Bellying up for a higher cause

By Melissa Korn 

Glittery bats flying above the bar, a string of small gold lights and a carved pumpkin welcome you to the Lolita Bar, a low-key spot on the corner of Broome and Allen Sts. For four nights last week, so did boobies. Lots and lots of boobies.

The bar was one of 11 hosting the Feel Your Boobies Bar Tour, an event meant to raise awareness among under-40 women that they need to do self-checks for breast cancer even though they’re not yet of age for regular mammograms.

From Thursday through Sunday, Lolita and other venues offered drink specials whose proceeds went to Feel Your Boobies and displayed signs with information about breast exams and breast cancer. The enormous “Feel Your Boobies” banners outside drew some crowds and more than a few giggles, for the cause.

While many bars get a bad rap for being noisier and more rambunctious than neighbors might like, the revelry is often for a good cause. Nonprofits with small budgets – theater, music and literary groups – host kickoff events at the cozy venues, and young organizations rallying around diseases and other causes find that the spots embrace community outreach activities.

Fontana’s, a two-year-old bar on Eldridge St. and a stop on last weekend’s bar tour, welcomes fundraisers.

“We’ve been actively pursuing, trying to have charities here,” said Mary Finn, a co-owner. With four women running the business, “breast cancer is always an issue,” and the bar has had multiple events for the cause. About six weeks ago, it hosted a fundraiser with raffles and a burlesque show.

Fontana’s offered a $6 Pink Ribbon Cosmo, with $1 from each drink going to Feel Your Boobies, last weekend. It posted a large Feel Your Boobies banner on the front window, with smaller signs on the doors and inside the bar explaining what the slogan was all about. Finn wasn’t fazed by the fact that her clientele is mostly male, pointing out that they can get the disease, too, and should be able to talk to their mothers, sisters or girlfriends about what they’ve learned.

A few men at Welcome to the Johnson’s and Lolita also took that message to heart. Throughout the event’s kickoff Thursday, a handful of the 20-somethings could be spotted in corners surreptitiously raising one arm, making concentric circles inward toward their nipples with the other, doing their first-ever self-breast exams.

Adam Knight, who joined the tour from Hell’s Kitchen, called the message “vulgar, tantalizing and charitable.” With that combination, he asked, how could people at a bar not want to learn more?

That interest is what Leigh Hurst, founder of Feel Your Boobies, counts on. A former West Village resident, Hurst was diagnosed with breast cancer at 33. She knows her organization’s message can seem a bit crass to some, but those people are generally “outside of our target audience,” Hurst said. By having a fundraiser at Lower East Side bars, she could attract the exact age range her message is meant for.  Ludlow St.’s Cake Shop, another tour stop, often has events that do good with a twist. In addition to hosting launches for up-and-coming bands, the bakery/music store/bar recently held Carlapalooza, a punk rock festival for multiple sclerosis.

Co-owner Greg Curley said he just looks for things that are “a good cause and fun.”

The Feel Your Boobies tour and similar events make a trip to the bars feel more worthwhile, said Sharon Floyd, a 28-year-old who trekked from the Upper East Side for the tour.

“It’s not just a night at a bar, you’re actually doing something,” Floyd said.