For all the talk of social and cultural progress there's been in the last few years, there are still few tangible solutions to meet the needs of many groups of people. It was only when Sage Fuchs and Jane Goldstein recognized the limitations in their own social lives that they decided to take it upon themselves to represent a community. Along with Kelsey Hunter and Blaire Preiss, they created Ellis, an exclusive community revolving around nightlife and social events by and for women. By using attractive New York venues and encouraging openness and exploration, Ellis has tapped into a cultural moment to offer something for groups long overlooked. And while dating has been a major draw—fluidity is a key part of their ethos—creating an environment for women, regardless of identity, is the ultimate goal.
"We had Gordon Bar as our opening event," Fuchs recalls, "We didn't expect the turnout that we did. Everybody was talking to everybody, and just out of their own groups of people. It was a beautiful sight to see." Founded in April, Ellis (named after Ruth Ellis, the oldest known "open" lesbian who came out in 1915 and lived to be 100 years old) has become an increasingly popular platform, growing in size with each of the past four events. The immediate attraction served to highlight the dearth of options in nightlife for women, and the concurrent desire for exploration. "It's a byproduct of people being more open and curious and wanting to explore their sexuality," Goldstein begins, "and then simultaneously the number of bars and spaces for people to go is decreasing. Why is there this crazy inverse relationship? That's what we saw and that's why we wanted to change it." Following the kick-off event, Ellis began starting a summer rooftop series at the members-only SIXTY Soho rooftop, and most recently throwing a PRIDE week party at Up&Down.
"I think that's what we pride ourselves in, is these charming environments. Not just a dive bar, but these beautiful places you can go and hang out with your friends, where you actually want to be," explains Fuchs. Stylish venues are a big part of the appeal, and by rotating locations, Ellis continuously uses new spaces that will call upon different types of people. "Two of the oldest bars for lesbian women, which it's great that they still exist, are Henrietta Hudson and Cubby Hole. We would complain every weekend and be like there's really nowhere else to go, you wanted to change it up a couple times. And we were like let's stop complaining and do something about it. That's where it all started." With Ellis, there aren't clear definitions that might be limiting, and Fuchs is more interested in bringing an eclectic mix of people. "[They're] really just open, interesting women who don't want to put a label on themselves. They're there just to have fun, we're not trying to label anyone."
Though the young founders have been fortunate to grow up in a more accepting society, they have always been aware of the lack of variety in the nightlife world, and Ellis has provided a spark for both the experienced and the uninitiated. Interest has generated from "totally polar ends of the spectrum," as Goldstein describes. "'I just graduated college and I didn't know where to go, and this is the only girl-space I've been,' to 'I've been going out in the scene for the last 15 years and this is finally something that feels new and different.'" In terms of queer nightlife, most energy has been directed towards bars and parties for men, with little attention given to women. "I love the bars that still exist," Goldstein says, "and they're great and they're monuments of history because they're the most accepting, but if you walk in it's a third men, maybe fifty percent men. There's not a designated space for women. Right now that's the differentiator."
But Ellis' ambitions go beyond nightlife, and the founders are keen on using it to build a larger social platform. "Nightlife is an easier way to start things out and create the conversation and start the conversation," Goldstein says. But even their second event took place on a Sunday afternoon, and was geared toward artists—poets, comedians, and musicians all performed. "The goal is to create a lasting community and that's all we really want. And I think if you pigeonhole it into just a dating idea then it kind of diminishes what we're really trying to do. Which is really create a community, because it's there, but there's not a place to meet.
It makes sense that Ellis represents the perspective that is already imbued in the next generation. Ellis isn't concerned with labels, and doesn't need to wait around for targeted bars or parties, when any space is fair game and it's only up to the crowd to determine what they want out of the experience. "Both of us are in relationships, we just want to meet people, and be friends," Goldstein begins before being cut off by Fuchs, " We just want to hang with them; you want to talk to other girls that are just like you."
[Photos courtesy Ellis]