Poll queer folx in Worcester who enjoy being ‘out and about’ in the nightlife scene, and you’ll hear a common refrain: “we need more queer spaces!”. I’ve covered a lot in my prior columns about the MB Lounge (currently Worcester’s only officially gay bar), and their efforts to open their doors to a new generation of queer clientele. In that regard, I do think good work is being done, and there’s more to do, but ultimately one small bar cannot adequately be all things to all members of a diverse community with varied tastes, interests and identities.
Before I go on, I gotta give a quick shout out to The Woo Bar & Grill on Shrewsbury Street. The LGBTQ+ community has been lucky to have them as they’ve burst onto the scene over the last year or so. They’re a gay-owned and operated establishment, serving up casual fare, great drinks, and a fun, friendly atmosphere that’s easy going without being the least bit divey.
I personally agree that our city needs more options for queer folx looking for a fun night out, and I also am of the mind that we don’t necessarily have to wait until someone opens another gay bar. A ‘guerilla queer takeover’ situation can happen just about anywhere. As a musician who regularly performs locally, I’ve experienced first-hand the queer takeover effect at some of my shows, and it can be so much fun. With a little word of mouth promotion and social media marketing, venues like Birchtree (I’m there the third Wednesday evening each month!) Vincent’s, Nick’s, and Michael’s Cigar Bar can easily become queer hangouts.
I know there can be trepidation from folx when looking for a place to go out with their friends. Let’s face it… as cool, artsy and alternative some spots in Worcester are, there are a LOT of townie bro bars where, as a queer person, you may or may not get through the night clear of a dirty look, sneer, or snide remark thrown your way. Sometimes just knowing you’re gonna be with your crew can give the needed boost of courage to don that new fabulous lewk and strut your stuff. For the record, I would posit the spaces mentioned above are generally pretty welcoming, with or without a queer takeover night, and do not fall under the townie bro bar column.
Last month, the cries for a popup queer dance night were answered. In collaboration with the Worcester Gay Professionals group, Valentino’s (154 Shrewsbury Street) launched Studio 154 Thursdays, a new queer dance night, with a tip of the hat to New York’s legendary disco hotspot, Studio 54. Let me just say, the aesthetic of Valentinos, on any given night, are already primed for a queer crowd. Pink neon signage, oversized portraits of Marilyn Monroe, velvet curtains and cozy alcoves appointed with plush sofas and loveseats scream fabulous with a capital ‘F’. Not to mention the bathrooms: the best in the city. Check them out and you’ll see what I mean.
Launching any new nightlife event can be a tricky sell, especially during the rush of the holiday season. It’s safe to say that didn’t steer anyone away, as the debut night was a smash success. The DJ was on point, the drinks were flowing (champagne anyone?) and the conversation and dancing almost made you forget it was a school night!
I hope we continue to see more nights like this in Worcester. Our community’s appetite for fun is bigger than can be satisfied by a single bar. I’m pulling for the success of Studio 154 at Valentino’s, with the intention that other venues will see that more options for queer folx is a win-win situation. For more info about Studio 154 Thursdays, follow @ValentinosWorcester on Instagram.
Giuliano D’Orazio (he/him) is a Worcester native, musician, music educator, member of the queer community, and a board member of Love Your Labels. Email: email@example.com Instagram: @musicbygiuliano