The bar that started as a sports concept with staff wearing boxer underwear has turned into four successful venues with a fifth one on the way later this year. On the heels of Boxers opening their third New York City location on the Upper East Side, Corey Wesley and I had the opportunity to chat with one of the owners, Bob Fluet, to learn more about what has made this bar so successful and the plans for a location in Washington Heights to open later this summer.
Touted as “America’s favorite gay sports bar,” Boxers is a gay owned and operated chain of bars in New York City and Philadelphia. With three locations in NYC, Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, and now the Upper East Side, Boxers draws an eclectic crowd of men, women, gay and straight clientele. The concept for the bar had always been a sports bar theme and that has clearly been a successful concept.
Our interview with Bob was great. He gave us so much insight into the Boxers world that we have a greater appreciation for what it means to be a bar owner in today’s highly competitive market. When asked what has made Boxers so successful, Bob said the concept works and that the owners give patrons what they want. They maneuver with market demands. He mentioned that the Chelsea bar is different today than when it first opened since they have catered to patrons’ needs. An example of this is when they first opened the bar they created three sound zones for watching the games on the big screen TVs. Patrons were were not necessarily interested in listening to the games, so they redeveloped the sound zones so patrons could hear the music. Boxers was also approached to be an official viewing venue for RuPaul’s Drag Race. They realized the market wanted this and they took it to a whole new level by marketing drag race as a sport. Bob also said that a little luck and a good location play into Boxers’ success.
The history of success at the two NYC locations and one in Philadelphia propelled the owners to develop other neighborhood bars using the Boxers concept. The newest location on the Upper East Side was chosen in part because the subway now extends to that area of the city. Bob said he believes there is a community not being served in that neighborhood so Boxers will attempt to fill a gap.
Another sweet spot where Boxers plans to serve the community is Washington Heights. After months and months of planning and researching, coming later this summer will be yet another location near 159th and Broadway. Washington Heights’ reputation is on the upswing as actors, musicians, a sizable community of lesbians and gays, and middle-class families looking for more space have been lured to the area by it’s more affordable housing prices.
These new locations are outside of the typical gayborhoods, which Bob says will be a good thing for Boxers. He also said that like with the Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen locations, the new venues will have their own learning to do. They will likely take on a sense of their own neighborhood as they become successful in their own ways. But one thing we can still count on is the signature brand, handsome staff who are shirtless and in their boxers.
Another reason Bob believes Boxers has been successful is because they’re not trying to specialize in something. “We’re just a gay bar,” he said. There are some special themed nights but the reality is Boxers is a place to go and enjoy drinks and food with your friends and listen to some music. In a saturated market it becomes a challenge to establish an identity and Boxers doesn’t force anything. “We’re successful for being just a bar.”
We asked Bob what he liked most about being a bar owner and he confidently said he liked running the business and he loves the patrons. He admittedly shared he may not go into his bars often enough, but when he does he can say hello to several people who know him. He loves seeing the regulars socialize and seeing patrons returning to enjoy Boxers. And Bob also shared that some of the challenges are just part of the territory of owning a business in New York City such as regulations, taxes on commercial space, and health department rules and regulations.
We took the opportunity to challenge Bob on a topic which comes up and that’s racism and discrimination in the gay and bar communities. Bob did not shy away from responding and mentioned that Boxers has a zero tolerance policy. He said that there were some other bars in Philadelphia that went through this last year and being part of the community there, bar owners had to take stock of what they could do better. Boxers prides itself on being a welcoming place for everyone. Bob shared that as a business owner of multiple locations they receive all kinds of complaints and that every complaint is investigated. He also mentioned that his bars have video footage and part of every night’s closing report, staff can include video clips which can be reviewed immediately if there is an incident.
When it comes to marketing, social media today is key to getting the word out about Boxers. Bob admits, that in the early days when we had the gay rags, HX and Next Magazine, it was a bit easier to reach the community. Who remembers those initial advertisements in Next Magazine, that displayed just the head of the Boxer dog and then the following week there was the addition of the word “Boxers”? Those ads created buzz and built anticipation of the Chelsea bar’s opening. Everyone was clamoring to understand what it was going to be, a clothing line, a restaurant, a bar, no one quite knew. Today it might be more of a challenge, but Bob has a strong marketing and social media team working to promote the brand and get the word out.
So what’s in store for 2018? Aside from the two new locations in NYC, Bob said, “as long as the client base likes us, as long as the brand works, we’re going to see where it goes and see where it takes us.”
Boxers UES, 1664 3rd Avenue | Boxers HK, 742 9th Avenue | Boxers Chelsea, 37 West 20th |Boxers PHL, 1330 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA