Where It's Always Ladies Night

There's been a Sapphic convergence in Palm Beach County. Two new, hip spots there now cater to ladies who love ladies. On a Thursday night, I hit both Les Beans, a coffee shop, and Lipstick Lounge, a club night, for variations on a theme.

One thing was bothering me: how to handle the coffee shop's double-entendre in conversation. The website wasn't much help: "If you're wondering how to pronounce our name, we leave it to you. French, Greek... All are welcome here!"

Thankfully, a message on the answering machine was less diplomatic. Announcing the business as "lesbians' coffee," the owners were doing more than targeting a demographic. Business partners Desiree Ramos-Aponti and Patti Lucia quit their day jobs as nuclear medicine technologist and English teacher and opened the casually chic caffeine refueling station. Since the spring opening, it has hosted musical performers, book nights, LGBT radio broadcasts, and arts events.

I hoped an open mic was my way in to a crowd that was out. Guitar in hand, I arrived at 9 p.m., just as Victoria, an earth mother-type who was cohosting the event with her newborn baby strapped across her, announced they'd reached the end of their signup list. Radym, her cohost, suggested an intermission so they could recruit new performers.

Unlike most open mics, this one had more audience members than performers packing the house. True to the owners' liberal claims, the crowd was as diverse as the little shop's fair trade and organic coffee selection.

I felt instantly at home thanks to the cozy décor and a hello from an old friend, Tanya, who had competed with me in poetry slams. In those bourbon-soaked days, as full of drama as verse, we took a stand against the establishment one stanza at a time. I had since traded poetry for journalism, and she'd transformed her life by quitting drinking and getting a job with a nonprofit organization.

"I come here almost every day because, honestly, it attracts good people," said Tanya, a lesbian now five years sober.

In most things in life, you have to take the good with the bad. Here, people had left the bad at the door. There was nothing but positive community spirit.

Karin and Jeremy Newlon and their 11-year-old son, Trystan, relaxed on a sofa. They'd found Les Beans while scoping Lake Worth for a place to open a skateboard shop. For them, alternative was more than a musical preference.

"We've home-schooled our kids, so they're really involved in whatever we do," explained Karin, a hairdresser with two more kids at home. One of them, a 12-year-old, was studying to be a piercer, they said. The ring through Trystan's lower lip evidenced his sibling's training. Jeremy, a skateboarding pro, wanted to help Trystan become a tattoo artist. "As soon as his skills get good enough, I'll let him tattoo me," Jeremy said.

Beneath birdcages and chandeliers, tables of friends chit-chatted until the open mic resumed for the last two performers of the night. I offered some dysfunctional love songs. Then Donald Cavanaugh, host of Lake Worth Talk's online Rainbow Radio, read the title chapter from his unpublished book Recollections of a Fucking Faggot.

"These days, the word fucking is OK, but faggot is the new f word," Cavanaugh noted as he introduced a story about the first time he was called that "exquisite epithet of antipathy" and his father's violent reaction.

A small group by the counter lightened the atmosphere by toying with stereotypes. A trill of laughter came from equal-opportunity flirt Mike Zewe, a Compass community center staff member and gay rights activist. Draped over a lovely coffeehouse staff member, he said, "I'm trying to convince all my lesbian friends to have babies."

A 20-something Sarah (who wanted to remain otherwise anonymous "because I'll never get a date again") griped about the lesbian scene in general, criticizing the few lesbian hangouts and the stereotypical mullets, fanny packs, and Birkenstocks. Sarah looked effortlessly feminine despite her baggy denim overalls. "I prefer my women to look like women," she said.

"What? Do you work at Homo Depot?" asked her friend Casie Cohn, a 23-year-old grad student in social work. That quip was funnier than the punch line to the lesbian dinosaur joke Cohn had tried to tell a few minutes earlier: "Lickalotapus." Ba-dum.

I invited the girls to join me for Lipstick Lounge, a lesbian night at the Lounge. Sarah begged off, saying she had an early day tomorrow — which was too bad, because the Clematis Street club was full of the sort of femmes she was looking for.

After being admitted to the nightclub and late-night sushi bar by Beth Stiller, the world's prettiest bouncer, by day a dance and drama instructor, I ordered a lemon martini. As Fergie's "Glamorous" played, I sipped my drink and admired the young beauties at the bar, most of whom were coupled up.

"We don't have many places around here," said grad student Katie Fitzpatrick, who was with her girlfriend of two years, Melanie Reichek, a graphic designer. "Before this, Fort Lauderdale was the only place to meet girls."

I wondered aloud about Kashmir. I hadn't heard much from the West Palm Beach nightclub, a gay institution, since it changed hands a few years ago.

Katie shook her head. "It's a lot of kids."

Others agreed, and it wasn't just Kashmir's 18-and-up policy that didn't satisfy. On one of the mod couches illuminated in blue by a mannequin lamp, a group from the northern county shared its views. Emily Dempsey, a slender, 29-year-old, redheaded restaurant manager, had fallen in love at Kashmir with the beautiful girl who now stood between her thighs — Valerie, a Kashmir bartender. But at Kashmir, "all they play is gay-boy techno," Dempsey complained. As she spoke, DJ Joshua Atom played Mim's "Like This." "This is everybody music," Dempsey said — "dance, hip-hop, mainstream pop."

So what did they do before Lipstick Lounge?

"We traveled!" interjected Amber Theriaque, a 22-year-old who was celebrating her birthday.

And what would they like to see more of?

"Go-go dancers!" Theriaque said without hesitation.

"There's not as much for the girls, definitely," said Jon Elu, the party planner and event producer responsible for Lipstick Lounge and its gay counterpart at the same venue, Debutante Saturdays. "It's harder to get the girls out, especially if they're paired up. They're nesting."

But tonight, the birds had flocked, even if some were cuddled and cooing while we singletons made small talk.

"I come here all the time. It used to be very quiet," said Nicolas Axilote, a hetero 34-year-old who lives on the block and whose several restaurant jobs keep him up late. Since the Lounge added gay and lesbian nights, the scene had picked up, he told me as he ate the last bite of his sushi. "I come here whenever, even when it's gay night. This is my favorite place on the whole avenue. I like the variety and the change."

And Axilote probably didn't object to having his drink almost kicked over by the Sexy Kittys' scantily clad performer who strutted across the cement bar to "These Boots Were Made for Walking" to open her burlesque routine. After rescuing our drinks from her makeshift runway, we stood transfixed as Theriaque got her wish. The performer stripped, shook, and shimmied from atop a black box by the DJ booth.

Then the late hour brought in a post-concert wave of male rock 'n' rollers from the fairgrounds, including many with outdated looks — a mullet crowd that offered an interesting juxtaposition to the lipstick lesbians.

Like Les Beans, Lipstick Lounge offered an open, inclusive atmosphere for lesbians to call home, but they were different worlds. Where the coffee shop was "very Seattle," as one patron noted, Elu described his Lounge events as "more like Europe." Of course, Elu added, "There's always the straight guy who thinks he's gonna get a threesome."