Venues that go beyond LGBTQ-friendly lip service

According to Erika Rode, being open for everyone means going the extra mile to offer a comfortable setting for everyone, including the staff. 

The Bitters Bar owner in South Scottsdale, who is a lesbian herself, strives to recruit, train and retain a staff that represents this diversity, which has included many from the community.

Erika Rode

“Erika is known for taking people from all walks of life that have little-to-no-experience, and growing them into talented cooks, bartenders and servers,” says Lisa Carrington, a cocktail creator and educator best known as @CocktailMaven online. “It’s not just a safe place to work, but a place where you can thrive and grow your career. This especially includes other lesbian women.” 

For those who have not been as of yet, Rode’s Bitters Bar offers high-end food and drinks meticulously curated from small farms, breweries and distilleries. 

“Her edible works of art could easily stand up to those served at the best bars in New York City, yet the atmosphere is as warm and welcoming as your best friend's couch,” says Carrington. “Bitters Bar is a slice of modern Phoenix that proudly supports, represents, and stands up for the LGBTQ community and all people, for that matter.”

Bitters was notably among the first bars to sign the UNITY Pledge in support of fully inclusive non-discrimination policies in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations for all Arizonans, including individuals who are gay or transgender. Thankfully, they were not the last. 

The community also has a true ally in Upward Projects. Who are they, you ask?

In 2001, a hip indoor-outdoor wine bar called Postino – named for the Italian word for postman as the venue was located in a vacant brick building that was a local post office once upon a time – opened in Arcadia. And while no longer a post office, the small-but-mighty location delivered night after night, growing a faithful following across the Valley. Its success led to the creation of Upward Projects by Lauren Bailey and Crag Demarco in 2008 with a vision to take vacant or historically relevant buildings in town and re-invent them into restaurants and bars. In the years since, Postino has grown to 15 locations across Arizona, Texas and Colorado. Today, Upward is also behind Windsor, Churn, Federal Pizza and Joyride Taco House in the Valley.

As both Voltaire and Uncle Ben in Spiderman said, with great power comes great responsibility. And Upward is up to the task. 

Sam Foos, Upward’s vice president of people and culture, is a member of the community himself. He and his team were proud, like Bitters, to be among the first to sign the UNITY Pledge. Within the local community, Upward has always protected sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace, well in advance of the Supreme Court ruling in June 2020. They have maintained an open dress code that allows individuals to be themselves. 

Photo: Four Peaks

“A proud moment was to hear a team member being celebrated for being a valuable team member and they responded with expressing their love for Upward Projects because for the first time they felt they could be themselves,” says Foos. “Wearing lipstick, make-up and wearing what made them feel comfortable without judgement or being told what a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ should wear or dress like. This brought them to tears and everyone else in the room. Not everyone realizes how many years people have been repressed or told they cannot be who they know they are. It’s a very emotional thing to be freed from that repression.” 

Their support extends beyond Arizona’s borders as well. For example, they opened their Montrose location in the oldest gay bar in Houston, paying tribute through a through a massive decoupaged art installation that showcased to the gay bar's history.  

“It is important in the hospitality industry, which serves millions of people with unique backgrounds and experiences, that we create a space and a workplace where they can come and be themselves. Free from being singled out and treated differently,” says Foos. 

This also extends to the beer industry, a charge being led by Four Peaks Brewing Co., which was the first brewery in Arizona to sign the UNITY Pledge in 2017. 

“We are proud to be an Arizona-born company that has welcomed all communities since we first opened our doors. We believe that good beer makes for good company and we look forward to continuing to welcome and support equality for all Arizonans,” said Jim Scussel, co-founder of Four Peaks Brewing Co.

Since signing, Four Peaks has been vocal in its support, notably launching a new beer in support of Pride Month and selling limited edition T-shirts, with all proceeds going to ONE Community, Equality Arizona, One-n-Ten and Phoenix Pride. 

Standing with Bitters, Upward Projects and Four Peaks in signing the UNITY Pledge today are also: 

  • 3 Sheilas Wine & Spirits
  • 5th Avenue Cafe
  • Arizona Craft Brewers Guild
  • Barrio Brewing
  • Burgers Amore
  • Cactus Food Mart
  • Cakes by Whisk
  • Drift Inn Saloon
  • FEZ
  • Hensley
  • Hidden Track Cafe & Bottle Shop
  • Hula's Modern Tiki Phoenix & Scottsdale
  • Huss Brewing Company 
  • Jacked Ice
  • Nicantoni's Pizza and Pub
  • Papa Ed's Ice Cream
  • Pizza People Pub
  • Salut Kitchen Bar
  • Sauce Pizza & Wine
  • Scottsdale Beer Company 
  • Songbird Coffee & Tea House
  • Switch Restaurant and Wine Bar
  • Taco Chelo
  • The Dhaba
  • The Farm at South Mountain
  • The Gladly
  • Uncle Bear's Brewery
  • Urban Beans
  • Willie's Taco Joint
  • Witnessing Nature In Food
  • Wok This Way, LLC
  • Zookz Sandwiches

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