There are only 21 lesbian bars currently operating in the United States. There are two in Texas, and one of them sits on Washington Avenue right here in Houston. Pearl Bar, founded in 2013 by Julie Mabry and located at 4216 Washington Avenue, serves as a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community to gather and celebrate who they are without fear.
Mabry’s desire to open her own lesbian bar goes back to when she was only 16 years old. Both she and her sister had come out as lesbians as teenagers in the ‘80s, a climate that was nowhere near ready to accept the LGBTQIA+ community.
“The first time we went to this bar in San Antonio called the Bonham Exchange, I saw my sister be comfortable and safe,” Mabry shared over the phone. “Just the fact that she was in an environment where I feel like she was happy and safe and really in her own element, it was just something that always resonated with me.”
After that, Mabry was set on creating a lesbian bar of her own. She did everything she could over the next 24 years, working in the service industry and learning all about the bar business. She did promotions and even became a part owner of other bars. Then, in 2013, she bought the closed down bar named Pearl Bar on Washington Avenue, and made her dream come true. She decided to keep the original name of the bar as it was a gay friendly place before it closed, and the name carried over well for Mabry’s vision.
Earlier this month, the Houston Dash teamed up with Pearl Bar to put on a Bingo Night for bar regulars and Dash fans alike ahead of the Dash’s yearly Pride Night. Bringing the two worlds together created a fun and friendly environment that Mabry loves to see nightly at Pearl Bar.
“Having it now, I'm very proud of it and I feel lucky that Houston is a city where we can have (a lesbian bar) and its successful, we have a good community that supports it,” she expressed.
However, there is still work to be done. There are not nearly enough lesbian bars in the country to provide the same environment available to patrons at Pearl Bar.
“I think we need to bring that to the surface and let people be aware. There need to be more safe spaces across the country because it's sad that people are driving from other cities, other states just to enjoy a lesbian bar for Pride,” Mabry explained.
The Lesbian Bar Project released a 20-minute documentary on Roku last year, detailing the hardships of keeping the remaining 21 lesbian bars running. They plan to release another documentary later this year that offers an inside look at these bars.
For Mabry, the answer for locals is easy. Outside of spreading awareness, Houstonians should come and stop by Pearl Bar when they can.
“We have other nights where we do drag shows, we have karaoke or just even coming in on a Sunday to support the bar and showing up to events always helps us.”
Pearl Bar is open Tuesday through Sunday from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. For additional information, visit PearlHouston.com