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Pride Fest Is Back For 3rd Annual Bloomington Street Party

Jan Lancaster opened The Bistro in 1993 as the community's first gay bar.
Eric Stock
Jan Lancaster opened The Bistro in 1993 as the Bloomington-Normal's first gay bar. This weekend, The Bistro will host its third Pride Fest street party.

Pride Fest returns to the Twin Cities this weekend, after a one-year COVID hiatus.

This is the third annual celebration of LGBTQIA+ Pride Month hosted by The Bistro in downtown Bloomington.

Owner Jan Lancaster started the tradition on The Bistro’s 25th anniversary in 2018. The city shuts down the 300 block of North Main Street for the street festival.

“I was not sure what to expect. I kind of thought ‘Maybe we'll have 200 or 300 people,’ something like that,” Lancaster said. “They estimated the first year we did it, 2,000 people had come through. It was just amazing to me. And I thought ‘We need to keep this going.’”

Destihl Brewery created a limited edition "Pride Pils" for this year's Pride Fest. It's only available at The Bistro and Destihl's taphouse.
The Bistro
Destihl Brewery created a limited edition "Pride Pils" for this year's Pride Fest. It's only available at The Bistro and Destihl's taphouse.

Lancaster, who is affectionately referred to as “Momma” by regular Bistro patrons, said the celebration has new meaning this year, after months of isolation caused by the pandemic. The Bistro is a place to share joy and find solace during tough times, she said. COVID all but removed that safety net for some.

“We all discovered a lot about ourselves and I know that there was a lot of depression (around) the unknown. You're struggling yourself, but you also have to think of the other people that are out there struggling and trying to help them, also,” Lancaster said. “I missed seeing everyone so much that I just started making a weekly video, just saying, ‘Hello! How are you? Thinking about you.’ That just kind of kept me going.”

Lancaster said being able to gather in person allows folks to pick back up where they left off with friends they haven’t been able to see--and hopefully some new faces, too.

“All of us need a sense of community and a sense of belonging somewhere,” Lancaster said. “This just gives us an opportunity to get together, especially after COVID, to be seen without our masks on, I guess … We've worked very hard to keep educating and keep trying to unite people over the years, so I think this is just a celebration of that.”

For as much help as Lancaster offers to others, she admits she’s reluctant to ask for help herself. This year, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and allies crowdfunded more than $2,500 for Lancaster to put on Pride Fest.

“I have been paying for Pride Fest from the beginning, with a few sponsors, and appreciate all the help that I can get. This has really helped us—especially this year—and it will give us some seed money for next year too,” Lancaster said.

This year’s festivities kick off Friday at 10 p.m., with a live performance by Jen Porter at The Bistro. Saturday’s block party starts at 4 p.m. It will feature a reunion concert by the band plainjane, as well as the first youth drag show. Food vendors include Under the Ground BloNo and Dead Wood BBQ. For more information about the event, visit The Bistro’s Facebook page.

More volunteers are needed. To sign-up to help work security, visit this link.

Dana Vollmer is a reporter with WGLT. Dana previously covered the state Capitol for NPR Illinois and Peoria for WCBU.