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Amanda Leigh Dunn

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Inside the Birth of the Dalloway, New York's New LGBT Social Hub

Posted: 12/03/2012 5:10 pm

Being a lesbian in NYC hasn't always been rainbows and butterflies, nor have lesbians had a real home base in the NYC restaurant and nightlife scene. Finding solace in a community that is spread thinly and often "U-hauled" at home does not always make for a convenient social structure.

I moved out to California in February to explore a new coast and a new way of life, so naturally I moved to one of the gayest neighborhoods in the world: West Hollywood. As if moving 3,000 miles away from home weren't enough, about a week before the big move, my best friend Lauren, who I was moving with, informed me that she had committed to being followed around by a full-time camera crew. Knowing nothing of the show or what I was about to get myself into, I blindly agreed.

West Hollywood is definitely the best place I have every lived, aside from New York, of course. Everyone from every walk of life can be comfortable there; your sexuality, race, gender, etc. hold little importance. There is a central hub that lies in the center of all this: the Abbey. Many gay bars and parties are known for one thing -- hooking up and getting twisted -- but the Abbey was one of the first places I had been where this wasn't the common goal. By no means am I saying that this isn't part of what happens there, but it's not the main focus.

For reasons of my own, LA just wasn't working out for me. I missed home. I missed my friends, my family and everything I had always known. But after I came back to New York, there was one big, gaping hole in my life: There was no one place I could go to get back in touch with my friends and my community without literally picking up the phone and calling every single person. There was no place where I could be openly gay but not feel like I was sitting in a shed with rainbow flags flailing over my head. I decided to be proactive about this issue by looking for bar spaces in the area where I could open my own plaace.

2012-12-03-KimStolz.jpgA good friend of mine, Kim Stolz (right), heard that I was back and invited me out to one of these "girl parties." In discussing over drinks what we had each been up to, it came up that in fact we had both had the same feeling and had come up with the same idea. Kim had been raking the Village for venues while I'd been doing the same thing across the water in Williamsburg. It doesn't take a genius to know where this story is going. We decided to team up with the same goal in mind: creating a hub for the LGBT community where no one would feel pigeonholed or displaced. We had the exact same vision and the exact same goal, so the hunt began.

Within days we started looking at spaces together. Through our broker we heard about a place that was still open for business but was looking to relocate: Lani Kai in SoHo. We had five places on our list that day, and Lani Kai was the first of the group. I met Kim's fiancé Lexi in front of the building, and we gawked at how large the space was compared with what we were actually looking for. We wanted to open a bar with a small menu of bar food, not a two-story restaurant. But of course we fell in love with the space, and no other place we saw came as close to our vision.

Kim got an email from a friend saying she knew of an executive chef, Vanessa Miller, who lived in Boston and was looking to take a position in New York. Vanessa contacted us asking if we wanted to do a free tasting to see what she could bring to the table. We knew nothing about her except that she was the executive chef at a popular restaurant in Boston and that she was the youngest female executive chef in the country. And who would pass up a free tasting? It took no more than five minutes and a few bites for us to realize that our small bar was growing into something much more. Why not create a place where the LGBT community and the rest of society alike could hang out, have some great food, go downstairs for a drink and have an all-around good time? Why does it have to be a "wrong bar, boys"-type situation? We wanted everyone to be there, enjoying our food, the atmosphere and our vision, and we also wanted our community to feel like they had a home base, a hub, a place to bring their girlfriend, parents, friends, bosses and all of the above.

With our evolved vision, we confidently took the Lani Kai space. The first thing that needed to change was the aesthetic. It isn't that we hated the way Lani Kai looked (who doesn't love plants and tiki?), but we had a very different vision for the way we wanted our space to look. Rather than hire someone to design the space, we took it into our own hands, made a list of everything we wanted it to have and figured out a way to bring it to life.

Through a lot of hard work and lack of sleep, we opened the Dalloway in just over a month. Reviews of the food, the ambiance and, most importantly, its ability to fill this void in one of the most multicultural cities in the world were better than we could have anticipated. It would have been a hopeless cause without our team. I have never seen anyone leave a job to teach a group that knew nothing about the restaurant industry as quickly and as effectively as Kim's fiancé Lexi did, nor have I known a chef with such an innovative vision and who is as incredibly forward-thinking as Vanessa, nor have I known a manager with such influence, care and ease as Cara. And of course I would be remiss to fail to mention my girlfriend constantly kicking me in the ass to keep pushing, and helping me hold my head up when it all seemed just a bit too out of reach. Finally the Dalloway was born and our dream was made a reality.

As "gay" as this may sound, if there is one thing I've learned from this, it's that if there is a void somewhere, fill it. (Yep, I just said that.) If there's something missing in your eyes, don't be afraid to go after it.

To check out more about the Dalloway, visit thedallowaynyc.com.

 

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