NYC's Hell's Kitchen Nightlife Bounces Back With New Openings

by Ryan Leeds

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday August 22, 2021
Originally published on July 29, 2021

First, queer revelers gravitated toward Greenwich Village, the Bohemian neighborhood on New York City's Lower West Side. Then they moved to Chelsea, another artistic enclave slightly north of "The Village." Now, Hell's Kitchen has become the LGBTQ mecca of Manhattan and it's bouncing back after a slew of pandemic-related closings.

The once-derelict area (it was the setting for "West Side Story," after all), with borders from 34th Street to 59th and 8th Avenue to the Hudson River, has since become a real estate hotspot for actors, artists, and many within the queer community. It makes sense given its proximity to numerous Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters.

Like many industries, nightlife suffered during the pandemic and several well-known establishments were forced to close their doors. Ninth Avenue Saloon, Barrage, Posh, Boxers, and Therapy were among the casualties that decimated the LGBTQ bar community.

Yet, much like New York itself, a rapid resurgence of beautiful new spaces is planned for the Hell's Kitchen crowd and the throngs of tourists now returning to the city.

EDGE Media Network spoke with several bar owners who discussed their plans to blanket the neighborhood with new spots of flair and fabulosity.

During New York City's Pride weekend last month, Frankie Sharp, Bob Fluet, and Alan Picus debuted their brand-new venue, Q, located at 795 Eighth Avenue between 48th and 49th streets. Formerly an Irish pub named Social, the team began shopping for a space in the area in June 2019.

"We happened to walk by the closed bar, looked at the space, fell in love with it, and planned to sign the lease," Sharp told EDGE. "On March 15, 2020, we were set to sign the lease, and then the world closed. We kept monitoring the space to see if it was still going to happen. Since Pride weekend, it's been non-stop. It's been a beautiful, bizarre, and wonderful thing."

The Q sets itself apart from many nightlife venues with three separate floors of entertainment. Downstairs has a 1950s Copacabana-style room with a stage, piano, and drums. The second floor is described by Sharp as a "cruisy, sexy lounge," while the top floor gives patrons a chance to flaunt their moves on a dance floor. Mondays and Wednesdays offer sing-alongs, live jazz is performed on Thursdays, along with drag revues through the week.

"Q's ability to program is impressive," said co-owner Fluet. "We're not always the most open community, but this venue is for everyone. It allows us to have multiple functions and identities and allows for vertical bar hopping."

Sharp echoed his sentiment. "This is our love letter to New York. Our performers are from all walks of queer life: gay, trans, non-binary, people of color. It was important for us to diversify because I wanted it to be a reflection of my New York," Sharp said. "The name is meant just to be Queer as F---. We're here to welcome people back in a celebratory fashion with a sense of frivolity."

Slip in for happy hour (4-7 p.m.) and keep an eye out for specialty cocktails in the future. "We opened so fast we just have to catch our breath, but they are certainly in the works," said Fluet.

Fluet has other projects planned for the neighborhood. Boxers HK will reopen directly across the street from its former location on 50th Street and 9th Avenue. Like the previous space, it will be multi-floored with the "dog pound" on the first floor, a mezzanine, and a roof deck. It will be the only LGBTQ bar in Hell's Kitchen with a consistent roof deck. An opening is planned for Fall 2021.

Meanwhile, the Boxers family will also occupy what was once Therapy, a hugely celebrated LGBTQ bar on West 52nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenue. The new bar, Hush, will retain the former tenant's warm, exposed brick interior, but they have already removed the large staircase that greeted patrons at the entrance.

"In that way, we're enlarging the footprint," said Fluet. "Hush will be a little more risqué. We'll still have drag shows, and we're bringing back the staff from Therapy." Fluet anticipates that the space will open after Labor Day.

Feeling parched? Soon, you'll have THIRST HK. This fall, the owners of Chelsea's Rebar, Rob Barbero and Michael McGrail, will open a space described as "eccentric, eclectic, fun, fluid, and sexy." It will occupy the venue formerly known as Perdition on 10th Avenue between 48th and 49th Street. So how will it differ from other watering holes?

"Well, Mark Twain said, 'There is no such thing as a new idea.' We'll take old ideas and put them into a kaleidoscope. We give it a turn, and they make new and curious combinations," said marketing manager Franco Diluzio. "If you keep turning and making new combinations, they are no longer the same old pieces others have seen through the ages. So let's say we're basically looking to show HK some eclectic new combinations. The team is looking forward to the future.

"NYC is resilient, and the gay community here is strong. At Rebar, things are busier than they were pre-pandemic — even now in the summer months, which are notoriously slow," said Diluzio, who wouldn't reveal any drink specials for the new venue, but teases: "Everything we have planned will make you THIRSTY. [Winks]"

Other new arrivals as reported by include The Spot (10th Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets) from the owners of Rise Bar, and RedEye, a coffee-by-day-drinks-by-night joint on 41st and Ninth Avenue in the shadows of Port Authority.

Welcome back, Queer Hell's Kitchen!

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater, food, and nightlife journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine and The Broadway Blog. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.