How Gossip Grill is finding ways to stay connected to the LGBTQ community despite Covid challenges
Updated: Jan 22, 2021
Down the main drag in San Diego, a glowing pink sign beyond a gated garden beckons you closer. "Welcome Home, Beautiful" swirls the neon script. This little slice of queer heaven is Gossip Grill, a "female-forward safe space" established in 2009 and currently Southern California's only bar for queer women. Throughout the past decade, spaces for queer women have dwindled to just a handful of spots. Some have shifted to women's nights, while others have closed completely. When the pandemic arrived, the nightlife industry was hit particularly hard. Many of the long-standing queer women-focused spaces like New York's Henrietta Hudson and Cubbyhole have had to launch fundraisers to keep the lights on. As of now, Henrietta has been unable to open for business since the spring of 2020, while Cubby offers limited reservations to ensure social distancing.
Right from the start, Gossip Grill's response to the pandemic has been unique. Utilizing social media in brilliant ways, they have created new opportunities to reach customers, from offering comfort food take out to to-go cocktails to ways to connect through this year of disconnection. Moe Girton, General Manager of Gossip Grill, shared some of the ways this iconic spot has found a way to continue serving its community during seemingly impossible times.
Queer Media Matters: Can you tell us a little bit about Gossip Grill's history? Moe Girton: Gossip Grill was born in 2009 out of a need for a safe space for Women. I didn't want it to be labeled a Lesbian bar but rather be a Women's bar for all women and the LGBTQ+ community. With the younger generations leaning more towards Queer and Fluid, I didn't want to box us into something that was so specific and possibly make folks not feel this is their bar due to the label. I wanted to be able to have a female-forward safe space that also embraces anyone who connects with the environment this space provides. A safe Women/Queer bar/restaurant that is FUN, GAY, and over the top!
QMM: When Covid first hit, it sent a lot of establishments scrambling to find a new way to reach and serve customers, not to mention keep the lights on. How did find a way to defy the odds?
MG: The word of this pandemic is PIVOT!! I quickly changed gears and started looking at ways we can make money. Being a nightclub/ bar, this hit us harder than most restaurants. We just don't sell a ton of food but are much more liquor heavy. We were able to take advantage of the changes to permits and Alcohol Sales restrictions to the fullest degree. The ABC is now allowing us to sell off-premise and ToGo drinks. Something that was never allowed before. We expanded our patios out and down the street and opened a 48ft patio in the parking lane allowing an additional 17 tables outside. We marketed ourselves as the place to go to get ToGo cocktails and buy bottles of booze called Liq-Her Box. We sold essentials that folks couldn't get due to shortages, or safety concerns such as toilet paper, yeast, milk, eggs, etc.
We also have taken advantage of folks being home and created some FUN virtual events allowing guests to just join for fun, or purchase a drink kit to make along with the bartender. And now, we have launched Drag Queen Delivery and Unicorn Delivery, which both have taken off and are the talk of the town. QMM: I think what has really impressed me is the many different ways you've managed to offer something to the community during a very scary time, like Drag Queen Delivery, Saucy Saturdays, etc. Who comes up with these ideas?
MG: When it comes to the drink names, daily events, and most of the ideas, that's my forte. I am extremely grateful to have an incredible Co-Producer, my assistant manager, Darcy. She is the operations of the business. She takes on all those operational and tedious things for me which allow me to be the creator and visionary of the business. I also am very connected to the "brand" of Gossip. I get her, I understand her, and I have been able to develop her (brand) into something that is very different from anything else out there. I also have an amazing creative and productive management team. My security manager came up with the unicorn delivery and it's been a HIT!
QMM: Ok, what's a Liq-Her box? MG: Gossip's brand is to be flirty, playful, sexy, and sometimes a bit raunchy. I like to push the limits. This comes into play with our drink names, menu categories and even our drink menu which is called Liq-Her menu instead of Liquor. When the pandemic hit, we had to think outside the box and I launched the Liq-Her Box which operates as an online liquor store where you order, then come pick it up. Again, just a play off words that keeps it female-forward and pushes the limit making some folks blush! A side note on why we do this: Gossip is California's only Women's bar currently. We may be a Women's bar, but we play nice with everyone as long as they are respectful of our safe space. This makes the Women's community sometimes nervous that they are going to have their space overtaken by the boys since we get a lot of the boys' community in as well. There are certain structures I keep in place to make sure this doesn't happen. ALL drink names are geared towards Women, or something a Woman might connect with. There is NO picture of any cis male on our walls. Our brand for marketing is illustrated Women and Pop Art with Women. I also keep a staff that is mostly Women, Queer, NGC to maintain the feel of a female-forward space. And we have educational signs up above the urinals asking our male patrons to please be respectful of the space they are in. It seems to have worked. Even when we have a large amount of gay men in there, it's still a female-forward space.
QMM: How can queer folks across the country show some support for Gossip Grill, even if we can't stop by or get take out? MG: We sell Merchandise online and can ship anywhere. We also have a tip jar set up in the shop for folks that want to donate. Another good way is to share our posts, events, and help get the word out there about us. If someone donates, there is a comment section. If they put "for the bar" it goes to the restaurant, if not, it goes to grocery gift cards for the staff. The truth is, I don't know how long we can hold on without opening soon. Here in California, we are NOWHERE close to opening. Being a large space with high rent and a landlord who won't work with us, times are tough, but we are trying our best to keep going. We will keep plugging away and being creative to stay in business. Any and all support is welcomed. I am grateful for an amazing community that has been there for us and continues to support us where they can.
QMM: What do you think makes Gossip Grill special?
MG: Gossip Grill has its own heartbeat. It feels like it's a living, breathing thing. It's a space you feel safe to be yourself, a space you can meet a partner, a space you can develop friendships, a space you will be accepted for who you are. Most of the bartenders are all original from the opening year in 2009 and most of my staff, in general, have been there for years. We have all created and developed these amazing relationships with our guests. Our guests are FRAMILY! We are the place they go to when they need support, love, a laugh, or a good drink. Gossip Grill is always a FUN time! Dance club packed, outdoor DJs with dance parties on Sundays, incredible food & drinks. It may look different right now, but we will get through this to create more life-lasting experiences and memories.
Check out and support Gossip Grill at gossipgrill.com.