Pride in a Glass: Building LGBTQ Community Over the Decades, One Cocktail at a Time

published Jun 1, 2022
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people playing cards on a yellpw surface with various cocktails
Credit: Photo: Heami Lee; Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen; Prop Stylist: Beth Pakradooni

This package was guest-edited by Shannon Mustipher, author of Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails.

I launched my career as a bartender more than a decade ago in mixology-minded New York City cocktail spots like PDT and Momofuku. That’s where I learned how to mix ingredients in a way that highlights each one individually, while giving rise to an emergent deliciousness that’s more than the sum of its parts. Bartending has also shaped my worldview.

I see my identity as a gay man within the framework of a cocktail: I use “gay” to describe myself (an ingredient), and “Queer” to describe the community that I belong to (the cocktail as a whole). In other words, if “Queer” is a Daiquiri, I am the gay rum. To me, the term Queer refers to the emergent community made up of people who don’t fit into whatever our society has decided is “normal” with regards to gender identity and sexual orientation. “Queer” is the shorthand I use for the acronymic concoction of LGBTQ identities that I share community with. The experiences of, say, an intersex person might be vastly different from my own, but we are all welcome.

I use “gay” to describe myself (an ingredient), and “Queer” to describe the community that I belong to (the cocktail as a whole). In other words: if “Queer” is a Daiquiri, I am the gay rum.

Whoever you may be, Queer or otherwise, the best hospitality experiences — and the drinks that accompany them — make it clear that you are welcome. Generous hospitality makes space for you to be yourself, and for you to enjoy yourself.

This spirit of inclusive welcoming is another element of the bar and hospitality world that drew me in. While the industry is by no means a safe haven for marginalized communities, it does attract a preponderance of people who might not otherwise fit into traditional societal roles. Working in hospitality spaces has been a catalyst to becoming more myself. 

Historically this has been the case as well. For decades, bars have been some of the most significant locations in Queer history. That’s why we’re celebrating Pride this month with three cocktails from three Queer bartenders that represent three significant eras in Queer history: the 1930s, 1960s, and 1990s.

1930s: The Spirit of Freedom

Credit: Photo: Heami Lee | Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen | Prop Stylist: Beth Pakradooni

We start with mixologist and educator Tiffanie Barriere’s cocktail Roads Beyond Rhodes, a deft combination of Amontillado sherry with apricot liqueur in her homage to Alain Locke, the first African American Rhodes Scholar. 1930s Harlem, where Locke lived as an out gay man, was home to such bars as the Ubangi Club, Clam House, and Connie’s Inn, all of which catered to predominantly Black and female-identifying (lesbian) clientele.

As Barriere explains, what makes this time in history poignant is that, in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance, when African American voices were gaining acknowledgement for their contributions to art and literature, an important aspect of the inner life of one of its seminal figures remained largely hidden from public view, thus obscuring the full brilliance of his message until a time such as now.

Queerness was far from accepted at this time, but the patrons of these establishments enjoyed a degree of acceptance and safety despite the overlapping marginalization due to racism, homophobia, and misogyny. Barriere’s sleek, sippable cocktail is a perfect expression of Locke’s work of creating safety for Black people within his community during the Harlem Renaissance. 

Get the recipe: Roads Beyond Rhodes

1960s: The Spirit of Rebellion

Credit: Photo: Heami Lee; Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen; Prop Stylist: Beth Pakradooni

Next up, for the 1960s, nonbinary activist and Bacardi USA’s National LGBTQ+ Portfolio ambassador Chris Cabrera gives us their tribute to Marsha P. Johnson, one of the leaders of the Stonewall uprising, with a refreshing pineapple-and-rum Collins (with a powerful, gingery kick) called Jukebox Rebellion. The 1969 Stonewall uprising is considered one of the most important events in the fight for Queer rights in America. Chris drew inspiration for this drink from a conversation they had with Tree Sequoia, a bartender working on the night of the riot. This layered cocktail, which instructs the reader to pour their own shot of rum over the drink, represents one of the many things that were thrown at police that night. The first Pride parade occurred one year later, with thousands of marchers parading from Greenwich Village to Central Park. Pride parades are an institution that persists to this day, all over the world. 

Get the recipe: Jukebox Rebellion

1990s: The Spirit of Representation

Credit: Photo: Heami Lee; Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen; Prop Stylist: Beth Pakradooni

The last cocktail arises from the 1990s, the decade when I came of age. I was inspired by My So-Called Life’s Rickie Vasquez, one of the first out gay characters on TV, to create a cassis-based gin rickey that I named the Rickie Vasquez Rickey. For me, the ’90s represented a tipping point in our culture where Queer identities were no longer on the margins as a punchline, or a one-dimensional object of pity. Queer characters started to become whole people, not just plot devices in service of the main character. Rickie Vasquez was groundbreaking not only because the character was a fully formed person whose Queerness was just a part of who they were, but also because the actor who portrayed them, Wilson Cruz, was an out gay person himself. 

Get the recipe: Rickie Vasquez Rickey

Right now, in 2022, Queerness feels like it’s in greater peril than ever. Numerous states are enacting laws with the goal of erasing our existence and policing our bodies. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2021 was the deadliest year on record for transgender and non-binary people, with a disproportionate impact on trans women of color. But amidst the gloom and fear, joy and pleasure are radical acts. Hospitality’s spirit of inclusion and sharing is an antidote to fear and ignorance. While there is still much work to be done in the fight for true liberation for all people, we are sustained by the work of those that came before us. Let’s whip up some cocktails in their honor.