After over a year of limited operations, Richmond’s LGBTQ bars — and its LGBTQ community — finally got a taste of post-pandemic life, just in time for Pride month.
On the first Thursday night after Governor Northam lifted mask and capacity restrictions statewide, the crowd that gathered at Babe’s of Carytown, for a drag show featuring Godfrey’s performers, was electric.
“They missed us bad,” said Vicky Hester, who has worked at Babe’s for 36 years and been the sole owner for 21 years. “They’re very grateful that we’re back.”
At the door, in addition to asking for the usual five dollar cover charge and ID, the bouncer asked for proof of vaccination. Overwhelmingly, Hester said, people have been receptive to the request.
“The first night we opened, we posted that you had to have this vaccine,” said Hester. “Only one person came [that night] without a vaccine, and that was probably out 150 people.”
Babe’s closed for four months at the start of the pandemic, later re-opening at a limited capacity. That finally changed last month.
“It’s almost overwhelming, and it will never be normal again,” said Hester. “People have been locked in their houses for a year, and now they think they can do anything wherever and whenever they want. We have half the people that are really really good and really appreciate us being here, and then half the people that think they deserve to be here.”
Though people are returning to bars — with varying degrees of rowdiness — Babe’s isn’t out of the woods yet. Up until a month ago, the bar was down to six employees, compared to the upwards of 20 employees who worked there pre-pandemic. In an ordinary year, Hester said Babe’s would earn anywhere from $500,000 to $850,000. Last year, they made just $80,000. Vaccine mandates aside, the biggest change for the bar has been financial, Hester said.
“I spent my savings,” she said. “We used to do whatever we wanted to and now we have to watch every penny we spend.”
Rent at Babe’s Carytown location costs about $90,000 a year.
“I had to beg, borrow and steal to get that,” Hester said. “We did get a three or four month deferment, which I haven’t paid back yet, for the rent, because we just didn’t have it.”
Throughout a difficult year, Hester said she remained grateful for the CDC guidelines.
“Not that we enjoyed it at all, but I’m very glad, and my people are very glad, that there were mandates where people had to wear a mask. We really appreciated that, people not sharing their diseases with us. Most people bitched about it the whole time, but it was something we needed.”
Alvion Arnell Davenport, the entertainment director at Godfrey’s, talked about how good it felt to return to a sense of normalcy. Though Godfrey’s never closed, last month marked the first drag shows with no social distancing guidelines since the start of the pandemic.
“It was so amazing to be reunited and see people’s smiles again,” Davenport said, as the crowd screamed along to drag queen Chicki Parm’s performance of Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u.” “It was so rewarding to see that so many people actually took care of themselves and made it through the pandemic, but it was even more rewarding to see our community back together during Pride month of all times, while we celebrate ourselves, our lives, and our love.”
He emphasized the essential community of gay bars.
“I would just like to tell people to continue to support the bars, because they are the meat and potatoes of this community,” he said.
Top Photo via Babe’s Of Carytown/Facebook