Oldest LGBTQ Bar in Hell’s Kitchen Closes Permanently



The Posh bar on West 51st Street. Photo by Jordan Gonsalves

For 23 years, Posh, Hell’s Kitchen’s first and oldest gay bar, had lines of people waiting to get inside. Today, its storefront is empty. The windows are blacked out and there’s fencing around the doors. It’s a barren space, except for the pride flag that still hangs above.

Posh had become a mainstay for the LGBTQ community in Hell’s Kitchen. “This was the ‘Cheers’ bar of the neighborhood,” said Adam Sonnenberg, who bartended at Posh for 12 years.

But after months of little to no revenue due to COVID-19 capacity rules, the bar struggled to pay rent and other expenses. What was expected to be a temporary closing in late Summer 2020 turned into a permanent one, leaving a community still feeling the loss.

 “I was shocked when it closed,” said Sonnenberg. “We never closed for anything. We were open on every holiday, during hurricanes, blackouts, even 9/11. This was a place for queer people without family to have a home.”

Posh manager David Lopez agreed. “Everyone knew each other’s names. If I didn’t see a customer for two days, I would text them and ask if they’re OK,” said Lopez.

Gabriel Marquez was a loyal patron of Posh for 20 years. “I was the mayor of Posh,” said Marquez. “I started going there when I was 30. Now I’m 50. I met all my best friends there, and I still see them everyday.” Marquez’s partner passed away in early 2020, just before COVID-19. “It was my Posh family that was my support system. They got me through,” said Marquez.

Posh’s history dates back almost 25 years. The club opened in the late 1990s when Hell’s Kitchen was notorious for organized crime. At the time, most gay clubs were in Chelsea, an area that was becoming unaffordable to young bar-goers. 

Tom Greco, the founder and owner of Posh, said he wanted to build gay nightlife in a neighborhood that was affordable while also accessible to gay international tourists staying in Times Square. “I wanted the gay community to have a safe haven in Midtown, where they felt respected and equal,” said Greco.

Over the years, Posh attracted a diverse clientele that kept coming back and was profitable pre-pandemic. “It was flooded with people every night,” said Kedwin Zapata, a Posh bartender. 

That changed when the pandemic hit and New York City shut down in March 2020. Posh reopened that summer after then Governor Andrew Cuomo allowed restaurants to sell to-go drinks under limited conditions. “We knew we wouldn’t make much money. We only opened for the community,” said Lopez. But even with the constraints around capacity, outdoor seating, and limited hours, Posh was re-growing fast.  “It was like a block party every night outside Posh,” said Zapata.

But the outdoor fellowship was not welcomed by everyone. There were complaints to police about noise and operating after hours. In a video recording of a Community Board 4 meeting in June 2020, Jon Mandel, who lives near Posh, voiced his concerns about the bar. “Bad neighbors shouldn’t be rewarded,” said Mandel.

Lopez said Posh complied with every rule the state implemented but noted poor communication on the state’s part. “It felt as though the rules were changing every week,” said Lopez, who added that he felt as though bars were being set up to fail with the types of laws being imposed around capacity and space.

“People want to comply. They just don’t know what’s going on,” said Graig Linn, a member of the Hell’s Kitchen Block Association, at the June community board meeting. “Posh didn’t know what was going on, but they did close their doors every day at 8 p.m. and served food.”

Every time Posh was found in violation of a rule, they were charged upwards of $5,000 per infraction. With mounting legal fees combined with rent issues and wages that still needed to be paid, Posh decided to close its doors. “We were only making a third of pre-pandemic revenue. It wasn’t enough to pay for it all,” said Lopez.

Posh isn’t the only popular LGBTQ venue to close in Hell’s Kitchen during the pandemic. Three others have closed too, including Therapy, a famous venue known for its drag shows. Owner Tom Johnson said the club helped bring drag culture to mainstream audiences. Roughly 20 of its performers went on to compete in and sometimes win “Rupaul’s Drag Race,” an Emmy-winning series. Like other bars across America during the pandemic, Therapy couldn’t withstand months of zero revenue. “The rent and property taxes became too much. I was losing $60,000 every month,” said Johnson. 

Posh’s venue has since been rented by Jasper’s, an Irish pub located next door.

“We all miss it horribly,” said Marquez. “If it were still there, we’d be there everyday.”

Sonnenberg agreed. “It was more than a bar, it was a community.”