Coming out: Bushwick’s Dromedary Bar reopens as collectively-run queer space

dromedary bar interior
Dromedary Bar has reopened as Dromedary: Coming Out, a collectively-owned queer space.
Photo courtesy of C. Tang

A beloved Bushwick bar is under new management — kind of.

Dromedary Bar, a former Tiki bar on Irving Avenue, has been transformed into Dromedary: Coming Out, a colorful, collectively-run queer space staffed by a team of familiar bartenders and employees.

The bar originally opened in 2016 under the ownership of Michael Lombardozzi. Last fall Lombardozzi opened two new businesses – Dromedary Doughnuts, a colorful bakery, and Ra Ra Rhino, a speakeasy tucked behind the donut shop. 

exterior of dromedary bar
Dromedary first opened as a tiki bar in 2016. Photo courtesy of C. Tang

As he turned his focus toward his new endeavors and started pondering the future of the bar, Dromedary employees joked with each other about taking over the space, said bartender Justine Musselman. 

Then, the conversation became “What if this wasn’t a joke? What if we made this happen?” she said.

And they did: In late December, the bar hosted fundraising events for “New Dromedary.” In January, it closed for repairs and renovations — most done by the team themselves. Last month, Dromedary: Coming Out officially reopened with its old bones intact but most everything else revamped. 

When the Dromedary team decided to move forward with their plans to take over the bar together, they also chose to move into a “collaborative, worker-operated” model, said bartender Babz Law. 

No one at Dromedary had really pictured themselves owning or running a bar, Musselman said. Taking over the space wasn’t strictly a business decision.

“It’s really about how much we all cared about the space over the years before any of us worked here,” Law said. “We were all regulars, we came here, we hung out here, our friends had birthdays here … Our relationship with this place and the people surrounding it has been a much longer one than our own jobs.”

bartender at dromedary
Law and Musselman both work behind the bar at the revamped Dromedary: Coming Out. Photo courtesy of C. Tang

Dromedary wasn’t founded as a gay bar, but it regularly hosted drag and burlesque events — and slowly became a de-facto queer space in the nabe. 

“Despite it not being an intentional queer space, I did have a good few encounters while bartending where people would be like ‘So, is this a gay bar?’ And I’d be like, ‘So, it was not established as one, but it has absolutely become a queer space,’” Musselman said. 

It was one of relatively few spaces where both Musselman and Law said they felt they could be themselves — both on the clock and off. 

“One of the reasons I care so much is that it was the only place where I could fully be who I am behind this bar,” Law said.

When Law started their gender journey a few years ago, coming out at work was intimidating. Before Dromedary, they worked at a wedding venue, then at a different Brooklyn bar, and dealt with a lot of uncomfortable questions from clientele and coworkers alike.

At Dromedary, “I’ve never, ever had anybody ask ‘What are you?’ while I’ve been behind the bar,” they said. “That’s special.”

In renovating the bar, the team has taken it from an accidental queer bar to a very intentional one. 

Dromedary: Coming Out is covered in rainbows and abstract takes on various Pride flags and tiles with slogans like “Black Trans Lives Matter.” The stage, which has been patched up and restored, now has a pole for dance and burlesque performances.

person painting rainbow on the wall
The team added hand-painted Pride flags and other decor to the walls. Photo courtesy of Justine Musselman

Dromedary is also ramping up its events, said Musselman. Its classic weekly offerings are back — trivia on Tuesdays, karaoke each Thursday, and drag brunch on Sunday afternoons — but she had her sights set on more.

“I’m hoping with some of the events we’re hosting that it will bring in even more of our Brooklyn queer community to this space,” she said. 

Musselman imagined monthly burlesque variety shows, Go-go dancing, game nights, Drag Bingo, and much more. On weeknights, she wants to start hosting more laid-back events: poetry readings, open mic nights, queer-friendly figure drawing classes.

“The hope is you can walk in here any night and know that something fun is happening,” she said. “We just want to offer a really large array of options so a lot of different people can feel like this space is for them.”

drag queens at dromedary bar
Dromedary: Coming Out has a full slate of events — including drag brunches, burlesque shows, and more.Photo courtesy of Justine Musselman

As for the menu, Dromedary is moving away from tiki-style drinks, though some classics – like the frozen “Frosty the Flamingo” – remain. One Dromedary bartender has been mixing up some unique and experimental cocktails, like the Pink Pena, made with tequila, pineapple, lime and cardamom. 

Regulars rest assured, the bar will still serve up inexpensive beer and shots – Musselman said they want to “have cheap beer forever.” The menu also features nonalcoholic versions of most of their cocktails, as well as nonalcoholic beer and champagne. 

Musselman and Law emphasized that they don’t see Dromedary as just a bar, but as a community space — they want to make use of it in many different ways.

dromedary coming out chalkboard
A chalkboard inside the space features the bar’s new name. Photo courtesy of C. Tang

To that end, Musselman has partnered with an organization to offer free condoms, Plan B, and Narcan — and hopes to occasionally host Know Your Rights trainings, yoga classes, and other workshops in the bar on weekdays. 

“We want people to come in here and feel like they are fully represented and belong here and have a certain ‘This is my space’ mentality to it,” Law said.