Deep Ellum lesbian bar a ‘land of Eden’

Posted on 15 Feb 2013 at 8:45am

Newly opened Eden Lounge is 1st gay bar area has seen in several years and 1st female-owned LGBT bar in Dallas since Jack’s Backyard

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HAPPILY EVER AFTER | Eden Lounge Lauren Nguyen, left, and her partner Kristi Holman, who handles PR, met at Chick Happy Hour, a Dallas lesbian mixer, five years ago. (Sil Azevedo)

AMY PRICE  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

Making a mad dash from the front door to the bar and back again, Lauren Nguyen frantically converses with guests and staff as the grand opening of Eden Lounge commences.

Within 20 minutes, the venue turns from solitary vacancy to bustling, standing-room-only Deep Ellum hot spot.

Not in several years has Deep Ellum had an LGBT bar. The new lesbian bar, Eden Lounge, celebrated its grand opening Saturday, Jan. 26. Alongside Sue Ellen’s, Eden Lounge is only the second lesbian bar in Dallas.

Owner Lauren Nguyen, 43, a home mortgage lender, has transformed the shell of a building into a heavenly oasis.

A far cry from the location’s former occupant, Cantina Dallas, Eden Lounge has been revamped from head to toe. The only thing left over is a custom-welded, cowboy-and-cowgirl-silhouetted railing leading up to the rooftop, which happens to boast one of the coolest views in Deep Ellum.

Eden Lounge houses two bars, one downstairs and a rooftop bar, but it’s not exactly the dance-club atmosphere of Sue Ellen’s.

Catering mostly to women in their 30s and 40s, Eden Lounge is billed a place to relax and have a friendly conversation.

“I wanted it to be like you’re in your own backyard or living room, and that you could hear yourself talk — that was very important. Very laid back,” Nguyen explained.

Nguyen’s partner, Kristi Holman, is vice president of Sherpa Management Partners and serves as Eden Lounge’s public relations manager.

Not since Jack’s Backyard in Oak Cliff has there been a documented lesbian-owned bar in Dallas.

Nguyen and Holman said they’re aiming to fill the void left by the closure of Jack’s Backyard in June 2011.

“She (Kathy Jack) really paved the way for us, and we thank her for that — for passing on the torch,” Holman said.

Nguyen said she didn’t want to bring in investors and dug deep into her life savings to open the bar.

“I didn’t want the headache or to lose people’s money,” Nguyen said. “I wanted to take a chance on my own.”

This is not Nguyen’s first business endeavor. She has previously co-owned two Asian restaurants.

She said she didn’t want the hassle of running a full service restaurant alongside a bar, although Eden Lounge still has a non-functional kitchen in the back — grease trap included.

Nguyen said there is an assortment of restaurants all over Deep Ellum, including Maracas Cocina Mexicana, which frequently sends over staff with platters of complimentary quesadillas for Eden Lounge guests.

Since the beginning of their venture, Nguyen and Holman said the Deep Ellum community has been nothing but accommodating and welcoming.

Deep Ellum Foundation President Barry Annino said Eden Lounge brings a new level of diversity to the neighborhood.

“I think we’re looking for a little more quality and diversity — you know — we don’t have a lot of balance. It’s a lot of the same thing. That’s something Eden brings to the table,” Annino said.

It’s not that Deep Ellum is a stranger to LGBT-related businesses. The LGBT-owned Leather Masters is a staple in the area.

Annino said there have also been places like Mark and Larry’s Stuff, the art shop Casa Mexicana and a coffee shop — all of which are now closed.

EdenLounge

EAST OF EDEN | Deep Ellum Foundation President Barry Annino said the Eden Lounge, which occupies a freshly renovated building that previously was home to Cantina Dallas, brings a new level of diversity to the artsy enclave east of downtown Dallas. (Amy Price/Dallas Voice)

He said he can recall another lesbian bar around 20 years ago that did not last very long.

“It was run poorly and someone just kind of slopped it together,” Annino explained. He said Eden Lounge is in a prime location and Nguyen and Holman have their act together.

“They’re doing a nice job fixing it up, and I’ve met them and they’re professional people, and so I think they’ll probably run it like that,” he said.

Nguyen and Holman’s personalities couldn’t be more different. Their 51⁄2-year relationship was a match made in happy hour — Chick Happy Hour, Dallas’ monthly lesbian mixer, to be exact.

“She brought a balance to my life. She’s a work-hard and I’m a play-hard — it works,” Holman said.

To run the business to its fullest the two could only think of one person — veteran bartender Ginda Bayliss, who has an Oak Lawn resume dating back to 1997, including Mickey’s, Sue Ellen’s, JR.’s and The Brick/Joe’s. Bayliss excitedly joined the Eden Lounge family, and Nguyen often refers to Bayliss as her other partner.

“I feel like I have two wives,” Nguyen said.

Bayliss makes it her mission to greet everyone who walks through the Eden threshold with a hug.

“I don’t want you to be a stranger here,” Bayliss said. “You may come in a stranger but you’re going to leave a friend  — enter into the land of Eden.”

From their country music night on Thursday to the live DJ on Saturdays, Eden Lounge tries to cater to a variety tastes. Yes, it is a lesbian bar, but all are welcome, according to Nguyen.

Just don’t expect to find a men’s restroom at Eden Lounge. Nguyen has turned the old men’s room into a unisex bathroom with no urinals.

“I took that out. I didn’t want a nasty urinal in my bar — it’s yucky,” Nguyen said.

Holman and Bayliss said they want everyone in the LGBT community to give Deep Ellum a chance.

“Deep Ellum is such a free and uplifting experience,” Bayliss said.

Nguyen added, “I just want everyone to come and enjoy it here. This is a place I built for them — the LGBT community — just to relax,” Nguyen said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 15, 2013.

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