How a Queer LA Bike Café Creates Community

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How a Queer LA Bike Café Creates Community

When you spin up to Detroit Vesey’s Café many of its guests do just that, knowing there is a place for their bikes—you’re greeted with all the signs that this café is meant to be welcoming to the cyclist community.

The golden cycles embossed on the windows immediately communicate that this is a café for cyclists. Inside, the exposed brick and high ceilings with crisscrossing wooden beams make room for bike parking. Slightly edgy, a grim reaper on a bicycle assures customers that they’re “doing great.”

It’s a place where people can express themselves—and get a plateful of good food to fuel them for their next adventure.

LA’s Detroit Vesey’s exists not just to feed the stomach but also to feed the soul and connect communities. Since the restaurant’s opening in November of 2021, it’s become a place where intersecting communities can gather safely. It bills itself as “a bike-friendly café,” and it hosts numerous events for the LGBTQ+ community.

Chef Erin Vesey had wanted to open a café for years, and the opportunity presented itself in 2021: “We were open and thriving, navigating the crazy dynamic and all the various mandates,” Vesey said. “One thing I really saw happen in my community and neighboring communities is this need and thirst for community spaces and to be around people in real life.” It was why they built a place for cyclists, queer folks and neighbors to come and hang out.

Vesey has focused on upscale comfort food that brings a Detroit twist to the West Coast. Famous Detroit-based offerings include Vernor’s, Better Made potato chips, Faygo pop and Saunders chocolate. At the request of a friend, all soda on the menu is listed as “pop,” the word that Michiganders use to describe carbonated beverages.

Over the past year, the restaurant has pared down the menu a bit, but the focus is still on comfort foods. “We’ve had several people give feedback that it’s like their friend’s house for brunch; it’s not stuffy and inaccessible,” Vesey said.

Vesey met her business partner through LifeCycle, an organization that raises funds for a gay and lesbian center in San Francisco. It’s a seven-day cycling event where people ride their bikes from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

“I was really missing that part of my life with COVID happening,” Vesey said. “I missed the community and I wanted to figure out how to cultivate the community on a permanent basis.”

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Then there are the events.

Each week, Detroit Vesey’s holds a co-working date for queer and BIPOC folk. It’s a safe space for people to collaborate or just sit and work. Done in partnership with Cuties Los Angeles, the event is called “Let’s Werk.”

“I know for myself, when I’m sitting at a desk alone for hours, I just need other people present to help me make it more bearable,” Vesey said. “It’s also networking. People need a space to come network that is more neutral. A lot of times, being in marginalized groups, not every space is safe to have conversations. We offer a space for folks that they can talk about whatever kind of events they’re having.”

But it’s not all about work. The restaurant’s weekly drag brunch has been repeatedly cited as one of the best things to do in LA by LAist. An event co-hosted by Cipherpunk, they bring in a diverse group of kings and queens each week.

“It’s a great show—they do a great job of getting new and up-and-coming performers as well as some seasoned performers coming in and doing their thing,” Vesey said.

Other events at the café include movie nights, queer yoga, marketplaces and fundraisers.

Detroit Vesey’s opened to much fanfare in local publications, five-star reviews and honors naming it among the hottest LA restaurants and best brunch spots. Nonetheless, the café has faced pandemic-related challenges that drained the money set aside for a liquor license. The team is now trying to move to a smaller, more sustainable spot that has all the licenses they need. The restaurant’s GoFundMe explains the impetus behind the move and how the community can help make it happen. Vesey’s top priority in moving is ensuring that the community feels welcome and having the continued opportunity to host events.

“A community space that’s funded by the restaurant is kind of what we’ve evolved into,” Vesey said. “So we’re figuring out a new home that can facilitate all that.” They said that while most restaurants have a community or following, their community is why they exist: “We want to give people a space to feel comfortable to come out to eat or just hang out and experience different parts of different communities that come through our doors,” Vesey said. “That is our focus. We are a plug-and-play kind of space for folks to come in and do their thing.”

Detroit Vesey’s has also engaged in advocacy. Vesey talked about how recently, Los Angeles passed a law making it illegal for people to fix their bikes in public, which she describes as specifically targeting the unhoused and people of color. “We’ve hosted a coalition of cyclists that are working on bicycle advocacy,” Vesey said. “We’re talking about how to counteract that, which has been super cool to see that community come together and work through terrible things.”

The café also recently began collaborating with an organization called Bici Libre, a volunteer-run bicycle co-op. “They brought food for us to make for unhoused folks as part of our community meal as well as to get people fed and making food more accessible to people,” Vesey said. “It is always part of the plan to use my skill set to be of service wherever we can.”
As Detroit Vesey’s continues to grow, Vesey wants to increase their level of sustainability and while continuing to provide a place for intersectional communities to gather and thrive.