The well-loved East Village bar, the Phoenix (447 East 13th Street), is back and open for business under new ownership.
Brenda Walsh, who reopened the bar September 1st, has spruced up the old gay hangout while keeping its original vibe intact.
Located between 1st Avenue and Avenue A and open from 4pm to 4am, every day, the Phoenix is spacious for the East Village. It has a dark, oldfashioned brick and wood ambiance with a bar counter that dates back 70 years. The famed indie rock and pop playing jukebox still has its place on the wall with such favorites such as Wanda Jackson, David Bowie, Peaches and Adele ready to go. Walsh also kept the pool table adjacent to the bar with surrounding seating making it easy to intimately converse while shooting a game.
An aficionado of antiques, Walsh added her own décor—hanging framed antique newspaper clippings of the end of prohibition, and John Lennon and John F. Kennedy’s assassinations—among vintage beer posters. The floor was replaced and she said she and her crew spent a lot of time just cleaning, especially the bathrooms, which she also plans to renovate. Hopefully Walsh will retain the “GO wall,” a collage of GO Magazine covers in the ladies’ room. “The bar was very run down,” Walsh said. “It was very dirty and it needed a lot of tender love and care.”
Walsh, who owned the Irish pub Dr. Gilbert’s Café in the Bronx for six years, had been looking for a new bar when she found it listed on Craigslist. With the help of her investors Ann Murray and Kathleen Hughes, they scooped the place up. Walsh was thrilled to find a location that already had the perfect customer base. “I liked the fact that it was already a gay bar,” said Walsh, adding that the crowd is mixed and that’s the way she wants to keep it. “Nobody is
looking at you like you have two heads.”
Walsh encourages bands looking to perform and artists willing to show their work to contact her. She wants to continue the tradition of holding queer live music events and the popular monthly Tuesday night draw, Sideshow: Queer Literary Carnival, which was hosted by writers Sinclair Sexsmith and the late Cheryl B.
With new ownership comes new energy, and ladies looking for a new party in the area will be happy to hear DJ Stacy is promoting a new lesbian night every Saturday. The party, “Girls Night Out to Act Out” presented by Down Town Girlz, offers a no-cover entry that will feature different DJs every week at Stacy’s side. Already on the bill are DJs Whitney Day, Lezz Van Halen, Alex Tech, Liza, Nasty and RMX. “It’s downtown and east-side. There hasn’t been a party out here in a long time,” said DJ Stacy, adding that though the night is catering to the ladies, the event is open to everyone. “I’ll always be there to greet everybody and I’m really excited about this new venture. Brenda is amazing. She wants everybody be themselves and have a great time.”
There is also a popular Friday night party that brings in a mostly gay but women-friendly neighborhood crowd.
As for the patrons, “it’s hip, cool and young but accessible, with a laid back atmosphere,” said Garrett Ford, a bartender. “It’s not pretentious at all. And, it has some of the cheapest drinks in the East Village.”
Drink specials include $2 pints of Budweiser, $3 well drinks, $3 wines and $3 domestic bottles from 4pm to 8pm every day. Each night there are different specials as well, with another happy hour from 10pm to 4am.
There hasn’t been a lesbian-owned gay and lesbian bar in the East Village since Meow Mix closed in 2004, so this development is a boost to downtown nightlife. Walsh said she’d love to see the Phoenix become the next hot spot for the LGBT crowd, yet wants to keep the same community and patrons who have been supporting the bar for years, many of whom are gay men. She recognizes the bar had a good thing going and wants to keep that energy alive.
Still, she said the reason why there aren’t many lesbian-owned bars is due to the conventional wisdom that many lesbians don’t go out except on weekends, a theory that makes it hard to pay the bills. She points to Cubby Hole in the West Village as becoming a mixed space, instead of a mostly lesbian lounge.
“It’s not a lesbian bar but it’s very open to gay women,” Walsh said of the Phoenix. “I just want people to come in, have fun and meet people; I want customers to feel it’s their home away from home.”