Today is the one year anniversary of the closing of the Starlite Lounge, the oldest Black-owned LGBT bar in New York City and one of the oldest such bars in the nation. The location is now a Metro PCS store.
For more than 40 years, the location at 1086 Bergen Street in Brooklyn's Crown Heights was home to the Starlite Lounge. The Starlite had been a fixture since the 1960s and became a rite of passage for many black LGBT New Yorkers. After the building was sold in late 2009, many feared the lounge was doomed and a neighborhood group applied for landmark status to avoid closure. The application was denied. The bar closed on July 31, 2010.
There is still no local substitute, reports Patch.com.
"You have to travel into Manhattan or other parts of Brooklyn to go to a gay-specific bar or club now, and it’s just unfortunate," said Crown Heights resident and former patron Robert Simmons. "Starlite didn’t close due to a lack of interest. The bar was successful and the community wanted it here."
Crown Heights has experienced a string of anti-gay attacks in recent years, including one just last month and a murder in 2007, and patrons had to be buzzed into Starlite Lounge by the bouncer after a handful of homophobic incidents took place inside. But those who frequented the bar say it was a place where they always felt safe and free to be who they are.
"The place held the promise of an America where people were judged not on their sexual orientation, but on more meaningful criteria," Norman Green, a member of Gay Man of African Descent (GMAD) in Downtown Brooklyn who first frequented the bar in the early 1970s, said via e-mail. "There was always a strong connection between the owners and staff of Starlite and the community at large,."
Fans of all ages, races, and orientations flocked to Starlite Lounge on Thursday nights in particular for their karaoke parties that were often filled to capacity, and celebrities including Madonna and RuPaul had visited the bar during its history.
Starting in the mid 1990s, a trio of sisters tended bar at the Starlite. The Lenear Sisters opened their spacious Bed-Stuy brownstone to black LGBT youth who needed a place to crash. Their weekend-long New Year's Eve parties were legendary and Madonna even popped her head in once or twice. Fabulous, fabulous, times.
Since the Starlite's closing, the legendary Chi Chiz on Christopher Street in Manhattan has also closed. After several raids and closures lead to a protracted legal battle and charges by the New York State Liquor Authority, the owners announced they would close the bar on January 3, 2011. The bar's closure marked the final chapter of Christoper Street's once-fabled reputation of being home to a number of Black gay-owned bars such as Keller's and Two Potato.
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