Loud & Proud: Bar and Restaurant Operators Celebrate Pride Month, Offer Tips for June and Beyond

Chris Seals, co-founder and CEO of Still Austin Whiskey Co., is one of the few openly gay executives in the whiskey industry. His Austin-based distillery makes 100 percent of its spirits in-house and — just like the local Austin-Texas community that inspires the brand — they're for everyone.

In the spirit of inclusivity and supporting the Austin arts and LGBTQ+ community, Still Austin will bring its customers together for Pride Month events this June, which will showcase local drag queens, DJs, and artists, as well as a featured charitable partner.

“I’m gay and I love whiskey,” said Seals, whose distillery offers tours, a patio area with food trucks, and special events. “When a whiskey bar or restaurant makes a point to celebrate Pride, it personally makes me feel seen, valued, and accepted. Pride is about acceptance for every person in the LGBTQ+ community, especially the most vulnerable — like trans people, gender non-conforming people, and black and brown LGBTQ people.”

Pride Month 2023 - Still Austin Whiskey Co. - Chris Seals
Chris Seals, co-founder and CEO of Still Austin (Photo: Courtesy of Still Austin Whiskey Co. )

For its upcoming Pride program, Still Austin will celebrate with a party at its tasting room, partner with the Fort Lonesome creative shop (to make unique patches for charity), support Out Youth, and offer specialty cocktails during the month, in addition to other activities.

“Pride is about being ourselves and feeling great,” shared Seals.

So, why is it important for bars and restaurants, as well as industry leaders like Seals and Still Austin, to recognize and celebrate Pride Month this June?

Bar & Restaurant News spoke with numerous bar and restaurant owners/operators to learn more, gather inspiration, and to uncover best practices and do's and don'ts for Pride.

Show That You're a Safe Space for LGBTQ+ Staff and Customers

Kareem "Mr. Bake" Queeman, the owner and founder of Mr. Bake Sweets — located within Le Fantome Food Hall in the Washington, D.C. area, said it’s important to show support and solidarity during Pride Month and throughout the year.

“Supporting Pride is important because it shows solidarity, love, and support for people in the LGBTQ+ community,” said Queeman, who’s a 2023 James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef/Baker semifinalist — likely the first Black, queer honoree in the category ever — and who's appeared on countless networks and shows, including Netflix, Food Network, Discovery Channel, Rachael Ray and Cooking Channel. “It shows that you're a safe space for LGBTQ+ staff and customers that you might not even be aware are part of the LGBTQ+ community. Plus, showing your allyship will lead to 365 days a year of support for guests who felt safe and able to be themselves in your establishment.”

Pride Month 2023 - Kareem Queeman - Mr. Bake Sweets
Kareem "Mr. Bake" Queeman, owner and founder of Mr. Bake Sweets (Photo by: WoodD / Courtesy of Mr. Bake Sweets )

For Pride 2023 this June, Queeman and Mr. Bake Sweets will offer Prideful Banana Pudding, Rainbow Cookies, and Pride Cake Jars. “As a Black, gay man, we celebrate Pride 365 days a year, but especially in June, we ramp up our offerings to showcase more festive items,” said Queeman, who’ll host a Pride cupcake “happy hour” in celebration of Pride Month and 10 years of the official Mr. Bake Sweets business. “We will also be highlighting Black and Brown queer chefs and restaurant owners all month long on our restaurant social media.”

For Lauren Paylor O'Brien, an award-winning mixologist, writer, bartender, and founder of the LP Drinks agency, Pride Month is a time to acknowledge and celebrate the diverse identities and experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals, promoting inclusivity and acceptance.

“By actively participating in Pride Month, bars and restaurants create a safe and welcoming space for all patrons, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” explained O’Brien, a recent winner of Netflix's Drink Masters and one of the owners of Siponey Spritz Co., the first B Corp-certified, spirits-based canned cocktail company. “This fosters a sense of belonging and community, attracting a broader customer base and cultivating a positive reputation. Moreover, celebrating Pride Month is an opportunity to raise awareness about LGBTQ+ issues and history. It allows bars and restaurants to educate their staff and patrons, promoting understanding and empathy. Through events, promotions, and partnerships with LGBTQ+ organizations, establishments can contribute to the ongoing fight for equality and social progress.”

Pride Month - LP O'Brien - Netflix Drink Masters - Siponey Spritz Co.
Lauren Paylor O'Brien, mixologist, writer, bartender, and founder of LP Drinks (Photo: Courtesy of LP O'Brien)

Natalie Freihon, founder of Strange Bird Hospitality, said she celebrates Pride at her restaurant, Nat’s on Bank, which is located in the heart of the Pride festivities in New York City in the West Village. Nat's is a neighborhood spot that celebrates individuality everyday with its colorful, whimsical design and welcoming environment.

“Inclusivity should be celebrated,” encouraged Freihon. “Pride Month gives us a unique opportunity to show to the world we support a diverse community of people and take pride in creating that space.”

Also in New York City, Camila Nevin, founder and owner of Kid Brother Pizza Bar, along with partner Chef Michael Davis, a veteran of the N.Y.C. fine dining scene, said this will be the first year they’ll be open during June, and they’re working on a rainbow pie. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Callen-Lorde, a New York-based leader in LGBTQ+ healthcare.

"Michael and I celebrate Pride at our restaurant because we have LGBTQ family members, friends, coworkers past and present, who we love and support on a daily basis and want to celebrate them,” said Nevin. “Michael celebrates Pride every day by rocking his ally [Pride] boots in the kitchen on a weekly basis.”

Antonio Jones, managing director of Livingston Restaurant + Bar, located inside The Georgian Terrace hotel, the oldest operating hotel in Atlanta, stressed that it’s important to celebrate Pride every day. “Our industry, hospitality, is one of the most diverse industries in the world, and we should never miss a moment to celebrate the individualism of our team members and guests,” said Jones, whose restaurant and bar is participating in a Pride Bar Crawl on June 17. “This is obviously inclusive of our culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.”

Renata Vesey, creative director at Dock Street Brewing Company, Philadelphia’s original microbrewery and one of the country’s first established in 1985, said they’re proud to have LGBTQ+ staff members, family members, and friends, who make their lives more full, joyful, and beautiful, and that’s reason enough to party.

“In a time where it can feel like we are experiencing increasing division in society, it is really important for bars and restaurants to show their support for the LGBTQIA community, and we also hope an epic celebration will serve as a message to everyone that being LGBTQIA is something to celebrate,” shared Vesey.

Dock Street Brewing - Pride Month 2023
Founder Rosemarie Certo and Renata Vesey of Dock Street Brewing, the mother/daughter operations team (Photo by: Lex Nemchenko / Courtesy of Dock Street Brewing)

Sean Sullivan, co-owner of two LGBTQ+ venues in Oakland, Calif. – The Port Bar and FLUID510 – said Pride Month reminds them about the importance of making sure everyone in the world can thrive as who they want to be.

“Pride Month is an important time for all people to come together,” Sullivan said. “Bars and restaurants play a crucial role in providing safe, welcoming spaces for everyone, and we here at The Port Bar and FLUID510 are striving to be leaders in bringing all communities together here in Oakland, California.”

Over in Washington, D.C., Dmitri Chekaldin, co-owner of two Dacha Beer Garden locations in the area, participates regularly in Pride celebrations, in addition to fundraising for a slew of local and national organizations. They also participate in various charity events by donating gift certificates, special packages, and giveaways, and they partner with vendors to offer special Pride-themed products, food, and drinks. Plus, Dacha’s Navy Yard location is an official after-party location for the Washington Nationals’ Night OUT party at the baseball team’s ballpark.

“Pride month is important not only because it helps spread awareness, but also because it is tons of fun! Pride celebrations around the country highlight diversity as well as the joys of summer,” said Chekaldin.

Pride Month 2023 - Dacha Beer Garden
Dacha Beer Garden celebrates Pride Month. (Photo by: Washington Blade, Michael Key / Courtesy of Dacha Beer Garden)

Pride Parties, Drag Brunch and Special Activities – Whatever You Do, Make It Fun!

Leigh Wilson, director of events for Red Mesa Group — which has several concepts in the St. Petersburg, Fla. area, including Red Mesa Cantina — said drag has been a staple of their Pride celebrations over the years.

“Our Drag Brunch has been wildly successful in years past with all members of the LGBTQ+ community in attendance,” noted Wilson, who pointed out that they use inclusive language in their employee onboarding forms and strive to create an inclusive and safe environment for their LGBTQ+ employees. “We've also hosted various other events during Pride Month for other groups in the community... Each of our locations proudly fly the inclusivity flag to show that we support our LGBTQ+ patrons and employees.”

Pride Month 2023 - Drag Brunch - Red Mesa Cantina
Drag brunch at Red Mesa Cantina (Photo: Courtesy of Red Mesa Group / Red Mesa Cantina)

Chef Rocco Carulli and Owen Bale — the husband team and owners behind R House Wynwood in Miami, a popular restaurant and bar — said their 2023 Pride program will include their annual drag pageant and partnering with local businesses to create exclusive offerings for that month, all in partnership with an LGBTQ+ charity.

The local Miami gem is well-known for its bustling weekend drag brunch, which is hosted by Athena Dion, Miss Ultimate Miami Drag Queen. However, drag performances and drag brunch actually saved their business.

“What most people don’t know is that drag brunch single-handedly saved our struggling restaurant when the pandemic hit in 2020,” said Carulli. “Unlike many unfortunate businesses in the area, we were able to adapt, taking the opportunity to build out the outside patio area to be able to safely cater to customers. The brunches brought joy and positivity to the community at a time when it needed it the most. It was a defining moment for us, and R House was officially crowned as home to the premier destination for drag brunch. Today, R House’s brunch is the most sought-after Drag Brunch in all of Miami.”

Pride Month - R House Wynwood - Miami
At R House Wynwood in Miami (Photo: Courtesy of R House Wynwood)

RNC Hospitality’s Ray Morrone, who owned three different venues – Fuse Lounge and Space Gallery in San Francisco, and The Liquor Store in Portland, Ore. – shared that one of their bartenders was also a drag performer. “We politely and respectfully asked if they would consider working in full drag for Pride Month,” Morrone said. “They eagerly accepted the invitation and were actually very touched emotionally. Apparently, they thought we would be ashamed of their drag persona representing our bar. ‘Nothing could be further from the truth,’ we explained, ‘You are extremely valuable to us no matter what you wear. We hired you. We want you to be yourself.’”

Morrone, who sold two of his venues (one shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic), also used social media to show his respect and commitment to LGTBQ+ rights on a regular basis, especially during Pride Month. “In one extremely popular Instagram post, we recreated the famous Flag over Iwo Jima image, using our staff hoisting a rainbow flag,” he explained. “This touched both viewers and staff. Our bartenders were excited to be featured on our heavily moderated social media account for such a great cause.”

Pride Month - Pride Flag - RNC Hospitality Ray Morrone
RNC Hospitality's Iwo Jima-inspired social post for Pride Month (Photo: Courtesy of RNC Hospitality / Ray Morrone)

Freihon of Strange Bird Hospitality, who regularly celebrates Pride at her N.Y.C. venue, shared: “We host a pretty fantastic Pride party at Nat’s on Bank on parade day every year. It’s sort of become a signature event for us, since we’re located very close to Stonewall and the parade route. We close for regular service and turn into a full-on bar. Our outdoor seating is where it’s at for people-watching and gathering. We hire six drag performers to perform on the street and sidewalk, have catwalk competitions with passersby, singalongs, bubble machines — just such fun.”

At Dock Street Brewing Company, they’re hosting a big Pride Day market and party on June 3 at Dock Street South (one of their two locations in Philadelphia). “We'll have a DJ, the whole place will be decked out in decorations, and we're inviting LGBTQIA artists and makers to come and showcase and sell their art,” said Vesey. “We're raffling off some awesome Dock Street Beer and Dock Street Spirits gear, including canned beer, Vicio Mezcal, and more, with proceeds going to The Attic Youth Center, a Philadelphia organization supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth.”

Vesey said their local Pride Day market and party last year was a blast. “We know this year will be even bigger and better, with hopefully even more money going right to The Attic. We also host monthly Drag Brunches with Elite Drag Events year-round,” she said. “Each month has a different theme – Harry Potter was a huge hit, and May’s theme was Disney Villains. Drag Brunch this June is going to be a surprise, but we know it'll be stunning.”

Pride Month Best Practices & Tips for Bar and Restaurant Operators

In terms of advice for the industry and owners/operators, Vesey said the industry should make it fun. “The best celebrations are creative and fun for your staff and guests,” she explained. “Offering a discount on a couple items or donating a percentage of sales is, of course, a great start, but it doesn't feel like a party. The more fun it is for everyone, the more memorable it will be, and the more everyone can get excited about participating and proud to be a part of something amazing and inclusive.”

Vesey suggested that operators hire LGBTQ+ vendors, musicians, DJs, makers, and performers to show support and to make sure they’re getting opportunities and income. “Showcase spirits, food, décor, or graphic design by LGBTQIA folks,” she said. “And if you have LGBTQIA staff members, offer them the opportunity to get involved in a big way, if that's something they're interested in. Just make sure you compensate for extra work outside of their usual job description, like staying late, making decorations, etc.”

Pride Month - Red Mesa Group - Drag Brunch - Red Mesa Cantina
Drag brunch at Red Mesa Cantina (Photo: Courtesy of Red Mesa Group / Red Mesa Cantina)

Morrone, of RNC Hospitality, advised: “Showing your restaurant or bar’s support for Pride Month can be accomplished by simply including a Pride cocktail on your menu and featuring photos of the cocktail on your social media pages. But be careful to avoid stereotypes while crafting your Pride Cocktail. The LGBTQ community is very diverse. They are people and different people have different tastes. Not all of the LGBTQ+ population enjoys sugary, sweet, fruity, or outlandish cocktails. The key to a successful pride month campaign is keeping it simple. You want to show your support for the LGBTQ+ community while not overtly pandering to them. Guest are smart and can see right through any lack of commitment.”

Grant Kneble, owner of Freddy J's Bar & Kitchen in Mays Landing, N.J., believes in a balanced approach. “We incorporate subtle, inclusive messaging throughout our bar and restaurant, including the vibrant rainbow symbol, universally recognized as a beacon of diversity and acceptance,” he said. "This blended approach allows us to honor the spirit of Pride Month in a way that is both respectful and celebratory. This June, we're planning various events and initiatives catering to all our patrons. One surprising success story from our previous celebrations has been the use of glitter. This small addition significantly uplifts the atmosphere and brings a spark of festivity to our establishment.”

Kneble added: “If I were to advise other bar and restaurant operators, it would be to focus on authenticity and respect. Pride Month is not merely a marketing opportunity – it's a time to show genuine support for the LGBTQ+ community and commit to fostering inclusivity every day of the year.”

Pride Month - Freddy Js
Pride Month celebration at Freddy Js (Photo: Courtesy of Freddy Js)

Lauren Paylor O’Brien Suggests: Familiarize Yourself with LGBTQ+ History, Terminology, Issues

O'Brien, of LP Drinks, Siponey Spritz Co., and Netflix's Drink Masters, offered some tips for bar and restaurant operators during Pride Month:

  • Educate Yourself and Your Staff: Familiarize yourself with LGBTQ+ history, terminology, and issues. Ensure your staff is trained on LGBTQ+ inclusivity, sensitivity, and appropriate language to create a respectful and welcoming environment.
  • Foster an Inclusive Atmosphere: Make sure your establishment is a safe space for all patrons. Display Pride flags or symbols prominently and encourage staff to intervene if they witness any discriminatory behavior or harassment with training.
  • Collaborate with the LGBTQ+ Community: Engage with local LGBTQ+ organizations, activists, and artists to foster partnerships and support relevant causes. This collaboration can help you plan events, access resources, and build a stronger connection with the community.
  • Promote Your Pride Initiatives: Utilize social media, your website, and local event listings to communicate your Pride Month events and initiatives. Engage with your online audience by sharing educational content, personal stories, and testimonials from LGBTQ+ staff and customers.
  • Continuously Evaluate and Improve: Solicit feedback from your staff and patrons to understand their experiences and suggestions. Regularly assess your efforts to celebrate Pride Month, making adjustments and improvements as necessary.
  • Celebrate Pride, Inclusivity, and Equality Year-Round, Not Just in June: By fostering a welcoming environment and supporting the LGBTQ+ community consistently, bars and restaurants can create lasting positive change.

Much More Than Flying a Rainbow Flag

Wilson, Red Mesa Group, summed it all up: “Pride isn't just about flying rainbow flags during the month of June. It's about embracing diversity and inclusion 12 months out of the year. It's crucial for employers to create a safe and welcoming environment for not only patrons, but for their own employees as well. This includes embracing everyone in the LGBTQ+ community. Also, continuously audit your own practices and ask yourself are you doing everything you can to make your bar or restaurant welcoming to everyone.”

Aaron Kiel is an editor, writer and public relations professional in Raleigh, N.C. He’s worked in the beverage, tea and coffee industries for two decades, as well as hospitality and technology. He’s a journalist at heart, but he also wears a PR and communications hat through his consultancy, ak PR Group. He’s a contributing writer/reporter for Questex’s Bar & Restaurant News, and he recently worked as the editor of World Tea News with Questex’s Bar & Restaurant Group. In 2023, he was a finalist and honorable mention in the “Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Awards” for Range of Work by a Single Author – B2B.” Connect with him on Instagram: @adventurer_explorer.


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