Hell’s Kitchen is flexing its muscle! The former home of Posh — one of the original neighborhood gay bars back in the ’90s — has been transformed. The new LGBTQ+ hotspot, FLEX, has just thrown open its doors to a chorus of cheers from the local crowd. We snagged a sit-down with the masterminds behind this transformation, James Healey and Jason Wade Mann, for the lowdown on the work they put in to turn their dream into reality.
First announced almost two years ago, the journey to open FLEX at 405 West 51st Street (just west of 9th Avenue) hasn’t been without its challenges. The process began with six months of paperwork to obtain a liquor license from the State Liquor Authority. Though they received approval from Manhattan Community Board 4’s Business Licenses and Permits Committee, lingering complaints about the previous establishment set the bar very high for proving FLEX would not fall into the same pattern. However, this meticulous attention to detail set the tone for what was to come.
The bar’s design was a collaboration with two architects from Pratt Institute, who worked closely with students to ensure every aspect was carefully considered. The result is a space that is more than just a renovation—it is a complete transformation. James and Jason had the opportunity to shape the bar exactly as they envisioned, with a focus on creating a visually stunning atmosphere. Local artist Jo Mar crafted the hand-sculpted mural that takes center stage. It is based on a photo shoot he did in the space with local friends who were more than happy to help bring his vision to life. The entire process took seven months to complete, with each of the four panels weighing approximately 250 lbs as the molds were being made.
The attention to detail doesn’t stop at the artwork. The bar boasts original 120-year-old “Tiffany blue” glass windows salvaged from a Brooklyn warehouse, adding a touch of history to the contemporary design. The bar beams themselves come from a century-old Brooklyn townhouse, and the woodwork throughout the space is meticulously handcrafted.
The dedication to preserving the legacy of the location is evident in the decision to keep FLEX as a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community. As James said: “It was a gay space for almost 30 years and that was one of the main reasons Jason and I decided to take over the space. We wanted to keep it as a safe space for the gay community, but very much welcome for all. Our theme is come alone and meet friends, come with friends and make more friends.”
But FLEX is not just about creating a visually appealing space; it also aims to be a hub for community events. With large screens and projectors installed, the bar can host gatherings, presentations and even screen major sporting events. This versatility ensures that FLEX will be a vibrant and dynamic addition to the neighborhood.
Beyond the interior, the owners have also made significant efforts to enhance the building’s infrastructure and exterior. Extensive plumbing work was completed and the façade has been meticulously restored, with broken tiles fixed and a fresh coat of paint applied. A new awning, adorned with colorful PRIDE flags, further adds to the bar’s vibrant presence on the block. FLEX aims to be a highlight of the neighborhood, both inside and out.
More Hell’s Kitchen newcomers
Meanwhile, next door at 403 W51st Street, Jason and James are preparing to open a Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Store. Their eye-catching, brightly colored mural on the space previously occupied by the beloved Kahve arrived last week. James boasted, “the smell of waffle cones will be in at least a hundred-yard radius”.
We stopped by last night to check things out ourselves and the place was jumping. Bartender James, who previously worked at Taboon before a fire force it to shutter, rattled off an impressive variety of beers on tap. The crowd included locals eager to visit the new space and folks from around the city. As for food offerings, they will be partnering with a rotating selection of local restaurants to provide a range of tasty bites for delivery with orders being placed using custom QR codes. First up is American Retro, which recently moved to 985 9th Avenue (between 52nd & 53rd streets), after closing their original location on 11th Avenue and West 51st Street last August.
The owners shared their excitement about the opening of FLEX, with an official launch party set just in time for PRIDE weekend on Friday, June 23, a time when Hell’s Kitchen truly comes alive with its colorful celebrations. As FLEX finally opens its doors, Hell’s Kitchen has gained a new gem, inviting locals and visitors alike to experience the vibrant energy that this neighborhood has to offer.