Photo: Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet
Where have all the lesbians gone? That’s the question posed by a chalkboard sign outside of Maite, a Basque restaurant in Bushwick. The answer — especially on the last Sunday of every month — is that many of them are in fact at Maite, squeezing into the restaurant’s monthly Dyke Dance parties, which regularly spill out onto the street corner while bikini-clad dancers gyrate in the windows. “There is a big conception that lesbians, we don’t party, we’re just nesting at home,” Maite owner Ella Schmidt laughs. “But there are a lot of lesbians that are not like that — we like to dance and we love to party!”
Schmidt, pictured here, officially launched the Dyke Dance in February — and the crowds have grown each month. “To see all these women dancing, I can see the joy and the freedom that they feel,” she says.
Schmidt hopes the parties can fill the gap left after almost all of the city’s lesbian bars closed. “Back in the day, it was beautiful women who loved women,” she sighs. “There were so many places.”
The parties start toward the end of Maite’s Sunday brunch service and take inspiration from Schmidt’s teenage years spent on the beaches of Miami at the Tea Parties, a gay- and lesbian-focused daytime celebration. “We drank and we danced until the sun went down,” she says. “I wanted something like that here.”
It can be difficult to balance the desire for inclusivity of the entire LGBTQIA+ community with a party that is tailored to one specific group. “Maite is a space for everyone,” says Alyss Odle, a friend and collaborator with Schmidt, “but there’s just so much lesbian representation.” (Pictured, from left to right, are Kano Mitchell, Schmidt’s wife and partner, Schmidt, Odle, and Miss Astaire.)
Maite doesn’t apologize for its queerness: The walls are adorned with a curated collection of queer erotic artworks that is simultaneously salacious and mundane. “I always wanted it to be more gay,” Schmidt says. She was fearful of alienating customers at first but decided she had to make it authentic to herself: “I can’t make everyone happy, and at the end of the day, I don’t have to.”
The pulsing techno beat is occasionally interrupted by shouts of “Yes, girl, get it!!” as members of the largely feminine audience hop up to offer their dollar bills to the dancers. You might hear a playful ass slap or two as well.
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 vocally celebrated and represented gay women.
Schmidt sources the performers and DJs for the parties largely through word of mouth, giving queer performers a space to perform as their authentic selves: “It’s to be around people that are very respectful — and who I’m attracted to.”
Taffeta, one of the dancers, loves the freeing nature of the performance: “I can just have fun — I don’t have to put on a persona.”
“I’m here because this is, like, one of the few spots where you can be unapologetically a lesbian,” says Zoe, a 29-year-old Dyke Dance reveler. “It’s a comfortable spot for us.”
“I think what brings people together the most is really good food and caring about people,” Mitchell explains. “Everyone’s gonna feel at home.”
The last party’s menu included empanaditas, wagyu burgers with ramp aioli, and a version of fish and chips made with bacalao.
Sam Solomon came down from Connecticut for the Memorial Day weekend party. “When you come here and you feel the female energy in the room, it hypes up the dancers and everyone feels good.”
“It’s just amazing to have queerness feel so normalized and celebrated at the same time,” says Sydney Pearlman, 26, who also traveled for the party. “How could it feel so special but so mundane?”
Most nights, the scene at Maite is more subdued. The seasonal menu, which is always rotating and heavily influenced by Schmidt’s Colombian-German roots, attracts a wide range of regulars from around the neighborhood.
Photographs by Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet