As a native New Yorker, I’m a little bias when it comes to NYC and gay nightlife. NYC is one of the best places to mix and mingle. The gay bar/club scene, however, has changed over the years and new bars are opening all over the city.
One neighborhood that’s seen a lot of change is Chelsea; some might say for the better and others might say the opposite. Chelsea in the 90’s was mecca for gay men, but then came the explosion of Hell’s Kitchen as the new gayborhood in New York City and suddenly Chelsea was no longer the place to go.
Chelsea holds a special place in my heart and reminds me of a period when I was a fearless party monster. Every night in NYC, there was somewhere to be and somewhere to go. Chelsea was the destination for a fun night. Chelsea has been a festive place and I have also enjoyed the character of the neighborhood that has carried it through the years.
It’s not until recently that I started finding myself back in Chelsea, and beginning to wonder, is Chelsea finding it’s gay mojo again?
All my friends have been flocking back to Chelsea, and it’s in part because of REBAR Chelsea, “an original re-imagination of the former G Bar space with all the things you loved about G Bar, especially the hot bartenders,” (taken from a reviewer on Yelp.)
REBAR is making Chelsea a destination spot, and we’re so excited about it. Personally, I like REBAR a lot. It reminds me of the late 90’s and what NYC bars used to be like. I love the industrial, dark appeal but there is still some sophistication.
The crowd is mature, and if you asked me to describe the decor, it’s a mash-up of all of NYC’s gay bars. I love the bar so much we recently photographed our collection of Kinkster NYC gear there. I love the space and the atmosphere…it’s a sexy mutha f-ing place.
Having our photoshoot at REBAR also gave me the opportunity to chat with one of the owners, Franco, who I found to be caring, welcoming, and a real supporter of the LGBTQ community.
It’s been a couple of months since my enjoyable chat with Franco but our conversation sparked my desire to find out more about the bar, what it’s like to be a bar owner in NYC, and the resurgence of Chelsea. Franco was gracious enough to sit down with us for a rapid-fire interview.
Chelsea was once a gay mecca, but the gayborhood moved north to Hell’s Kitchen. Why did you decide to open REBAR in Chelsea?
There are just so many bars all competing for the same crowd of people in Hell’s Kitchen, we thought to try something different down here. As the saying goes “Everything Old is New Again”.
G Lounge, another gay bar, once occupied the current space. What was it about the space and location that attracted you to it?
I produced events and managed at G Lounge for almost a decade. I always loved the space and the neighborhood and have many great memories here. When I was approached to take over the space after it was closing, I was skeptical. But it still feels like home and I’m looking forward to making many more happy memories here.
What were some of the initial goals when you opened REBAR? Have any of your initial goals for the bar changed in this first year?
When my partners and I opened we wanted to be a simple neighborhood bar with no distractions. Just come in for good drinks, great music and to meet people. But then reality hit and we realized Chelsea had changed more than we had anticipated. The gay crowd here is more mature and loves happy hour events. So we had to change the business model to include shows and parties and dancers to create a destination scene at night. Now we have a full roster of amazing events every night of the week, MARQUEE Mondays, Drink & Draw on Tuesday, DUDE (I’d Like to F*ck) on Wednesday, PB&Bubbles a Drag Race All-Stars screening on Thursday, Flash (me) Fridays, MADDHAUS, MALE Room and RAM on Fridays, FUQBOI Dance Party on Saturdays and Show Tunes Sunday and Bad Bitch Review on Sunday.
What does it take for a gay bar to be successful in New York City? Describe the crowd and vibe at Rebar and what’s the most popular night?
My partners and I went into this process with a strong business model for REBAR after over a year of planning. But then quickly realized that the model was not fitting the demographic so we not only had to tweak the model, we basically have to re-envision our plan to include a wide variety of evening events, not just to be a day pub. So I truly believe that success is the ability to be flexible with your ideas.
We used to have the gay nightlife mags like Next Magazine and HX which highlighted all the bars and clubs. How do you get the word out about Rebar in today’s social media era?
Social media is the biggest promotional tool for bars and clubs these days. We have our own web presence through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as well as a website that promotes all of our events. We also hire the best promoters, DJs, and artists in the city to help push the content to as many customers as we can reach, and we have a great relationship with Mike at Get Out.
How have you seen nightlife change over the last 5 to 7 years?
It seems like there are a lot more competition and a lot less sense of family. Rather than working together, it seems everyone is at odds. We’re all one big gay family and we should all work together to make nightlife fun again.
What do you like most about being one of the bar owners at REBAR? What do you like least?
The best part of owning REBAR is the realization of a ten-year dream come true. The feeling of accomplishment is awesome. But then there is the reality that some dreams are not always what you thought they would be. Owning my own bar I now work six to seven days a week, and always on the weekends, so I have much less personal time than ever before. Fortunately, my experiences with my patrons are a great way or working and socializing together. I’ve always enjoyed working with people and meeting so many different people from our diverse crowd really make me happy.
What have been some of the bar’s successes and challenges since opening?
The fact that we’re helping to breathe a new life into a legendary space is also something great for the community. It’s not another iconic gay venue lost to big development and the commercialization of our neighborhood(s).
What’s in store for REBAR in 2018?
Continuing to build on OUR dream by adding more shows with great entertainment and more weekly and monthly dance parties with awesome DJs and sexy beats so that everyone can make some new happy memories in a space filled with positive energy over the last three decades.
REBAR Chelsea, 225 West 19th Street