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It’s a “one-stop shop” at Hell’s Kitchen’s newest LGBTQIA+, literary-themed multiplex The Dickens — now open for dinner, drinks and dancing in the space previously occupied by Latitude Bar and Grill. And it also pays tribute to the modern literary theory that Dickens defied Victorian morality to subtly include lesbian and gay characters in his novels, including A Tale of Two Cities‘ Sydney Carton, his most tragic hero.

The Dickens is soft opening with just the first two floors serving customers, and the next series of spaces above to open gradually in the coming weeks. Photo: Mary Jane Livingston

Operated by Vida Verde and PMac’s Hospitality alum Bryan Hannon, The Dickens, on 8th Avenue between 47th and 48th Streets, boasts six different spaces to grab a cocktail, including a first floor cocktail bar and restaurant; low-key hangout The Genie’s Lounge; moody, stylish party venue at the whiskey-themed Dark Room; dance floor Discoteca; and a top-notch rooftop at the Margarita Market. 

“It really is a one-stop shop,” said Hannon. “We designed it so that you can have dinner downstairs, head upstairs for a cocktail on the second floor, and if you’re tipsy enough, make your way to the discoteca,” he added that the bar is opening up each space in phases, with the first two floors immediately available and the dance floor and rooftop soon to follow. 

The Dickens, on 8th Avenue between W47/48th Streets, combines a mixed nightlife venue with a slightly subversive theme. Photo: Mary Jane Livingston

Patrons can expect each space to bring them a different experience, whether it be a pre-Broadway meal, a casual birthday gathering, a corporate happy hour or reveling on the dance floor, The Dickens is a nightlife space to serve every kind of Hell’s Kitchen night out, with one unifying theme — an artistic tribute to the unsung queer heroes of literature and pop culture. In addition to naming the complex after Charles Dickens, it is a reference to the academic thesis that many of the British Victorian writer’s characters were subtly crafted as LGBTQIA+ and his works as central to queer literary theory.

“There have been lots of papers written that there’s a gay undertone to much of his work,” said Hannon. “He was writing and including queer characters in a time where it wasn’t obviously acceptable, and it’s something we really wanted to hone in on.” Among the characters who academics suggest have queer undertones are Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities, Uriah Heep and Steerforth in David Copperfield, Esther and Ada in Bleak House and Dombey and Son’s Major Bagstock.

In addition to a signature Tiny Tim shot available at the bar, the team has other aesthetic tributes to the author, including a staircase filled with first-edition Dickens covers in pride flag colors. “We wanted to put our own twist on it,” said Hannon. 

When it came to developing the menu, he drew on the elements of the greatest hits at fellow PMac venues like the popular Dutch Fred’s, Mean Fiddler and Vida Verde as well as incorporating new takes on New American classics with chef Ben Morison. “We want to serve comfort food, with a twist,” said Hannon. “We’ve got some of the best sellers from our other locations — tacos, noodles, and everything in between — but there’s a new twist and presentation on each entree.” 

Dickensian characters are not the only decoration in The Dickens, with some 20th and 21st century figures making the cut. Photo: Mary Jane Livingston

Hannon knows the PMac portfolio well — after moving to New York City from Ireland 12 years ago, he started as a bar back with the group and worked his way up through serving, bartending and eventually managing PMac venues like Vida Verde. 

Living in Sunnyside, Queens, Hannon dreamed of bringing the convivial, Cheers-esque elements of his home borough’s bars to Hell’s Kitchen. “I came to the partners with the idea of a queer space that’s neither a nightclub or a dive bar, but something in between, and with something for everyone,” he told W42ST. “It was very important to me coming from Ireland where it’s really a very Catholic country, to now be the owner of gay bar in Times Square — and I’ve never strayed from that idea.”

Charles Dickens in his study outside London. Image: Library of Congress

PMac founders Michael and Patrick McNamee “were all about my concept and my ideas,” said Hannon. “I told them that there was a need for this kind of space. As much as Dutch Fred’s is  a beautiful bar and very gay-friendly, it’s a straight bar that’s also gay friendly and not a gay bar — there’s a massive difference.”

In the wake of the Julio Ramirez and John Umberger cases, ensuring a safe environment was a top priority for the team. “We have a very, very good security company,” said Hannon. “It was very important to me that we make sure the people who are going to work here have worked in LGBTQ places before, and to be open and welcoming to everyone. We don’t spare any expense for security because it’s so important to us that this is a safe space — that’s what we want it to be, and that’s what it’s supposed to be.” 

Bryan Hannon says he has already had an “amazing reaction” to The Dickens’ opening. Photo: Mary Jane Livingston

Hell’s Kitcheners who visited the space in its opening week are already eager to come back, said Hannon. “I really felt like until people saw the space, they just wouldn’t have gotten it, but the reaction has been amazing.”

He added: “People have told me that The Dickens is changing the game — it’s not a dive bar or a club, which the general public think that the queer community only want to go to — ‘this is somewhere where I would bring friends, I would bring family in town, but because it’s still owned and operated by a member of the community and is a gay bar, it’s a safe, inclusive space.’” 

The Dickens NYC is located at 783 8th Avenue, between 47th and 48th Streets and is now open. 

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