CHICAGO — Off the beaten path of Northalsted, where gay bars line North Halsted Street, in an otherwise quiet residential stretch of Andersonville, two Black lesbians have opened a bar with a poetic purpose.
Angela Barnes, the co-owner of “Nobody’s Darling” on Balmoral Street, said she came across an Alice Walker poem with began with the line, “Be nobody’s darling. Be an outcast.”
The line captured the defiant and diverse spirit of the social space Barnes and Renauda Riddle wanted to create.
“People, when they come in here, they feel like they don’t have to be anyone’s darling they can be themselves or whoever they want to be that day,” Riddle said.
The two are business partners — not romantic partners. They met at the Center on Halsted and bonded over a love of golf and cocktails.
They also agreed that there was a need in Chicago for a night spot that catered to queer women.
“We decided, regardless, we wanted to have women-centered spaces. This was going to be a woman-forward, women-centered – very intentional about not saying lesbian, not because there’s something wrong with saying it, but because we wanted to be more inclusive,” Barnes said.
The two opened Nobody’s Darling in May 2021, bucking a national trend that has seen nearly all lesbian-friendly bars close. According to the Lesbian Bar Project, 40 years ago, there were 200 lesbian bars across the country. Today, there are only 21 left.
“The historical need to have those spaces isn’t as acute, right? there are other spaces for us to be in,” Barnes said. “I think there could be economic reasons. It’s hard to sustain a bar where it is primarily just lesbian women.”
In a city serrated by race, class, geography and gender, they wanted a bar that could welcome everyone.
“There’s no sort of homogenous group of people. people are very different. They’re sitting next to each other and then they’re talking to each other, and for us that’s amazing,” Barnes said.
“When you walk in here you will see some of everyone — class-wise, sex-wise, ethnicity-wise, all different colors of the spectrum are here having conversations they may have not had before with each other,” Riddle said.
Yet they’ve become service industry superstars overnight. This month they were named finalists for the James Beard Award for “Outstanding Bar Program” which is the highest honor in for cocktails and culinary creations in the country.
“It was shocking, it was humbling and it really made us dig in as to why us? Of course it’s the cocktails first, but it’s also the culture,” Barnes said.
The bar specializes in hand-crafted creative cocktails such as the Kahlo Margarita.
For a few hours, on summer night, the residential street of Balmoral Avenue is filled with laughter and love — echoes of the bar’s poetic purpose: Be nobody’s darling, and be proud of who you are.