An old Port Morris motorcycle repair shop will soon become the only gay bar in a borough with few spaces for the LGBTQ community. Audrey de Jesus said she is hoping to open the three-story club and restaurant, which will feature drag and burlesque shows, in August.
With exposed pipes and yellow walls, the stucco-fronted space looks like it has weathered some storms. But so has de Jesus, 58, who has opened three gay bars in the Bronx since 2006. Each closed within about three years, for reasons ranging from motorcycle gang violence to a barrage of neighborhood 311 calls. But in the face of a changing South Bronx and a more supportive business community, de Jesus believes her fourth venture will be the one that sticks.
“I think this is my time,” said de Jesus, adding that she hopes a rooftop garden at the East 132nd St. venue is also in the works. “The unique thing about this establishment is that I’m open to everything. I want everybody to be comfortable.”
To ensure that that is the case, de Jesus says she will poll area residents to determine a name for the bar, and to learn what gay and straight residents alike would like to see come from it. Additionally, the winner of a competition for the best Bronx-based DJ will take away a $5,000 prize and a job as the house DJ.
All hires will be from inside the community, said de Jesus, who received approval for the plan from Community Board 1 in March. “I don’t want no outsiders.”
Sage Rivera, Program Director of local LGBTQ center Destination Tomorrow, said the bar will “really fill a void. The community can appreciate a venue they can call their own, something that’s regular.”
The Bronx has been slow to accept LGBTQ community. It took ten years to rebuild the area’s only LGBTQ center. Several Bronx Assembly members voted against the legalization of gay marriage in 2007 and 2011, and Councilmember Ruben Diaz Sr. got in trouble for making homophobic comments in February.
De Jesus, who has lived in Hunts Point for 45 years, said she can understand why there is a lull in the market. When she opened her first bar, Nina’s Lounge, on Bruckner Boulevard, in 2006, the community was resistant.
“The neighborhood was kind of prejudiced,” she recalled. “They kept on calling the cops, saying people are having sex, or doing drugs in the driveway. None of that was happening.”
After several NYPD visits to the bar, de Jesus decided to close Nina’s Lounge in 2008. Four years later, she tried again with The Hideaway, in Parkchester. But because the 10,000 square-foot warehouse with tall ceilings and big windows was zoned for manufacturing, not commercial, she couldn’t get a liquor license.
After laying low and renting the warehouse out for big blowouts only, de Jesus in September 2013 found her bar unfairly entangled in a grisly crime when members of the Hollywood Stuntz gang dropped in during an event she was hosting.
That day, dozens of motorcyclists from the same gang terrorized the West Side Highway, culminating in the brutal beating of a driver in Manhattan, whom they dragged fro, the car and beat brutally in front of his wife and 2-year-old daughter. When police investigating the crime noticed that de Jesus did not have a liquor license, they forced her to shut down.
Then in 2014, she opened a bar called The Compound in Castle Hill, but although she had a liquor license now, “It was like a cave. It was dark and scary,” and without windows. She gave it up in 2015.
Throughout that dark period, de Jesus was the only entrepreneur in the borough opening gay bars, but she is encouraged by the borough’s more accepting stance. She serves on Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.’s LGBTQ task force and helps facilitate a mixer in which LGBTQ folks patronize a different Bronx bar or restaurant each month, to help connect businesses with the gay community.
She said the shift in attitudes was palpable the night she presented her plan to Community Board 1.
“Most of the people that voted for me were all the old ones,” she said. “The district manager thought they would oppose it and give me a lot of questions and be closed-minded, but no, they all voted.”
“Everybody’s waiting for me to open this up,” she added. “They’re going to support me.”
Here’s a map of all Audrey’s attempted bars and her new bar: https://uploads.knightlab.com/storymapjs/7b9ac37746f53b9ba3c8af142d05b772/fourth-times-the-charm-a-map-through-all-of-audrey-de-jesus-attempted-gay-bars-in-the-bronx/index.html