is the hub. It is one truth, one belief. And if you look to the left, right, or above you, there are images of saints that reflect this truth and affirm that truth. I like to think about how we can let that know in those places.

Unlike a lesbian bar, which used to be our saloons and bars, it is usually very dark. And they may be in an alley or they may be down a flight of stairs, but it’s 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 this encourages experimentation and a walk into the unknown. It is full of mystery, and I believe that space is where potency can be explored.

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

I wanted to celebrate and honor lesbian history. I think these bars, especially pre-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 respect that history and also respect the pioneers, all the people who crossed the street to go to the pub when it wouldn’t be appropriate to do so.

I’m thinking about my lesbian bar date and I landed in San Francisco and I had just gone out and I’m going to this bar on Sundays and it was Ladies’ Day on Sundays. I don’t recall it having to do with alcohol consumption. It wasn’t about that, the tape for me. But, on a subconscious level, I suppose there’s this other side to it and I can’t wait to get to the bar. There was this other side of walking somewhere, walking somewhere, and the people you see reflect who you are. I think the definitive understanding is that someone else is like you. It’s a lifeline, really. I grew up very religious, and for me that was everything. 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 of myself at the time, of the people, of 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 is raising money to fund the remaining lesbian bars in the United States, there are fewer than 25 lesbian bars left. I think in order to understand why they are gone, we need to understand why they are there. Lesbian bars are very different today. They are more comprehensive with language. I think when I was going to bars, there were so many different identities and ways of being there, but it wasn’t talked about. Or, if they were, it wasn’t up front. I think pubs were at the forefront of desirability, at least when I was coming. Now, the language is there, the inclusiveness is up front, and I think that’s really cool. I think that’s cool. Sometimes, I wonder if we need the term lesbian bar anymore if we need a lesbian bar anymore.

Interesting to think about. Also, I think, I’ve noticed that the cross-generational aspect of rails when I was encore just isn’t there anymore. I remember going to early pubs and I used to talk to old 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. This is about the world of the Internet. A lot of my older friends have amazing amazing online relationships and don’t need to go to the bar. So, that’s not a bad thing, it’s just different. Pubs are very different today.

What will someone experience when they enter an L-BAR?

Inside the L-BAR, you will be introduced to a world, which I call a lesbian story world. This world has plenty of cities for you to tap into, and when you do, you’ll find lesbian bars and pubs introduced to you. All of these bars already exist. They are from 1925 through 2005. Now, I’ve made these bars, they’re interpretations of digital art, made based on the oral histories of former pub owners and pub patrons. So, you can also hear those interviews inside the space. You can meet friends there or make new ones, sit on a bar stool and listen to people like Joan Nestle, Jewelle Gomez and Lillian Faderman to name a few. You can actually hear it inside the bars.

What do you think this project represents now?

I think this project is a living archive. I think it provides a way to look at history differently by being within it, by occupying that history, by listening to the stories in which that history took place and sitting within it and sharing your own story within it. I think it’s another way of documenting and another way of experiencing oneself through history.

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

What’s next for you and L-Bar?

I’m going to switch from this platform that I’m using, which is called ohyay, and it’s great. They will be closed on December 31st, so L-Bar will be closed as well. I am currently applying for grants and looking for funding to take the project elsewhere. I’m also making a documentary about the history of lesbian bar.

What would your advice be to someone trying to create a sacred experience whether it be through the metaverse or a brick-and-mortar environment?

I think it’s important, in everything you do, in everything you create, to make it personal, make it full of your heart, because I think people are going to disagree with you and not like what you have to say, and that encourages conversation. I believe in conversation. I believe in being different, and I believe that’s what sustainable business means. I don’t think it satisfies everyone. I think it’s actually a conversation.

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