Among travelers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, the Russian River Valley town of Guerneville has been known as one of America’s friendliest destinations since the 1970s.
Throughout the year, the city celebrates its LGBTQ+ community with events like when local health officials and healthcare providers quietly launch the county’s first community vaccination clinics in Sloth Bear Week, which is a week of festivities, is a fundraiser for local, regional, national and international LGBTQ+ charities and organizations in Guerneville. Then, of course, there is the next Russian River Pride Guerneville 2022 event from September 9 to 11. Plus, it’s home to the most fabulous group of drag queen nuns in Sonoma County – Russian River Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who attend local fundraising events and many LGBTQ+ events in North Bay.
For locals, the town of 4,534 is also seen as a hotbed of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurship.
This means that most businesses in and around the city are owned or operated by members or allies of the local LGBTQ+ community. It also means that Guerneville is an ideal place for those who wish to support this same community of entrepreneurs when visiting.
Two companies in particular – one old, one new – represent the best of this spirit of the times. Businesses : Rainbow Cattle Co., an iconic bar and gathering place on Main Street; and Solarpunk Farms, a fledgling permaculture operation near Armstrong Redwoods State Nature Reserve on Armstrong Woods Road.
Both companies contribute to making Guerneville what it is today.
A place just over the rainbow
“The Rainbow”, as the locals call it, has been an integral part of Guerneville culture since the late 1970s. Co-owner and general manager Bob Frederick started working as a bartender in 1984. He later became a bar manager in 2005 and co-owner in 2007.
Frederick describes the joint as a “community gathering place first, bar second”. Every night, especially on weekends, it’s both a lively gay bar and a friendly watering hole for everyone.
“This place is everything for everyone,” he said. “That’s what makes it so special.”
The decor hasn’t changed much in over 40 years. Outside, giant pride flags greet customers while inside, the walls are lined with wood paneling that gives the place a rustic feel. The bar itself is covered in stickers and there’s a pool table and pinball machines out back. Note for those who want to pass, the bar only takes cash.
In recent years, The Rainbow’s biggest fame has become a Tuesday night promotion designed to support nonprofits across the region.
Dubbed Giveback Tuesday, the event benefits a different charity each week, with 10% of all sales each Tuesday going directly to the designated charity. Guests can also directly support charities by participating in related fundraisers that each group organizes independently.
In total, Frederick said the program has raised more than $640,000 since 2017.
Some of the bands that have been the subject of recent Giveback Tuesday events include the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, river artsand Friends of Stumptownthe group that produces the local Holiday Parade of Lights.
Another local nonprofit that has benefited from the program: When Pigs Fly Rancha refuge for abandoned and neglected pigs.
Founder Marybeth Hall said three of Rainbow’s Giveback Tuesdays helped her organization, and she noted the cash injection was “really successful.” She and her partner used the money to feed the pigs, cover medical care and meet other expenses.
Two of these fundraisers took place before the COVID-19 pandemic and one was more recent.
“I’m a big fan of Bob, Giveback Tuesday and Rainbow,” she said, noting that currently the ranch has 10 pigs in all. “It’s been an amazing way for us to connect with the local community and raise awareness of the plight of local pigs, and to be part of something that we think is one of the best things about Guerneville – something that shows Inclusion, Involvement and Support.”
A piece of land for punks
Inclusion, involvement and support are some of the same characteristics that attracted Nick Schwanz and Spencer Scott to Guerneville in 2020.
The couple had vacationed on the banks of the Russian River for years and finally decided to make the leap to full-time life in West County after leaving their busy life in San Francisco and buying an old 10 acre horse ranch.
The plan was simple: create a permaculture-based educational space where those not exposed to land stewardship could come and learn about the approach and associated lifestyle.