Sign up for our W42ST Daily newsletter. Get a Hell’s Kitchen glow every morning!

It’s a New York gay bar institution, but for Jacqui Squatriglia, the pride of Flaming Saddles never gets old

Owning a gay country western bar was my dream for 20 years.

Then I met Chris, my partner and, as our relationship got more serious, he said: “Do you want to get married and have kids? Or do you want to have fun?” I chose fun, and he said: “Well, what do you want to do?” I said: “Open up a gay country western bar and see the boys do my dances.” He said: “OK, if we call it Flaming Saddles, I’m in.”

I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like

I knew I wanted the flock wallpaper, I knew what I wanted the bar top to look like. I even knew what I wanted the boys to wear. Chris location scouted and found the spot on 9th Ave – 52nd/53rd St. Once we got the lease, we were open in 30 days. That was seven and a half years ago.

I was shocked

People kept saying: “Oh great! Another gay bar in the neighborhood!” I couldn’t believe the pushback we got.

Other people said: “The boys will have to have their shirts off!”

They said: “You’ll have to have a DJ, you can’t do a jukebox. And they certainly can’t wear cowboy boots.” There was a list of people telling me: “Listen, I’m happy for you, but it’s not going to work.” I said: “Well, I AM putting a jukebox in, they’re going to wear jeans and cowboy boots, they’re going to keep their shirts on, and they’re going to dance.”

I love the audition process

I still do most of the hiring. And I have to like the boys first. People think they have to dance for me, but I always say that if I like you, I’ll teach you to dance. If you’re a dancer, I’ll teach you to bartend. They’re tall, small, they’re all different. But, basically, I have to have a feeling for them.

We’re a gay bar first, but we’re open to anybody

Everybody gets treated with the same service. Sometimes bachelorette parties get a little crazy. That’s why I have the “Straight girls no woo-hooing” sign above the bar. When we first opened, I think girls thought it was a strip club or something. They would come in groups of 20 or 30, screaming and yelling and getting up on the bar and pulling at the boys. I was like: “Enough!” So now they just point to the sign. If you’re gonna woo-hoo, you can go.

Everybody’s got someone gay in their family

That’s the beauty of this bar. From the very beginning, people would say: “Oh my God! I can bring my Aunt Tilly in here!” Or: “Chris, can you talk to my father? He’s parked his Harley outside.” Mothers come in and say to me: “Jacqui, thank you. My son doesn’t tell me where
he goes but I know he’s here and he’s safe because you’re here.” And they’re crying and I’m like: “Will you buy her some tequila please?!” I still get goosebumps about it.

I’d love to write a book about the things people have told me

I remember all the coming out stories. This one kid, Dylan, was run out of town. His grandmother said: “Get in the car and go!” He was 18 or 21. He was sitting in the bar one night and told me his story – he’s been a regular since.

When I’m not at Flaming Saddles

I like to go to steak houses, not only for the food but because they have the best wine. I’m a regular at Porter House – it has a fantastic view and first-class service. Tim Brown is the best maitre d’ ever. I love The Palm. A caricature of Chris and I is on the wall. Ask any of the boys – we sit in my regular booth and see how much atomic horseradish we can stand without crying! Kilo, is another favorite. LJ understands my palate and always pours me a glass of something delightful. Georgio’s serves anything you could possibly be craving … and more

Kahve, thanks to Erol Zeren, is across the street from FS and my go-to for an extra hot oat latte … or 2 or 3, depending on how the day is going. And I’ve been going to Nine Nails for my manicures since I moved to Hells Kitchen – ask for Grace.

Do I regret choosing fun over marriage and kids?

No regrets. It was the best decision I’ve made.

This interview originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of W42ST magazine. Stay in touch with W42ST and be first to read stories like this when you receive our daily newsletter. Join the conversation at w42st.com.