Photo: Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet
Where have all the lesbians gone? That’s the question posed by a sign outside Maite, a Basque restaurant in Bushwick. The answer – especially on the last Sunday of every month – is that many of them are actually at Maite, sneaking into the restaurant’s monthly Dyke Dance parties, which regularly spill out around the corner as bikini-clad dancers twirl in the windows. “There’s a big conception that as lesbians, we don’t party, we just nest at home,” laughs Maite owner Ella Schmidt. “But there are a lot of lesbians who aren’t like that – we like to dance and we like to party!”
Schmidt, pictured here, officially launched the Dyke Dance in February – and crowds have grown every month. “Seeing all these women dancing, I can see the joy and freedom they feel,” she says.
Schmidt hopes the parties can fill the void left after nearly all of the city’s lesbian bars closed. “At the time, it was beautiful women who loved women,” she sighs. “There were so many places.”
The parties begin near the end of Maite’s Sunday brunch service and are inspired by Schmidt’s teenage years spent on Miami beaches at Tea Parties, a daytime celebration focused on gays and lesbians. “We drank and danced until the sun went down,” she said. “I wanted something like that here.”
It can be difficult to balance the desire for inclusion of the entire LGBTQIA+ community with a party tailored to a specific group. “Maite is a space for everyone,” says Alyss Odle, a friend and collaborator of Schmidt’s, “but there’s so much lesbian representation.” (Pictured, left to right, Kano Mitchell, Schmidt’s wife and partner, Schmidt, Odle and Miss Astaire.)
Maite makes no apologies for his homosexuality: the walls are adorned with a curated collection of erotic queer artwork that is both salacious and mundane. “I always wanted it to be more gay,” Schmidt says. She was initially afraid of alienating clients, but decided she had to make it authentic: “I can’t make everyone happy, and at the end of the day, I don’t have to. “
The throbbing techno beat is occasionally interrupted by shouts of “Yes, girl, take it!!” as members of the mostly female audience rise to offer their dollar bills to the dancers. You might also hear a playful ass slapping or two.
Schmidt, Odle and Odle’s partner, Sarah Dimbert, set out to create the environment they felt was desperately missing from the tapestry of New York’s queer social life: a space that welcomed everyone but celebrated and represented homosexual women.
Schmidt sources artists and DJs for parties largely by word of mouth, giving queer artists a space to perform as themselves: “It’s being around people who are very respectful – and who attract me.”
Taffeta, one of the dancers, likes the liberating nature of the performance: “I can just have fun – I don’t need to play a role.”
“I’m here because it’s, like, one of the few places where you can be shamelessly lesbian,” says Zoe, a 29-year-old party girl from Dyke Dance. “It’s a comfortable place for us.”
“I think what brings people together the most is really good food and caring for people,” says Mitchell. “Everyone will feel at home.”
The last party’s menu included empanaditas, wagyu burgers with ramped aioli and a version of fish and chips made with bacalao.
Sam Solomon flew in from Connecticut for the Memorial Day weekend party. “When you come here and feel the feminine energy in the room, it energizes the dancers and everyone feels good.”
“It’s just amazing that homosexuality feels so normalized and celebrated at the same time,” says Sydney Pearlman, 26, who also traveled for the party. “How could that seem so special yet so mundane?”
Most nights the scene in Maite is more subdued. The seasonal menu, which is always in rotation and heavily influenced by Schmidt’s Colombian-German roots, attracts a wide range of neighborhood regulars.
Photographs of Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet