Frankie Farr
Frankie Farr’s concept for The Neighbor’s is “the queer café and pub that gives back.”
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
The Here & Now

Let’s hang at The Neighbor’s: LGBT-centric cafe, pub would fill gap in Santa Cruz scene

Downtown Santa Cruz is sorely lacking in establishments catering to the LGBT community — something Frankie Farr is aiming to change with their plans for a “queer café and pub that gives back.”

In ostensibly LGBTQ-friendly Santa Cruz, there must be several bars, cafes, pubs and other gathering places catering primarily to gay/queer people, right?

A few?

Wait, is there even one?

A Kickstarter effort to launch in June seeks to educate the larger community in Santa Cruz County on what LGBTQ people already know all too well: Santa Cruz does not have — and therefore really needs — a gay bar.

Over the decades, there have been such or similar establishments in Santa Cruz. But for the past several years, despite a few welcoming businesses, the city has no dedicated commercial space for queer people to meet, socialize, have fun, and enjoy a sense of community.

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A new campaign seeks to change all that. It will aim to raise money to open The Neighbor’s, “the queer café and pub that gives back,” as its website says. The proposed gathering place has no site yet, but it is built on three principles: (1) It will be focused primarily on the LGBTQ+ community; (2) it will be open late nights; and (3) it will be devoted to environmental and social movements through direct donations and fundraisers.

The Neighbor’s is the idea of 27-year-old Frankie Farr, who has lived in Santa Cruz since 2015. Farr (whose pronouns are they/them) is originally from Buffalo, New York, often called the City of Good Neighbors, which is where the name of the proposed bar/café comes from.

Frankie Farr
“It’s pretty depressing to think of all these people driving over the hill or all the way up to San Francisco just to find community when we have it right here,” Frankie Farr says.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“It’s kind of a play on the (nickname),” they said. “Because of all the transplants like myself moving here, we don’t really have that kind of close connections with our neighbors. Also, I really want it to be a way for people who either aren’t out or in an unsafe situation where they can’t disclose to their family members or whoever they’re living with that they’re queer to give a sly little wave, you know, ‘I’m just going to go hang out at The Neighbor’s.’”

Farr is just getting started on funding and scouting out a suitable location, though, they said, it should be in downtown Santa Cruz. What exact category The Neighbor’s will be in — bar, café, restaurant, brewpub — is also still to be determined.

There are occasional LGBTQ-oriented events at local establishments, including a weekly Queer Happy Hour, but, Farr said, “there’s nothing really stable we can go to any day. A lot of people end up going over the hill, or nowhere at all. And it’s pretty depressing to think of all these people driving over the hill or all the way up to San Francisco just to find community when we have it right here. We just don’t have the space for it.”

Vnes Ely, known throughout Santa Cruz for her work at the downtown information kiosk on Pacific Avenue, runs the weekly Queer Happy Hour and is supportive and even enthusiastic about Farr’s efforts to establish The Neighbor’s.

I really want it to be a way for people who either aren’t out or in an unsafe situation where they can’t disclose to their family members or whoever they’re living with that they’re queer to give a sly little wave, you know, “I’m just going to go hang out at The Neighbor’s.”

— Frankie Farr

“Every community should have a queer bar, a queer café, a multicultural space where people can feel safe, make friends, get support for coming out,” Ely said. “You know when you first walk into a queer space, there’s a lot of anxiety around. But once you get in there, you’re like, ‘What was I so scared of? This is so sweet and everybody’s very nice.’”

Santa Cruz has a rich history with LGBTQ+ social/cultural spaces. Perhaps the most prominent among them was Herland, a downtown café that doubled as a gay/lesbian bookstore in the 1990s.

“It was revolutionary that there was a lesbian café,” said Ely, who worked briefly at Herland. “That was the first time I’d really seen a congregation of queer life, or a place where I saw representations of it. It even triggered my own coming out. When you don’t feel supported, you might hold onto that for a hell of a long time. But if you see there’s a place you can go, that’s the way you know that you’re not alone.”

If the Kickstarter is successful and raises $10,000 or more, Frankie Farr said they think The Neighbor’s might be able to open by September. They envision The Neighbor’s not only as a place for food and drink, but a potential performance venue as well.

“We have so many drag artists here,” Farr said, “and I know it could be a great place for them to have an outlet. We could do DJs and other live performances. I’d also like to start a series of classes or other smaller events that can really help us learn from each other.”

An establishment like The Neighbor’s would also enhance Santa Cruz’s tourism profile, Ely said: “I actually think it could be a huge boon for tourism in Santa Cruz. We already attract queer tourism from all over the world. But they have nowhere to go.”

Ely said the LGBTQ+ community could use the help from allies in helping with opening a queer café: “That’s what I love about this particular Kickstarter because all these cis people are assuming we already have a gay bar. Well, we don’t. And we need your help. We’re not going to pull this off on our own.”

For more information on The Neighbor’s and its Kickstarter campaign, visit this website.