It’s truly an unprecedented time. In the midst of a global pandemic that has shuttered businesses, protests have broken out nationwide following the police killing of George Floyd. Nightlife has rightfully ground to a standstill for the time being, but particularly for LGBTQ+ nightlife, could permanently alter the landscape as many of these establishments were already in a precarious position. This uncertain future was one that Alibi Lounge, reportedly the only Black-owned gay bar in Manhattan, faced until a few passionate youth got involved.
Here we talk to Alexi Minko, founder of the venue, about how things have been in the pandemic, how he’s been trying to keep the business going, and why it’s important he keep his doors open. The company currently has a GoFundMe that has raised $21,000 of a $50,000 goal.
Why did you start Alibi and why specifically in Harlem?
I moved to Harlem from downtown in 2015. I was walking up and down the street and I realized there was no LGBTQ+ establishment in the neighborhood. I’m a little older so having to go downtown every time I wanted a drink was weird to me. I didn’t want to have to go so far out of my neighborhood to go to an openly gay bar.
In Gabon, I started the gay bar Hyte in partnership with my best friend so I already that experience so why not in Harlem. I wanted to give the Black and brown LGBTQ+ community that was close to their home and that played music that they identify with. It was really to serve the community here uptown.
Can you think of one thing that’s sort of indicative of the impact the bar has had on the community?
Oh yes, absolutely! Boxers just opened up here, but before Boxers I think that people knowing that there was an LGBTQ+ establishment up here that was proudly displaying the LGBTQ+ flag at the door made some establishments who had gay owners decide to do the same. So there were other places that began to put the flag in their windows and then eventually Boxers came.
I also know that if it wasn’t for [the pandemic,] there was a gay bar that was supposed to open on Adam Clayton Powell. I think Alibi had finalized the fact that people were ready for this. I couldn’t be more happy; I didn’t want to be the only spot in the neighborhood. I wanted to have a vibrant economy, a vibrant spirit. Why not create a gay neighborhood where people could go from one bar to another bar, or to a hair salon, or bike shop. Something where you can feel a sense of Black gay identity.
How have things been since shutting down for the pandemic?
March 16 is when we had to shut down. I know New York City is only in phase one and I think bars and restaurants in phase three. It’s been really difficult because we’re closed but our bills continue. We still have to pay rent, we still have to pay electricity, we have to pay phone and electricity and taxes. So this is where the fundraising has come in. And like we’ve said in our posts we really appreciate all the hard work and dedication young people have put into making it go viral and successful.
You guys started doing the to-go drinks right? Are you finding success there?
Yes, we started that about two weeks ago. At some point, we had to do something since we weren’t able to open. We started and then with the tragedy of George Floyd and the protests we shut down. [Monday] was the first day we re-opened partially but only for take-out and to-go.
I also read you were broken into right?
Yes, it was weird! Very weird. We have a delivery service and it was broad daylight. So the security system was on, it rings the alarm, they call me and say I have to go there. When I arrived there was someone at the top of the stairs and it was bizarre because they were like “hi, I just arrived I’m a delivery person and the door was open. But I got the wrong address.” But that was a crock of bullshit because we had been closed since March 16. So I walk inside and look around and it seemed like nothing was touched and by the time I walked back outside the person was gone. Then the cops arrived and when I went to the till all the cash was gone.
That’s actually one of the reasons for the partial reopening; if there’s some foot traffic, it will discourage people from breaking in.
You guys are looking to raise $50,000 through the GoFundMe, right?
Yes, I think that will get us through the rest of the year. I was contacted by a young person on social media who really mobilized the troops and made sure that the GoFundMe took off. And in less than 24 hours, he mobilized his friends and his network and they managed to raise $15,000. It’s mindblowing to me to see young people can embrace a cause and make things happen.