When longtime friends Angela Barnes and Renauda Riddle decided to open up a high-end cocktail bar in Andersonville, they never predicted the enthusiastic fervor that would follow. Just months after opening, Nobody’s Darling has enjoyed a word-of-mouth popularity usually reserved for the main Boystown or Andersonville thoroughfares, ones that reflect the current culture in the city’s north-side queer neighborhoods: predominantly white, male, cisgender, and affluent. The bar is just one of two Black-owned queer bars in the city (the other is Jeffery Pub in South Shore).
“It just warms my heart to know that there’s so much support in our community in both LGBTQ+ but also in the African American community that says, ‘We want more, we want to see more,’” Barnes says.
People of all kinds, south-siders and nearby neighbors alike, have flocked to the bar, Barnes says, a phenomenon they chalk up to the relaxed atmosphere as well as the space they are trying to create.
Barnes and Riddle wanted to establish a place for their own community, but also marginalized people of all stripes. And the bar’s name, Nobody’s Darling, is an ode to that, borrowing the name of an Alice Walker poem: “Let them look askance at you. And you askance reply.” Both Riddle and Barnes want their patrons to take that message to heart: at Nobody’s Darling, you are welcome as you are, askance looks be damned.
The bar sits in the location of the former Joie De Vine, a lesbian-owned wine bar that closed during the pandemic, and opens at an important time in the local queer nightlife scene. The Northalsted neighborhood, formerly known as Boystown, is still in the throes of reckoning over racism, transphobia, and misogyny in the neighborhood. And there is a stunning dearth of nightlife spaces specifically for queer women, not just here in Chicago but across the nation. The Lesbian Bar Project, a group that supports and fundraises for the remaining lesbian bars in the nation, estimates that just 21 remain, with none in Illinois.
“What we’re really saying is we’re gonna welcome queer women, right? We’re gonna welcome our community,” Riddle says. “And we want them to feel comfortable, and this is their place. We want the trans community, the Black community, the gay community. What we’re really saying is no judgments.”
The way Nobody’s Darling creates space for the so-called “outcasts,” people who don’t fit that mold, is both subtle and overt. A massive chalkboard displays Walker’s poem. Its menu boasts not-so-subtle nods to Black luminaries and Black culture like the J. Kincaid Daiquiri, A. Walker Summer Martini, and Southside Lychee Martini. According to the bar’s website, Barnes dreamed of the space as a “Nina Simone-styled lounge.”
The J. Kincaid, according to the bar owners, is a take on the classic daiquiri with more depth and flavor thanks to the dark rum in the drink. The A. Walker is a slightly sweet drink, with blueberry basil syrup adding complexity to the martini. And by the owners’ admission, their Southside Lychee Martini is a “dangerously strong” take on the classic, but as they say “frequently overlooked,” drink.
Nobody’s Darling, which opened over the summer, is the pair’s first foray into nightlife, but builds off their experiences as business women. Riddle’s day job is as a revenue auditor for Illinois and Barnes is general counsel and director of legal affairs and growth initiatives at City Tech Collaborative in the city. But the pair first met at Center on Halsted roughly a decade ago, where Riddle was hosting events focused on queer women. Now, Riddle is a member of COH’s board and Barnes serves as its chair. The two also sit together on the board of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Riddle additionally sits on the board of directors for the Legacy Project, a local LGBTQ+ history project that displays historical LGBTQ+ figures throughout pylons in Northalsted.
And the two are quick to say that their business-side jobs and volunteer work have helped with this latest endeavor. But even with their business acumen, Barnes says they still have faced challenges in opening the bar, like racist, homophobic financing barriers that prevent people like them from starting businesses in the first place.
“We didn’t go to a bank,” Barnes says. “We used personal savings to open this and a lot of people can’t do it. I think it’s important to mention because even though you know, I’m a business attorney, and Renauda is an auditor, I suspect that had we gone to a bank to say, ‘Hey, we’ve never owned a bar, but you know, look at our expertise,’ from a professional aspect, I don’t think we would have gotten a loan.”
Challenges aside, the two have big plans for the space. Pending pandemic restrictions, Riddle says they want to get to a point where they host events at the bar, tapping into her expertise in that arena. Because of the pandemic, their initial celebration was small—Riddle called it a “mini-Pride” of sorts—but a do-over could be coming in the next few weeks.
“By October, Nobody’s Darling is gonna be on the map,” Barnes says.