West Side Bars Lament Loss of Fleet Week As City Predicts $20M Hit
HELL'S KITCHEN — Bars and restaurants on the West Side fear that the canceled Fleet Week could sink their bottom lines.
The annual celebration of naval service members normally brings dozens of ships to the city's ports and thousands of sailors to local bars — but Navy officials had to cancel the festivities because of the budget cuts imposed by the federal sequester.
According to the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the city will take a roughly $20 million hit now that the ships aren't coming to town, but bar owners — especially in Hell's Kitchen, where many of the boats dock — say they'll end up losing out.
"It was worth a good 10 percent bump in business," said Rob Hynds, who owns Boxers, two gay sports bars in Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen. "We always ran specials and will not be doing so since it's canceled."
Gay bars in particular saw a huge amount of LGBT sailors come out last year after Congress repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The OUT NYC, the city's "gay hotel," offered a special "Served With Pride" package. XL Nightclub hosted a popular Fleet Week party that encouraged "hot sailors" to attend.
"There were guys, it was their first time ever being at a party like that," said Eric Weinman, 26, who attended the event last year.
"It was good for them — and they were good for us, if you know what I mean."
Not everyone is convinced the sailors' absence will have a drastic effect on city bars.
"We get a few of them over to the Lower East Side and whereas we will always welcome our men and women of service into our establishments, it isn't like it will affect our bottom line," said Paul Seres, Community Board 4 member and vice president of the New York City Hospitality Alliance.
"I've never seen Fleet week offer that much in a boost of additional sales."
The Blarney Rock Pub near Madison Square Garden, long a favorite of visiting sailors, was often a central spot for Fleet Week parties. Owner Tom Dwyer said sailors were not allowed to pay for anything in his bar, but that the parties drew a lot of customers.
"The big losers are not us, the pub owners, but the young men and women in our Navy," he said.
"They looked so forward to spending a weekend leave in the greatest city on this planet — what an f---ing shame. Politics strike again."