Notorious bikini bar Tobacco Road will finally get a new lease of life as a four-story venue for the Queer community when Red Eye NYC opens on W41st Street. The once-gritty dive bar at 355 W41st Street between 8th and 9th Avenue was shuttered in 2017 for failing to pay its rent, but five years on, a round-the-clock space offering coffee, bagels, shared workspaces and rehearsal rooms by day and high-end entertainment and cocktails at night is to rise from Tobacco Road's ashes in spectacular style. Red Eye NYC is the brainchild of Taylor Shubert, Daniel Nardicio, Samuel Benedict and Adam Klesh, who were determined to bring a "whole new concept" to Hell's Kitchen for the Queer community. Their work is nearing completion and they hope to have permissions from the city in place within weeks, allowing them to open by the end of the year. The venue has a long history — including as a concert venue that played host to luminaries including Thelonius Monk and Etta James — and that history has inspired the Red Eye NYC team. By day, the theater will offer rehearsal space, with Queer performers a priority. When not rented, it will be open for everything from piano playing to ballet practice. Red Eye NYC will also host streamed events, and plans to have its own podcast, recording on-site. By night it will be a raucous venue for burlesque and boylesque personalities, DJs, drag royalty and stars of Broadway and television. They will have a happy hour and promise to have some sort of event every night somewhere between 7 and 9pm. The four founders have spent the past few months on a massive program of renovations, detailing their work on the Red Eye NYC Instagram feed, including stripping the building back to the studs, pouring concrete and installing up-to-date appliances. They even helped out with the caulking. The team has deep Hell's Kitchen roots. Klesh opened W52nd Street's Industry Bar and Shubert has been a bartender at 9th Avenue's Flaming Saddles for almost eight years. He has also represented Hell’s Kitchen as a Democratic Party judicial delegate and a member of its New York county committee. The foursome say they want the "pink dollar" to stay in the gay community, and plan to champion Queer-owned suppliers for every part of the business, including wine-makers and other drink suppliers. This story originally appeared on W42ST. nyc in October, 2022 as "Red Eye NYC will Revive Bikini Bar Site with a Coffee-to-Cocktails Queer Venue. "
FLEX is a new Hell’s Kitchen LGBTQ+ hotspot created in the former home of Posh — one of the original neighborhood gay bars back in the ’90s. Founders James Healy and Jason Wade Mann’s journey to open FLEX hasn’t been without its challenges. The process began with six months of paperwork to obtain a liquor license from the State Liquor Authority. Though they received approval from Manhattan Community Board 4’s Business Licenses and Permits Committee, lingering complaints about the previous establishment set the bar very high for proving FLEX would not fall into the same pattern. However, this meticulous attention to detail set the tone for what was to come. The bar’s design was a collaboration with two architects from Pratt Institute, who worked closely with students to ensure every aspect was carefully considered. James and Jason had the opportunity to shape FLEX exactly as they envisioned, with a focus on creating a visually stunning atmosphere. Local artist Jo Mar crafted the hand-sculpted mural that takes center stage. It is based on a photo shoot he did in the space with local friends who were more than happy to help bring his vision to life. The entire process took seven months to complete, with each of the four panels weighing approximately 250 lbs as the molds were being made. The attention to detail doesn’t stop at the artwork. The bar boasts original 120-year-old “Tiffany blue” glass windows salvaged from a Brooklyn warehouse, adding a touch of history to the contemporary design. The bar beams themselves come from a century-old Brooklyn townhouse, and the woodwork throughout the space is meticulously handcrafted. The dedication to preserving the legacy of the location is evident in the decision to keep FLEX as a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community. As James said: “It was a gay space for almost 30 years and that was one of the main reasons Jason and I decided to take over the space. We wanted to keep it as a safe space for the gay community, but very much welcome for all. Our theme is come alone and meet friends, come with friends and make more friends. ”But FLEX is not just about creating a visually appealing space; it also aims to be a hub for community events. With large screens and projectors installed, the bar can host gatherings, presentations and even screen major sporting events. This versatility ensures that FLEX will be a vibrant and dynamic addition to the neighborhood. Beyond the interior, the owners have also made significant efforts to enhance the building’s infrastructure and exterior. Extensive plumbing work was completed and the façade has been meticulously restored, with broken tiles fixed and a fresh coat of paint applied. A new awning, adorned with colorful PRIDE flags, further adds to the bar’s vibrant presence on the block. FLEX aims to be a highlight of the neighborhood, both inside and out. This story was adapted from the W42ST article, "Reviving PRIDE: New Bar FLEX Honors Posh’s Legacy with a Modern LGBTQ+ Twist. "
“We are one of the oldest gay bars in the city, ” said Helen Burford. The owner of Julius’ considers it an honor to be a part of this history and to allow others to share in it. Many who stop by are keen to dip their toes into an earlier, more troublesome period. “We are a good reminder of the struggles people went through for those of us today. ”What better way for young men and women to learn about landmark events like the renowned “Sip-In, ” where gay activists challenged New York’s prohibitions on gay bars? The patrons who have been frequenting Julius’ for decades are happy to provide a history lesson. Every day around 4 p. m., they sit in a corner and share stories of what it was like back in the day. “This is their home. To them, Julius’ is not a bar — rain or shine, they need to be here. ” The old group, now in their seventies and eighties, enjoy having a drink and chatting with one another, but they also invite “guests” into the conversation — passing the baton, as this is their legacy. “They are always trying to bring young people into the fold, ” Helen commented.
Billed as "New York's Premier Gay Gentleman's Club, " TownHouse is home to three attractive bars: The Club Room Sports Bar, the Main Bar, and the Piano Room Bar. When it opened more than twenty years ago, TownHouse was described as the "only truly elegant gay bar" in the city, and it continues to attract a steady New York and international crowd. With a dress code and more formal vibe, the bars cater to a clientele of gentlemen favoring a classier decor. The Piano Bar has talented pianists performing every night, and even offers the opportunity for singers to join and be accompanied on the piano during their open mike hours.
Randy Weinberg, who does not identify as queer, did not mean to open a gay bar when he founded the boiler room. However, he knew he wanted to preserve the bar as such when members of the LGBTQ+ community claimed it as a hangout. For the first eighteen months after it opened, the Boiler Room teetered on the verge of closing. "I thought it was going to fail miserably, but after being open a little more than a year and a half, the success came in like a tsunami. "Randy credits the bar's longevity to its welcoming atmosphere where people of all backgrounds can come and relax. They also do their best to keep the drink prices below seven dollars, and they sell their own vodka labeled "4th & Pride. " The setup is reminiscent of a living room and intentionally reproduces an at-home, comfortable feel. Randy calls this a "safe energy. " The Boiler Room's commitment to providing a sanctuary for people of all genders and sexuality has not wavered. To this day, the team still donates five percent of its proceeds to organizations supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
Though barely over 500 square feet, Cubbyhole occupies a much greater space in New York’s nightlife. It is one of the city’s only remaining lesbian bars and serves as a “cozy safe haven” for queer women and the LGBTQ+ community at large, according to its current owner, Lisa Menichino. Cubbyhole was started by Tonya Saunders, who fled Nazi Germany with her mother and took refuge in the States. She came out as a lesbian in the 1960s and nursed a dream of starting an inclusive bar despite spending years working in advertising. A week after being laid off from her job, she stumbled across a “bar for sale” sign in the West Village and promptly claimed the spot to open the DT Fat Cat with a partner. In 1994, Tonya took over as the sole owner, renamed it, and transformed it into the much-adored Cubbyhole that stands today. After a trip to New Orleans’ splashy bar scene, Tonya was inspired to hang a colorful hodgepodge of trinkets from Cubbyhole’s ceiling and commission an artist to paint a mural on the walls. Much of the decor is gifted by regulars who bring back souvenirs from their own travels, while other themed objects are displayed seasonally to celebrate holidays. With the change in aesthetic came a shift in the bar’s perception to something warmer and more accessible. “To Tonya, exclusivity was boring. She wanted a bar that would invite everyone in — gay, straight, men, and women. ”Lisa, who had always bartended in between other jobs, was feeling burnt out after working as a probation officer. Searching for a new vocation, she was introduced to Tonya, and the women immediately hit it off. “Tonya became like a second mother to me. ” And as for Cubbyhole itself, Lisa soon fell in love — “It is such a special place. The customers, the vibe, everything. ”Tonya sadly passed away in 2018 and left the bar to Lisa, who has dedicated herself to preserving its spirit. “Cubbyhole is the icon. I’m just the person making sure the operational parts are there. ”