The Center Magazine
Back to Stories

grotto Founder Austa Somvichian-Clausen on Creating a ‘Sapphic Pop-up Experience’ at Pebble Bar

By Noah SilversteinJun 23 2023
Link copied to clipboard
Visiting Rock Center? Include Top of the Rock in your plans. Purchase your tickets online today!
Buy Tickets
Related Articles
Food & Drinks

An Insider’s Guide to Smith & Mills Rockefeller Center


What to Do in New York City in July 2023

Food & Drinks

Meet Ana Valencia, Beatnic’s General Manager and the Heart of the Rockefeller Center Location


Here’s How We’re Celebrating Pride Month at Rockefeller Center

Food & Drinks

The Best Places in New York to Grab Afterwork Drinks This Summer

This Pride Month, the commitment to creating safe, inclusive, and equitable spaces for queer people has never been more important. And pretty soon, you’ll be able to find community and cocktails at Rockefeller Center with a new pop-up: grotto, a queer cocktail bar concept interweaving drinks, discussion, and decor courtesy of Pebble Bar. Frustrated by a lack of queer-friendly establishments for date nights, founder Austa Somvichian-Clausen put her background as a hospitality journalist to use by creating a space with a queer presence that was a bit more intimate than a dive bar.

“You can tell when a place isn't created with your demographic in mind,” says Somvichian-Clausen. “We just wanted to find a place where we didn’t have to wait in line to get in and then yell [to hear] each other for date night. We wanted to find a space that suited our needs, so I decided to just create one.”

A Los Angeles native, Somvichian-Clausen established grotto earlier this year with a pop-up outpost at Ludlow House in the Lower East Side. A raving success, another pop-up soon followed at Cobble Hill’s TALEA. Now, the “sapphic pop-up experience,” as Somvichian-Clausen describes it, comes uptown to Johnny’s, the top floor of the historic Pebble Bar, to close out New York City’s Pride weekend on June 25. We caught up with Somvichian-Clausen to hear more about what’s in store for this groundbreaking experience at Rockefeller Center, how she got here, and why queer spaces are needed now more than ever.

Photo by Stephanie Yuvienco, courtesy of grotto
"It's so intimate and beautiful and feels almost secretive, but still completely inclusive…"
—Austa Somvichian-Clausen, founder of grotto

How did the partnership with Rockefeller Center and Pebble Bar come about?

ASC: Luckily, someone from the Rockefeller Center team came into our Ludlow pop-up and saw the potential of what grotto is... And, you know, we had a great conversation about how Rock Center is also trying to create intentional space for people and bring in a diverse offering of entertainment and shopping and nightlife.

Tell us about the concept for the pop-up.

ASC: One thing I've always loved is live music — I think music has the power to connect people and draw people in, especially in a smaller setting. I wanted to bring that concept of intimate art and music and combine that with the grotto ethos, and we figured out that the top floor of Pebble Bar, Johnny's, would be the perfect space for that. It's so intimate and beautiful and feels almost secretive, but still completely inclusive… anyone who wants to come in can join but it still feels like a little secret.

We're going to start by doing three intimate concerts with grotto at Pebble Bar in Johnny's. The first one is going to be on Pride Sunday, which will be a really special kickoff. Expect gorgeous music, great people, specialty cocktails, probably some oysters, and some other special things like that for people to just be able to connect. And we're hoping to throw it during golden hour, so it’s like we're shifting from the daytime into the night.

Photo by Stephanie Yuvienco, courtesy of grotto
Photo by Stephanie Yuvienco, courtesy of grotto

Historically, upscale spaces devoted to spirits and drinking culture have been male-dominated. What do you think is the significance of having grotto’s pop-up series in this setting?

ASC: The whole cocktail bar concept has been very male-dominated. Even the realm of mixology is very male-dominated. And I think, in general, when it comes to queer bars, they're very male-dominated. So I think that there is a ton of significance [in] taking up space, saying what we as queer women deserve, and the things that we can create and the experiences that we can have together without like the presence of or the need for, you know, the “old boys club” kind of male-dominated vibe.

In this country, there is a startling lack of bars catering to queer women. As someone who is tackling this issue head-on, what are your thoughts about this, and what needs to be done?

ASC: Two years ago, there were only 21 in the country. Now there's I think 27, which is still far too few. I think the shift within the last couple of years seems small, with the six or so that have opened, but I actually think that it is very meaningful. Things are shifting in the direction of more inclusivity, especially in a place like New York where it's so necessary.

I don't want to be an only queer women's bar, I think places are starting to move away from even saying “this is a lesbian bar.” That's why we use the word “sapphic.” We want grotto to be a completely inclusive space [for] anyone in the community… We want to attract all of the people who have felt traditionally left out of queer spaces: women, trans, and non-binary folks. We want them to feel like this space is really made for them. So seldom are spaces created very intentionally for women in general, and especially for queer women. I think that makes grotto very one-of-a-kind, especially in the scale of operation we're trying to do. It's super important.

grotto teamed up with Pebble Bar at Rockefeller Center for a one-of-a-kind monthly concert series, starting June 25. Get your tickets here.

Link copied to clipboard
Back to all Stories
Related Articles
  • Events06.20.23

    What to Do in New York City in July 2023

  • Food & Drinks06.14.23
    Food & Drinks06.14.23

    Meet Ana Valencia, Beatnic’s General Manager and the Heart of the Rockefeller Center Location

  • Events06.7.23

    Here’s How We’re Celebrating Pride Month at Rockefeller Center

  • Food & Drinks05.22.23
    Food & Drinks05.22.23

    The Best Places in New York to Grab Afterwork Drinks This Summer

The Center Newsletter

Receive important seasonal news and updates, learn about store openings, and get special offers.

Learn More

How was your view from Top of the Rock? Share your experience!


Sign up for our newsletter

Subscribe Now

Follow Us

Download the free Audio Tour

Stay Connected

Stay connected with free Wi-Fi at Rockefeller Center.
@Rock Center Free Wi-Fi

  • Top of the Rock
  • Learn More about Top of the Rock
    Buy Tickets about Top of the Rock

  • Plan Your Visit
  • Map & Directions
  • News & Updates
  • Contact Us
  • Gift Shop
  • FAQs
  • Accessibility Statement
  • Executive Team

© Rockefeller Center 2024 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED