NYC: Married Couple Opens 'Lambda Lounge,' Second Gay Bar In Harlem Created For Black LGBTQ Patrons
In an era where gay bars appear to be a relic of the past, and Black owned gay bars are all but extinct in most major cities, the Black LGBTQ community in New York City will now have two nightlife options created specifically with our community in mind. Alibi, a Black gay bar located in Harlem, was saved from closure last month by crowdfunding. And the entrepreneurs behind the latest Harlem bar, Lambda Lounge, are married couple Charles Hughes and Richard Solomon. Together for ten years and married for three, the couple behind Lambda Vodka has so far managed to survive the impact of the coronavirus on their business, although the grand opening had to be delayed—a soft launch is scheduled for this weekend.
Mikelle Street of Out Magazine sat down with the couple to discuss how they got into the bar industry and the importance of the space.
How has the reception been with the vodka?
Charles: A lot of stores weren't initially receptive due to it being a new spirit brand, and it didn't have a big name behind it. We didn't get a lot of traction there. We were able to get into a few stories in Harlem and we did find a lot of opportunities with a lot of the LGBTQ organizations here in New York. We were able to constantly to private events with them. So, not being able to move into a lot of liquor stores and bars, gave us the idea of well, why not have our own bar and sell our spirit to our clientele in that bar.
We kind of killed two birds with that stone because the urban LGBTQ+ community in New York City doesn't have a lounge specifically for us. So that was the idea behind that.
Were there any other contributing moments to opening the lounge?
Richard: I think Charles and I have different outlooks on what kind of launched the idea of the lounge. For me personally, a little while ago we were out at a location here in Harlem. We were out with a couple of friends and this was a straight establishment. We were dancing and drinking and all of a sudden the DJ stopped the entire party by stopping the music.
All of a sudden you hear him screaming in the microphone "men don't dance with men." It kind of shocked everybody because that's not something that you normally hear when you are out trying to have a good time. Most of us were part of the LGBTQ+ community, but we did have some straight friends with us that were thrown back by this. So for me, that was a large part of wanting to make this lounge. We wanted to be able to have a safe space for people of the LGBTQ+ community and especially people of color. Unfortunately, the days of us having spaces where we could go and cut loose are over; they shut them all down.
We're trying to bring that back.
So tell me about the process of getting things together.
Richard: Well, we've been working on this project, we've been working on this location, for our community for about a year. You know, literally days before we were about to have our grand opening, we got hit with the whole shut down.
It's a little more difficult for us, for a location that hadn't even opened yet because you haven't had the opportunity to build any revenue. Locations that have been open for some time they're able to build revenues; they have that cushion, so they can sustain months of a shutdown like this because they have stockpiles of money. Unfortunately, we never had the opportunity to gain any revenue.
We've been bearing the cost of getting the place, then getting the place renovated and dressing it up the way we wanted to dress it up — and you know we're gay, so we tend to be a little extravagant. So we were bearing that cost believing that we could make some money from it and when we go to do that we are halted but still have the burden of rent, utilities, and other overhead costs.
This weekend you guys planned to open for a soft launch. Can you talk about that a little?
Charles: We thought why not bring the inside, outside. So we created three sections outside of the locations with lounge couches, all the tables are LED and we provide games like Jenga to keep an entertainment factor.
You are now the second existing Black-owned gay nightlife space in New York City; had you all worked with Alexi Minko of Alibi?
Richard: We had worked with him on an event before and he also carried Lambda Vodka. But we need more. They are right down the street from us and there's more than enough people in our community for both of us to survive.
Watch the couple talk about their new lounge in the clip below.