Owner of Village Lesbian Bar Celebrates Her 28th Pride Week

By Andrea Swalec on June 24, 2013 8:58am | Updated on June 30, 2013 10:11am

WEST VILLAGE — The raucous New York City Pride March now takes an entire afternoon to inch its way from Midtown to the West Village, but longtime bar owner Lisa Cannistraci remembers when the procession was short enough to finish in just a couple hours.

"The whole thing was over before you knew it," she said, recalling watching her first Pride March in 1985, when she was 22.

This week, Cannistraci, 50, the owner of the Hudson Street lesbian bar Henrietta Hudson, is celebrating her 28th year of NYC Pride events. Even after so many years, she said the festivities, starting this Friday, never cease to move her.

"As the march ends, I can see the women coming from Christopher Street. Some of them, I've known for 30 years. I have such gratitude," she said. "It's just so magical."

Henrietta Hudson — which has a back-lit bar, pool table and a cage where dancers entertain the crowd every Friday and Saturday night — kicked off Pride Week with the theme "Occupy Hudson Street," paying tribute to the wave of women who visit for Pride every year, said Cannistraci, who lives above the bar.

Henrietta Hudson bartenders served a special cocktail for the week, the Equaltini. The $10 drink will combine vodka, ginger liqueur, grapefruit juice, seltzer and a dash of lavender bitters.

Cannistraci began working at 438 Hudson St. — then home to the West 12th Street lesbian bar Cubbyhole — by accident.

As a 22-year-old bartender and psychology major at St. John's University, the Park Slope native was walking in the rain one day on Hudson Street. Seeking refuge from the downpour, she went into the bar and ordered a Remy Martin neat and a cup of black coffee. Chatting with the bartender, she mentioned she was looking for a job. She was hired on the spot.

"If it hadn't rained that day, Henrietta's wouldn't be open," Cannistraci said.

Starting with the slowest shifts, she worked her way up at the bar and got to know its regulars, most of whom were tough women middle-aged or older.

Cannistraci became particularly close to the drag king Storme DeLarverie, who was involved in the 1969 riot at the Stonewall Inn.

"I learned so much from her about LGBT history," said Cannistraci, who is now the 93-year-old's legal guardian. 

When Cubbyhole moved out of the space in 1990, Cannistraci took over and opened Henrietta Hudson in 1991, on Halloween.

The lesbian scene in the early '90s was wild, she said, with underground, after-hours clubs where you could find yourself dancing alongside Madonna and David Bowie.

Asked about the future of the bar, Cannistraci — who serves as vice president of the national same-sex marriage group Marriage Equality USA — spoke about its name, a feminization of the Hudson River's namesake, Henry Hudson.

"I chose a name that was timeless," she said, "because I never plan on closing."

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