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Just a year after its much-heralded opening, a lawsuit alleging widespread managerial racism, discrimination and illegal practices has rocked The Q — one of Hell’s Kitchen’s most popular multilevel bar, club and performance venues.
According to a publicly filed lawsuit by former partner Frankie Sharp against Q co-owners Robert Fluet and Alan Picus, Sharp “was, in a word: ‘gaslit’. The deterioration of the corporate culture at the Q did not happen overnight. These things never do,” he said on Instagram in a statement elaborating on the complaint.
Sharp, Fluet and Picus opened the club in 2021 and it quickly became a local favorite — even earning a runner-up in the W42ST Best Newcomer awards. Fluet is also a co-owner of Hush Bar as well as the recently reopened Boxers.
Sharp alleges that Picus engaged in racist and derogatory behavior towards the customers and employees of the Q, telling Sharp to make the space “comfortable for white twinks” and not to “alienate the white boys”, while simultaneously discriminating against patrons who “looked like they were from the Bronx”. Picus allegedly told a candidate interviewing for a bar manager position “I don’t need to break my back to hire people just because they’re black or trans” while Sharp, who was in charge of programming, was also allegedly told by Picus to “Make sure your Latin nights are the good kind of Latins. Not Blatinos.” Sharp goes on to state that four senior managers quit or were fired in the first year of the club’s operation due to conflict with Picus.
Sharp additionally alleges that Picus ordered security to stop checking underage patrons’ IDs, causing The Q to develop “a reputation as the place to go for underage drinking. This allegation imperiled Bar Fluid’s [the Q’s DBA] liquor license among other liabilities,” according to the complaint. Sharp additionally stated that Picus made specific orders to the security team to allow the illegal drug GHB (known colloquially as a “date rape” and “euphoric party drug”) into the club — noting that when the security team attempted to confiscate said GHB, Picus responded: “I’m going to read Edwin [the head of security] the riot act. They’re taking our boys’ GHB away.”
The Q had positioned itself as a venue redefining queer spaces — which have historically been plagued with racism — with a strict no-tolerance policy for discriminatory behavior, stating on their website: “THE Q provides affirming, welcoming space for all to enjoy. Violent rhetoric or action, non-consensual touching, or any form of racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, sizeist, ageist, ableist, conduct will not be tolerated.” Sharp alleged that despite the outward display of good faith, Picus’s managerial practices ran directly counter to their mission statement.
According to the complaint filed, Sharp took his concerns as well as corroborating security footage to Fluet, who told him that he could either resign with “four percent of net profits for the remainder of the lease and a small cash disbursement in exchange for signing a non-disclosure agreement (‘NDA’)” or have his employment terminated. Sharp refused to sign the NDA and Fluet terminated his employment on May 23 2022 as an at-will employee without cause.
“I was frightened, diminished, silenced and intimidated, but ultimately just disgusted by the circumstances around my club,” said Sharp in his statement. “When my last desperate ultimatums were ignored, my final and only recourse was in the law.”
In a response to the lawsuit, posted on Instagram, Fluet said that Alan Picus would be departing his role as Executive Producer of the club: “While we vehemently deny the hurtful allegations that have recently surfaced, we are committed to end the very division within our community that Q’s programming and mission were designed to combat. Luis Fernando, who was hired in mid-June to fill the role of Creative Director, will be taking over Alan Picus’s role as Executive Producer of the Q. I look forward to what Luis will create.”
He added: “On a personal note, I remain committed to fostering an open dialogue on how the Q can better serve our community and I will continue to invest in educating my staff — and myself — on the unique issues our community collectively faces. I will always strive to move the agenda forward for all, through my continued support of LGBTQIA+ organizations, non-profits, political leaders and communities of color. No form of racism, transphobia, colorism, or any other form of discrimination has been or will be tolerated at any of my venues. This is my commitment to you.”
There have been strong reactions from the Hell’s Kitchen and greater LGBTQIA+ community, with many taking to social media to express their distress at the unfolding allegations. Said Marti Gould Cummings in a statement on Instagram: “The horrible reality is in so many nightlife venues inclusivity and acceptance is not the norm. I will no longer be working at these venues and I should have left a long time ago. Trans, Black, Latino, Indigenous, AAPI, Disabled, Women must be welcome in all queer spaces.” Added community member Aaron Hock on Instagram: “Let’s hold a town hall before anything else, to listen to what the community ACTUALLY wants and needs. Let’s burn it down before we try to remodel, because the foundation is weak.”
W42ST has reached out to Sharp, Picus and Fluet for additional comment and will update if we hear back.