Admittedly shy by nature, Elizabeth Beier had a particular way of meeting women when she’d visit the now-shuttered Lexington Club. She’d take out a her sketchbook and pens and draw them.
“It’s my standard way to break the ice,” said Beier. “It’s an interesting way to get to know someone quickly. You’re staring at their face and you can ask them questions. It’s intimate.”
This series of intimidate act eventually became We Belong: Collected Stories and Portraits from the Lexington Club, a comic book that documents some moments from the bar’s final days. Beier will be reading from her work at a free event at Mission: Comic & Art this Saturday.
A cartoonist and graphic designer by trade, Beier was relatively new to the Lexington having made her first visit to the famed “friendly, neighborhood dyke bar” in January 2014. When a few months later she learned the club would be closing for good, suddenly her casual drawings had more urgency.
“When I knew there wasn’t going to be a queer women’s bar in city any more, it was really sad and upsetting,” said Beier. “I wanted to capture my experience there and the experiences of others.”
She got to drawing and when more and more Lexington patrons saw what she was doing, she realized her sketches could become a bigger project, her own ode to the bar loved by many.
“There was a transition that happen, I had mostly been drawing to be social, but people would see me drawing a buy me drinks and give up their spot at the bar,” said Beier. “People thanked me a lot for doing the drawings, saying stuff like: ‘Thank you for making something we can hold onto.’”
Now on a mission, Beier visited the Lex several times a months—which she admits is a far cry from the routine of longtime regulars who are there several times a week—to draw as much as she could.
Like Toulouse Lautrec at the Moulin Rouge, Beier became both documentarian and participant in the final months of the Lex. Similar to Lautrec, Beier says she “fell in love with this certain bar and scene, and needed to draw the people in it.”
Throughout the course of several months, Beier estimates that she talked to over 100 different people and heard their stories about why the bar was important in their lives.
“Some of the stories are funny, some are sexy, some are sad,” said Beier.
More graphic memoir than journalism, what resulted was an 80-page comic book that captures many of the characters Beier encountered in her time at the bar. Several pages are dedicated to lovingly drawn portraits of women found at the Lex sharing their stories—a bartender who became a painter, a couple sharing how they met, a newly 21-year-old who laments only getting to visit the bar in its final days.
Beier also tells her own stories of her time at the bar, of the romantic encounters and delirious dance parties. In one panel, she moves from narrator to participant when she hears the Jukebox play a favorite song (Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own”).
Through her time working on the comic book, Beier says she better appreciated how important the Lexington had become for so many people. Despite some arguments that San Francisco has become “post gay bar,” the Lexington became a vital destination for many.
“The pace of progress is different from family to family,” said Beier, “There are still people who don’t feel safe in a mainstream society, and they feel like they need a space that is specifically safe for queer people.”
Beier will be giving a free live reading of her comic book at Mission: Comics & Art this Saturday May 23 at 6 p.m. At the event she and collaborator Anja Bircher will share a mobile booth that recreates the Lexington Club’s infamous, selfie-worthy, graffiti-adorned bathroom stalls, which is available for sale after the event. Beier plans on donating 10 percent of her profits to the San Francisco LGBT Center. More details here.