‘Our gay church:’ Blue Moon on Butler’s evolving identity

Photo by K. Gerard Painter Jr.

Blue Moon is unassuming from the outside. Located on Butler Street in Lawrenceville, the bar could be one of many in Pittsburgh and the United States in general. But after walking through the entrance, it’s clear why this place is a staple for Pittsburgh’s queer community.

The bar is small, with one main room that includes a stage for almost daily drag shows and hundreds of Christmas tree lights strung around. Even on a Sunday 20 minutes after opening, a group of regulars are standing at the bar.

“I have a group of guys here; they were here the first day we opened,” Andy Henderson, Blue Moon’s manager, said of the men. “They’re in their 60s and 70s, some of them are in their 80s, and they intermix with the young kids. There’s no age difference, which I love because you don’t get that just anywhere.”

Henderson has been at Blue Moon since 2002, right when it opened, starting as a bartender and working his way up to manager. In that time, he’s seen how changing customers mark changes in the world.

“Every so many years there’s another group of young people coming in, and it’s just amazing,” Henderson said. “And, you know, the older people still come in that originally came in, and they’re just in shock that we’re still doing what we’re doing.”

For Alistair, one of Blue Moon’s bartenders, the decision to work at the bar was an easy one.

“It’s just fun,” Alistair said. “It’s family. It’s just better to be around gays, too. You know, the life of a heterosexual is boring.”

Jaxa Fruit and JoeMyGosh jointly reign as Mr & Miss Blue Moon 2024.

For Andy and Alistair and the wide range of people that frequent Blue Moon, the space isn’t simply a nice thing to have – it’s vital, especially in an era of increasingly restrictive laws on drag shows and gender identity.

When so much time is spent fighting against heteronormative society and lawmakers, finding outlets for joy becomes necessary for survival.

“We are all very scared of these new laws that they’re passing, and of course we are going to stand up and fight like we always have,” Henderson said. “But it’s just a great feeling to know that we’re in here, we’re doing what we love, we’re dancing and singing to the music that we love. It makes you forget about anything you’re worried about.”

One of the most pronounced changes over the years is that Blue Moon no longer attracts a solely gay crowd. Though it was hard for older people to understand, Henderson thinks this is the sign of real, sustained growth.

“I always wanted everybody to mix,” Henderson said. “This is what we fought for. We wanted everybody to feel welcome.”

Whether it’s someone new entering a gay bar for the first time or a regular who has been going for years, Henderson has the same hope for every person, which is that they feel the sense of community and belonging that’s been fostered over decades.

“It’s mainly just a safe space,” Henderson said. “We call this our gay church because this is where we all meet and intermingle and communicate and boost each other up.”

Ryleigh is on a journey to document the importance of specifically queer spaces, queer nightlife, and queer culture in Pittsburgh. If you run into her, say hello!

Ryleigh Lord is a junior at Pitt studying history and English writing. She is a spring 2024 Pittsburgh Media Partnership intern and currently works as the news editor at The Pitt News. Originally from Philadelphia, she enjoys exploring Pittsburgh’s queer nightlife and watching women’s soccer games whenever possible.