overview

Rising Cafe was opened in 1996 by Irish immigrant Rena Blake and her friend Christine Marinoni as the first openly lesbian-owned business in Park Slope.

For seven years, until its closure in 2003, the Irish pub served the local community by providing a safe and popular gathering space, supporting and hosting LGBT neighborhood organizations.

Header Photo
Credit: Charlotte Boulanger/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2023.

History

Born in Listowel, Ireland, Rena Blake (b. 1965) immigrated to the United States in 1984 with her then-husband. Living and working in the Bronx as a nanny during her first years in New York, she was heavily involved with the Irish community, though purely socially. It was not until the advocacy efforts of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO) to march during the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue in the early 1990s that Blake became politically active. Closely following the organization, she became a member in 1992, which was one of the biggest catalysts for her coming out. She recalled to The Irish Times in 2015, “By the following St. Patrick’s Day I had left my marriage, friends, the whole Irish community in the Bronx and moved out to Brooklyn. I came out as a lesbian.” She continued,

Being gay at the time was tough. Through ILGO, I learned the importance of political activism. It was an intense period during which I grew up and found my voice. I began fighting for many causes.

Rena Blake, The Irish Times, 2015

Blake consequently moved to Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, leaving her family and starting anew. A few years later, in 1996, she and her friend Christine Marinoni (b. 1967) left their respective full-time jobs in order to open their Irish pub, Rising Cafe, in Park Slope. Although Blake had always dreamed of running an Irish bar, her coming out and newfound political awareness cemented Park Slope, a neighborhood where many lesbians lived, as the most appropriate place for the endeavor.

In choosing the location, Blake was intentional about avoiding areas of growing gentrification east of 7th Avenue. In comparison, Rising Cafe was located on the corner of 5th Avenue and Sackett Street, a more diverse and working-class part of the neighborhood. When asked about the location of her business in an early interview, she asserted that she was fonder of the overall atmosphere of the western part of the neighborhood, stating that it was “a little more creative and not as stuffy as Seventh Avenue.”

Blake and Marinoni focused their efforts on the active promotion of Rising Cafe as a lesbian-owned establishment through various pre-opening ads. The pub was established with the local lesbian community in mind and envisioned, according to early advertisement material for the bar, as a “place for people to hear or even make poetry or music, meet friends for coffee or beer, hang out after a softball or soccer game.” Rising Cafe rapidly became a successful place for gatherings and an integral hub of neighborhood LGBT life. The pub was known for its musical and literary events, as well as for being home to a plethora of groups and organizations such as the Astrea National Lesbian Action Foundation (ASTREA), the Lesbian Avengers, and the Brooklyn Pride Committee. Rising Cafe’s community role was also seen through its own activist involvement, having organized regular fundraisers and campaigns for both neighboring businesses and residents.

Rising Cafe closed in 2003. Though relatively short-lived, the memory of Rising Cafe as a cherished community space for Park Slope residents and activists, and a pioneering site for LGBT visibility in the neighborhood, remains to this day.

Entry by Charlotte Boulanger, project consultant (November 2023).

NOTE: Names above in bold indicate LGBT people.

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: Unknown
  • Year Built: By 1888

Sources

  1. Anne Maguire, email to Charlotte Boulanger, July 2023.

  2. Anne Maguire, Rock the Sham!: The Irish Lesbian & Gay Organization’s Battle to March in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade (New York: Street Level Press, 2005).

  3. Lambda Independent Democrats (LID) [1 of 2], November, 1988-June 12, 2009. MS ORGFIL0738-001, Lesbian Herstory Archives.

  4. Lavender and Green Alliance, March 10, 1995-March 29, 1999, Lesbian Herstory Archives.

  5. Lisa Fane, video call with Charlotte Boulanger, July 2023.

  6. Rena Blake, “Sometimes We Feel Like the Only Gays in the Village,” The Irish Times, May 18, 2015, bit.ly/3MmXYrP.

  7. Somini Sengupta, “A Funky Renewal Transforms Fifth Avenue,” The New York Times, August 18, 1996, bit.ly/47cBNwt.

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410 6th Avenue
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