NYC gay, lesbian bars celebrate pandemic recovery this Pride Month


Stronger than yesterday

Friend’s Tavern is not alone in coming back more resilient. Macri Park in Williamsburg and Albatross in Astoria have reopened, holding Pride karaoke and cabarets last weekend. And there are newcomers, including Bed-Stuy queer space Oddly Enough and Hell’s Kitchen’s Hush, a replacement for much-mourned Therapy, which closed during the pandemic.

The good news does not make Friend’s Tavern and others immune from staffing issues, one of the most widespread challenges facing restaurants and bars now, Valentine said.

“Our biggest problem now is being short-staffed,” he said. He added that the diversity of the Friend’s Tavern customer base means that bartenders also need to speak both English and Spanish, further shrinking the pool of candidates.

“We ask that you have a great smile, a great personality, and to be bilingual,” he said. “It’s been harder and harder to get that staff during this pandemic.”

Some of the pressures and costs of doing business in New York City made it difficult to keep gay and lesbian bars open even before the pandemic.

The nonprofit Lesbian Bar Project reported that lesbian bars have been on a decline since the 1980s. Just three now remain in the city: Ginger’s Bar in Park Slope and Cubbyhole and Henrietta Hudson in the West Village. There reportedly are just two Black-owned LGBTQ bars in New York: Alibi Lounge and Lambda Lounge, both in Harlem.

It can be difficult to track openings and closings of the city’s gay and lesbian bars, but the state has said that New York’s hospitality industry in general might not recover fully from the pandemic until 2026. Comptroller Brad Lander’s most recent report, released in January, noted that employment in bars and restaurants was still 30% below pre-pandemic levels.

Valentine said he remains optimistic that the hardest challenges for the bar are behind them. On stage at Sunday’s celebrations, he assured the crowd that with the security of owning the building, the bar would be around for decades, offering a friendly, communal environment that’s different from the more bustling, tourist-oriented gay and lesbian bars of Manhattan.

“Generations to come are going to have a safe space,” he said.

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