The owners of one of New York’s most iconic gay bars says the establishment is at serious risk of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Julius’ Bar on West 10th Street in New York’s Greenwich Village is one of the few remaining gay bars from before the historic 1969 Stonewall riots. After initially serving as a dry goods store in the 1840’s, the building was turned into a tavern in the 1860’s, and it became a speakeasy during Alcohol Prohibition in the 1920’s.
Over the following decades, Julius’ began attracting more and more local residents of the Village, including gay writers, artists, singers, and Broadway actors.
Although New York State Liquor Authority regulations in the mid-1900’s prohibited serving drinks to “known or suspected homosexuals,” whose very presence was considered “disorderly behavior,” Julius’ became a popular hangout for queer luminaries like Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Rudolf Nureyev, according to NBC.
In April 1966, four gay men entered Julius’, declared they were homosexual, and demanded to be served despite state law. Their protest was later deemed a “sip-in,” inspired by the civil rights sit-ins of the early 1960’s. Due to the publicity stirred by the “sip-in,” the New York State Supreme Court ruled one year later that simply being gay was not considered indecent behavior.
In 2016, on the 50th anniversary of the “sip-in”, Julius’ was placed on the National Register of Historic Places for its role in “an important early event in the modern gay rights movement.” However, that designation is meant to protect the building, but not the business.
Helen and Eugene Buford purchased Julius’ in 2000, keeping both the spirit and the look of the historic bar intact. Unfortunately, the bar closed down a few days before St. Patrick’s Day 2020 due to COVID-19, and it remained closed through Memorial Day weekend. It has since struggled to get back on its feet, NBC reports.
At one point in summer 2020, Helen Buford said their staff had dwindled from 20 down to zero.
They were offering burgers-to-go for a period, then they were allowed to offer outdoor seating and limited indoor seating. But shortly before Christmas 2020, the bar was again shut down completely until Valentine's Day 2021.
Since Julius’ reopened again in February, Buford said business has been slow. She said they have an agreement to pay a reduced rent, but still, over the course of a week, she said they are only making what they used to make in a day.
However, all hope is not lost for the iconic bar. By early April 2021, nearly 2,000 donors had given more than $110,000 to a GoFundMe set up to help save Julius' bar.