|The former Sisters Bar|
Location: 45 Danforth Street, Portland, Maine, USA
Closed: February 2005
From photos and descriptions, it's easy to grasp that Sisters was your basic New England working-class lesbian bar.
The throwaway description at clubplanet certainly conveys that blue-collar feel:
Sisters - Sometimes you just don’t want to pay $12 for a drink. On those nights, head out to Sisters, located at 45 Danforth St. And while they may be cheaper, they’re definitely not weaker.
But Sisters was more than inexpensive drinks with a kick. It was truly a labor of love for its owners who were, in fact, two sisters. As reported in Curve a few years back,
Tired of fighting for space in gay clubs helped spur 50-something Sue Pierce and her sister to open Sisters Dance Bar in Portland, Maine, nine years ago. Just two hours from Boston, Sisters is less high-energy and lip gloss — just a friendly, comfy place where pool reigns supreme, lesbians still read poetry, and champagne is served free on New Year’s Eve. On Sundays, the bar opens its kitchen, serving burgers, hot dogs, and pizza. It is, in short, the kind of lesbian bar you rarely find these days. “The stand-alone lesbian bar seems to be becoming extinct,” admits Pierce. “The fact that we are small and the only girl bar in the state brings women from all over to celebrate with us. This certainly helps support us and helps pay the bills, but needless to say, a lesbian bar is not a for-profit endeavor.”
Sisters also inspired incredible customer loyalty. I suspect that Sisters was one of the very few lesbian bars that ever inspired a masters thesis (in 2010) devoted solely to its existence. Claire Forstie's recollection of her first visit is especially warm and vivid:
When it first opened in 1995, the entryway was painted purple—somewhere between lavender and midnight—and a glaring neon light blazed through a first-floor window visible from the street. Did it say, simply, “Sisters?” Was the neon threaded in rainbow colors? It’s hard to remember now. You stood in a short line at the door, then handed your ID and three-dollar cover charge to a threatening-looking woman you read as “butch” before entering the bar proper. Immediately in front of you was the dance floor, already crowded with women dancing in couples and small groups, as well as a smattering of men. You could see the deejay against the far wall, and you headed right to the bar, which took up the Danforth Street wall and which was crowned by a small television tuned to a silent baseball game. Beer was available in bottles only, and the bartender worked exclusively for tips, so you tipped as generously as you could. Perhaps you headed toward the pool table (or were there two?) in the back corner, or straight through to the door leading to the tiny patio at the far left. Perhaps you squeezed into the u-shaped table just in front of the bathrooms, along with your friends. You drank at least one beer—that’s certain, given that you were nervous, a newly-out young college lesbian, ready to feel at home at last.
Forstie's nostalgia was echoed by the former patrons she spoke with:
One interviewee stated that “It definitely will always be one of those places that goes down in my memory as being this little slice of home.” Another interviewee remarked that “it felt like a family away from a family.” Patrons used words like “home” and “family” to describe the space of Sisters and the friendships and community created there.
There is so much good material here that simply cannot be summarized. It's not often I recommend a masters thesis as a good read, but Forstie's thesis offers an interesting theoretical analysis while still being well-written, lively, and engaging.
Here's how Tony Giampetruzzi announced the death of Sisters in the Portland Phoenix back in April 2005:
Almost two months ago, Sisters, the only lesbian bar north of Providence, closed its doors for good. It was a sad day for many women because the watering hole was, supposedly, their only outlet for social interaction. Audrey Luce, a bartender at the 10-year-old establishment, told the Phoenix that numbers had fallen off, that women no longer sought lesbian bars.
"It’s really just because times have changed," she says. "I think that after 10 years, the women who would come into the bar are buying houses and having kids. And the younger crowd that’s going out can really go anywhere and feel accepted. [But] it’s not just the club, and I can understand that women want to have children and be home, but they need to get involved, too. I really see our community changing, and in some ways, not for the better."
For some, the fall of Sisters was just the last gasp for a scene that has been slowly expiring.
Photo: The neighborhood bar last known as Sisters. (photo/Chris Busby)