Longtime regulars of the Starlite Lounge, the self-proclaimed oldest gay-friendly, black-owned watering hole in Brooklyn, are rallying to keep their establishment alive after the building was sold and the new owners signaled that they don’t want the bar on the ground floor.
The watering hole — at the corner of Bergen Street and Nostrand Avenue in Crown Heights — has been ordered to close shop by Jan. 15, though bar manager Tim La’Viticus says he’ll fight in court for a lease renewal.
“If we lose this, I don’t know where these people would go,” he said. “They’d be scattered, and there’s nothing like your neighborhood bar.”
La’Viticus and owner Dennis Parrott-King received a letter late last year stating that the building had been sold for about $455,000, a figure confirmed by the Department of Finance. And though La’Viticus admits having been late on the rent once or twice, he is frustrated that he was not offered a chance to buy the building, or offered a new lease.
Next, he got the letter telling him to get out by next Friday.
In the meantime, La’Viticus and Parrott-King are plotting their next move: either taking the new owner to court or moving to get the Starlite Lounge protected as a historic venue.
If the bar isn’t officially the oldest gay bar in the borough, it’s certainly an icon. Some of its patrons who filtered in on Wednesday night — after being buzzed-in by the transgender diva at the door — have been using the place as a community hub for 30 years. Plenty of old-timers still show up, as they have since the Starlite Lounge opened in the 1960s.
“It’s a family — no, it’s a home to a variety of characters around here,” said La’Viticus.
Gay or not, customers don’t have too many options in the neighborhood, added Debbie Griffin, a cousin of Parrott-King and someone who’s been a part of the impromptu family for some 42 years.
“There are very few American black-owned bars left in the community, and even fewer places that cater to an alternative lifestyle,” she said. “It’s a safe-haven for anyone in need, and while it does have a large gay clientele, we say hi to people from all walks on a daily basis.”
Thirty-one-year regular Kim Knott hopes that La’Viticus will be successful in playing the history card.
“The people who come here have bricks in the wall — how can you remove them?” she said.
Starlite Lounge [1084 Bergen St. at Nostrand Avenue in Crown Heights, (718) 771-3340]
©2010 Community News Group
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