Good morning. I have a tip this morning that will could save you hours… I’ve been calling the IRS since last September to sort a refund. My longest hold has been three-and-a-half hours (which I then got cut off from). This morning, I learned a trick. Call at exactly 7am (not 6:59am — I tried that, they were closed). I got through immediately, spoke to a most helpful guy who was fresh and ready for the day — and although I didn’t get the answer I wanted, it was all done in 15 minutes. You’re welcome!

Yesterday’s email summarizing the loss of Hell’s Kitchen businesses and residents during the pandemic was lacking in the most important statistic — the loss of friends and loved ones to COVID-19.

“My sister-in-law died from COVID-19 exactly one year ago today. Besides the 116 Hells Kitchen residents who officially died from COVID-19, there are many more of us who lost family and friends who didn’t live in the neighborhood, and this is a bittersweet time of year when those memorials begin hitting home,” wrote Gregg. “I don’t know if it’s a uniquely American focus to mourn the loss of businesses and residents, but to gloss over the actual deaths of human beings.”

As we move forward, we should not forget all the people who have died. Many neighbors carry a very real human void that is irreplaceable, no matter how many businesses reopen or people move back into the neighborhood.

One of the challenges of editing is what to leave out. So many readers submitted their memories of neighborhood COVID closures. One shared a wonderful piece of prose on the 9th Avenue Saloon (and we published a short piece of it with an anonymous credit — as somehow in our tech we lost their name!). Luckily, Douglas Berger got in touch to reattach to his writing (which is published below).

Even before I moved around the corner from the Ninth Avenue Saloon — though it will always be Cleo’s to me — in 1995, I loved this colorful, cozy, comfortable place. I would come up from DC to visit my buddy Ray here in Hell’s Kitchen, and off we’d go in search of cocktails and cock. Once I moved here, the saloon became one of my favorite gay places in all of the city. In a gay-male culture where the young and beautiful reigned supreme, this place was unusually inclusive and welcoming.

As for my Cleo’s memories… where to begin? 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. The fun of seeing a bar-full of men turning their heads toward the door each time it opened, offering up another man to assess. Its staff — some taciturn, some effusive, all pros. An eclectic jukebox. Popcorn and Sunday-night hotdogs. Cigarette smoke back in the day. Tons of theater stories and gossip. Drag shows. Festive celebrations. And remembering the departed.

In terms of the personal, there were conversations with cherished friends on life, love, and the meaning of it all. Meeting strangers and swapping life stories. My booze-fueled hopes of a Happily Ever After or dramatic self-despair of a solitary, spinsterish future. Tricks or (more likely) busts that sent me wobbling home with Ben & Jerry’s. And the constant allure of staring out Cleo’s front window from my barstool onto Ninth Avenue’s Theater of Humanity, which was—and remains—one of the best shows in town.

While in recent years I dropped by only a few times a year, typically to gab with Ray as old friends do, Cleo’s — OK, Ninth Avenue Saloon — was the center of my gay NYC life for decades. But now it is gone — and so, too, are the nearly 30 years since I first visited. Hell’s Kitchen sure isn’t what it was back then, nor am I. So, every time I now walk past it, my heart whimpers. I lament its passing, yet I also gratefully embrace my many indelible, bittersweet memories of the saloon, the community it attracted, and its role in my NYC life.

My Wish: That all people get to have a Cleo’s in their lives.

Also, thanks to Rocco for reminding us that before Cleo’s it was called Town & Country.

Yesterday afternoon, we joined Mayor Bill de Blasio and Lin-Manuel Miranda as they celebrated the opening of a new vaccination hub for the theater, film and TV industry at 20 Times Square. We spotted the Mayor taking long strides up Broadway after the event — and followed. We discovered that just as he’s not throwing away his shot, he wasn’t going to give up his opportunity for a free donut!

What we’ve been reading

The Open Streets program is being greeted with hostility in some areas. (Streetsblog)

Actors find a role as singing telegrams while Broadway is dark. (Gothamist)

Hotel Pennsylvania is to face the wrecking ball. (The Real Deal)

Suggested snack ideas after a vax trip to the Javits includes Corner Slice, Spanish Diner and Farida. (Grub Street)

The Met Gala plans to return in style in September. (New York Times)

Freeze Frame

We’ll be back tomorrow with news of two very SWEET businesses opening in the neighborhood! Have a great Tuesday…