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The Black Lesbians Behind Chicago’s Nobody's Darling Bar

Nobody's Darling bar owners Barnes and Renaud

“Be an outcast: be pleased to walk alone (uncool) or line the crowded river beds with other impetuous fools.” This quote, from the poem “Be Nobody’s Darling” by Alice Walker, inspired the name of a new lively queer bar on a quiet street in the Chicago neighborhood of Andersonville.

The Nobody’s Darling bar is owned by two Black queer women, who’ve become Chicago’s second and third Black and queer bar owners in a city with a long history of segregation. Its BIPOC queer population is typically found in the south and west sides and the north side’s Boystown gayborhood has been called out on its racism, on display in acts like banning hip-hop and rap music, underpaying nonwhite employees, and even outright racist statements. In response, the summer’s Drag March for Change made broad allegations that also included sexism and transphobia among the Boystown businesses.

But the queer-inclusive Andersonville isn’t Boystown, and Nobody’s Darling co-owners Angela Barnes and Renauda Riddle are determined to keep it that way, with a space Riddle describes to Chicago Eater as “women-centered — women forward. Once we opened, all of a sudden we’ve been having these conversations where we’re really articulating the distinction.”

 

Nobody's Darling bar in Chicago

 

The bar itself is welcoming and inclusive: the logo on the door features the silhouette of a Black woman wearing a natural crown, a painting with the Walker poem hangs on one wall, and the bathroom features additional paintings, depicting women from history, all of them enjoying cocktails.

Barnes and Riddle understand why some may assume that it’s a lesbian bar, but as Barnes said, “We wanted to make sure that our entire community felt welcome, that we’re not excluding our gay brothers or our trans siblings.”

Barnes, who is 52, and Riddle, who is 41, met a decade ago at Center on Halstead, the Chicago Gay Community Center, where they were on a women’s action committee together. The friends also serve on the boards of Center on Halsted and Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, while Riddle is also Legacy Project Chicago’s board treasurer.

“We’re a community-based bar. We’re providing a space for connection and support,” as Riddle told the Washingon Post.

Riddle, an auditor, and Barnes, a corporate attorney, juggle their careers with being bar owners at night, working hard to make a dream come true.

Some of their cocktails have powerful names such as Kahlo Margarita (named for bisexual Mexican artist Frida Kahlo), the A. Walker Winter Martini (for Black author Alice Walker), and Jos Baker Manhattan (for the bisexual Black performer, actress, and activist Josephine Baker). Others are simply charming, for example, the Carry Me Home Darling, made of Roku Japanese gin, elderflower, lemon, and simple syrup; the Pink Kitty, which includes Aperol (an Italian bitters aperitif), gin, and cava (a Spanish wine); and even daring, as the Levante Muerte (Rise, Death!) made with — among other things — ancho verde.

 

A cocktail being poured at Nobody's Darling bar

 

Even those who like to drink, but not imbibe, have choices as well, with an alcohol-free menu that includes zero proof cocktails.

Despite the shifting parameters and challenges imposed by the pandemic, Nobody’s Darling has managed to thrive, an especially important outcome in an era when bars for lesbians and queer women are rapidly declining, with The Lesbian Bar Project naming just 21 surviving nationwide.

With drink specials currently offered Thursday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. plus Saturdays and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., as well as a new partnership with their next-door neighbor, Paulines, which allows them to serve comfort food on their outdoor patio/sidewalk café, Nobody’s Darling hopes to keep serving up signature and seasonally curated cocktails, pop up events, and other tasty local fare for a long time to come.

This piece initially ran in the Spring 2022 edition of Out Traveler print magazine.

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