WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — A local bar known for its arts programming and for providing a home for Uptown LGBT community events — including one inspired by extravagant drag balls held in Harlem 80 years ago — has closed its doors due to financial struggles, its owner said.
The Red Room Lounge, located at 1 Bennett Ave., shuttered this past Wednesday, owner Manuel Rosario said.
“It’s just the economy,” he said of the venue, which he opened in 2008. “I don’t like to feel like I’m surrendering, but this time I have to throw in the towel.”
Rosario declined to give specifics about his finances, only saying that the bar business can be difficult, particularly when the venue is located in a very residential area.
“This is a hard business, the liquor business,” he said. “It’s not like Downtown where people might move into a neighborhood just to experience all the restaurants and bars. Not everyone is supportive of that.”
The bar received 30 complaints about noise in the past year, according to 311 data.
Starting in April, local residents David Steinman and Hael Fisher organized a weekly LGBT-friendly meet-up for Uptown residents hosted at Red Room Lounge. The event was named Hamilton Lodge in honor of the drag formals held in Harlem in the 1930s.
Starting next week, Hamilton Lodge will meet at Buddha Beer Bar at 4476 Broadway every Wednesday, Steinman said.
From the beginning, Rosario focused on attracting Uptown’s creative community. The lounge was home to One Mic, a twice-monthly event for local musicians and performers, and also played host to events for Above the Bridge, an event series that showcased Uptown writers.
“This is the way I express art, by making a business and sharing it with the community,” he said.
Earlier this year, Rosario slightly shifted the focus to draw in the neighborhood’s growing LGBT community, which was left with few local entertainment options after popular gay bar No Parking closed in April 2014.
Rosario, who grew up in Washington Heights and whose father owned a dry cleaners in the neighborhood for more than 30 years, said local business is in his blood.
He hopes to eventually open another venue in the area, though he’d like to set up shop on a more commercial street where a bar would not attract as much attention, he said.
“This was a vision I created and I thank everyone who supported the business on different levels,” Rosario said. “It’s difficult to move on, but this experience will help me evolve to get to another level.”