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Just in time for the final weeks of PRIDE, much-loved 9th Avenue Saloon and Boxers are getting back in the New York groove. Both are set to reopen in Hell’s Kitchen before the end of the month’s festivities!
Boxers is getting ready to open its new bar this evening (Friday 6/17 at 8pm) — on 9th Avenue just south of W50th Street, diagonally opposite its old home. Meanwhile, 9th Avenue Saloon is hoping to get open this weekend – but will definitely be there for PRIDE weekend. W42ST got the chance to take sneak peek behind the scenes.
For Bob Fluet, co-owner of Boxers, “it’s been a long process” to reopen the popular sports bar again in Hell’s Kitchen. “We actually signed our lease on the new building 18 months ago. I’m also the general contractor so it’s been kind of cool getting it built, but it’s always a long, arduous process,” he said.
Fluet, who also co-owns HK newcomers Hush and The Q (celebrating its first anniversary), was grateful for the support of the community as they worked to get Boxers back on the map. “The neighborhood is great too. We deal with the local block associations, the community boards — everybody really works together,” he added.
A veteran of the commercial real estate industry, even before COVID-19, Fluet was used to the ups and downs of the weathering a bar through crisis. “I got involved in the bar business back in 2009 when the economy collapsed,” he said. “But COVID did not help us at Boxers. Certain landlords were willing to work with us while certain landlords weren’t, so we couldn’t stay where we were.”
The team’s next challenge was to find a new space that could host Boxers’ iconic rooftop, a favorite among many bargoers. “That’s not easy to do,” said Fluet. “If you think about Hell’s Kitchen, it’s all rowhouses and there’s very little uniqueness about them. So it was really nice to find this space.”
“It’s a unique space,” he added. “It’s got double height space, a mezzanine overlooking, a lower level, a separate bar and club for parties, and of course, the roof deck — we’re so happy to have four levels,” he added. “Our community is really, really gonna love it.”
Boxers plans to open this weekend in time for a new round of PRIDE festivities. “We’re not hosting a specific PRIDE party, but our whole PRIDE season will be about introducing the new Hell’s Kitchen location,” said Fluet. “The lines will be out the door.”
He cited the longtime support and loyal patronage of the neighborhood, which he argues is the heart of New York’s LGBTQIA+ community. “Hell’s Kitchen is the real center — no matter what’s going on in Brooklyn and going elsewhere, Hell’s Kitchen really is the central location for our community and still the essential the lifeblood of our gay community.”
He is looking forward to welcoming regulars and newcomers alike back to the beloved rooftop this summer: “We treat our spaces like safe havens. You can come in and feel safe here. I think our neighborhood appreciates that in all the locations that they can come and know that they’re in a safe haven no matter what their LGBTQIA+ status is — and our staff represents that right across the board as well, which is amazing.”
Over at the 9th Avenue Saloon, a new team is taking over the decades-old landmark for its second act. “We’re a new ownership team, but we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” said co-owner Tim De Iturriaga, who has previously run popular gay clubs like the Adonis Lounge in Midtown East. “We’re keeping everything as it was,” he added.
After the beloved saloon first closed, readers flooded W42ST with their memories. One reader described the bar as “The ‘Cheers’ of Hell’s Kitchen and a staple for over 30 years! My memories of The Saloon are deep, sometimes drunken, and there are definitely nights I don’t remember. It will forever live on in my memories through the books I have from their infamous community library and the million photobooth photos in my apartment. The bartenders always poured strong, the over-salted popcorn was never ending and there was never a dull conversation or moment!”
Said another of the nightly crowd: “In terms of a community — there was, day or night, the diverse balance of neighborhood folks, commuters, tourists, musical-theater queens, Broadway kids, and daddy bears.”
De Iturriaga said the chance to reconnect with Hell’s Kitchen patrons was one of the best parts of planning the relaunch. “We’ve had the opportunity to engage with a lot of the local people who live in Hell’s Kitchen — anytime we’ve been there, working people just stroll in, and we’ve had awesome conversations. People are really excited about the reopening, and bringing back the history of the bar,” he added. “People are really enthused, which gives us the energy to keep going.”
Hoping to relaunch in time for the final weekend of PRIDE, De Iturriaga said that the “saloon itself will be the party —I think just reopening it becomes the PRIDE party.”
He is looking forward to welcoming back longtime patrons “who’ve created the lore of the 9th Avenue Saloon. They’re the important piece of the whole thing,” he said. “It’s got a long, storied history — so to be part of that and have the opportunity to carry it on and freshen it up is an honor.”
While his team plans to bring the 9th Avenue Saloon into a new era, De Iturriaga said that patrons can expect some of their favorite elements to be right where they left them.
“The popcorn machine will return,” he said. “That’s the most important thing — the popcorn machine will be operational on day one.”