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East Elmhurst Couple Turns Garage Into Funky Tiki Bar

By Katie Honan | July 7, 2015 7:23am | Updated on July 7, 2015 7:18pm
 Kate and Joe Bly at the Rio Negro, their garage bar.
Kate and Joe Bly at the Rio Negro, their garage bar.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

EAST ELMHURST — A couple turned their garage into a beach-inspired Tiki bar that lets them relax with friends without leaving home.

After getting married in 2003, Joe and Kate Bly moved into the house on 85th Street which has been in the Bly family for four generations.

A few years later, the idea for a garage hangout was born as Joe began clearing his grandfather's decades worth of "hoarding."

They used an old headboard to make the bar, filled it with old records and photos and a disco ball, and kept some of their family items, including an old 1950s television.

And the Rio Negro — named after one of the old wooden produce boxes inside the garage — was born. 

"I like a funky dive, and there's no funky dives (in the neighborhood,)" Kate, 36, said.

The inspiration is "Caribbean dive bar" and she joked they can pretend they're on the beach if they turn away from their attached brick home, which is just steps away. 

The Rio officially opened in 2006 with around 200 people filling the alleyway for the opening party.

Kate, who is now a stay-at-home mom to their three sons, was teaching English as a second language and many of her students brought liquor from their home countries, she said. 

Since then, the space has hosted more low-key parties, with small gatherings that let them see friends without having to hire a babysitter.

"The Rio is not really for kids," Kate said. "It was built before we had kids — but it sill worked."

As their family has grown, the bar has come to mean new things, according to Joe, who is 39 and works in television production.

"It's always an option right here," he said. The Rio Negro is still within range of their baby monitor and it's a way to entice reluctant Brooklyn friends to travel to East Elmhurst to hang out, they said. 

"If people came out here they'd get a good meal and a good time," Kate said. "We wanted to make it worth the 'trek.'"

They invite their friends to hang out from April through October, since opening it in the winter — the "Frio Negro" — was no fun, they said.

Guests can bring a bottle or some beers and they take turns "tending bar" and spinning records on the record player. 

"It's a pure party — nothing costs anything, there's no restriction and we have everything for everybody," Kate said.

Joe Bly's grandmother as a child in front of the garage that is now the Rio Negro bar.