Proud history: Longtime Park Slope gay bar Excelsior announces closure

Last call: Park Slope gay bar Excelsior will close its doors after 20 years this July.
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They had a gay old time!

Park Slope’s top queer hangout will close its doors on July 31 after 20 years in the neighborhood.

Excelsior owners Richard Kennedy and Mark Nayden announced the closure of the Park Slope gay bar in a June 3 Facebook post, crediting community pride for the watering hole’s longevity — and rising rents for its closure.

“More than ever, rising costs, like rent and taxes, make your neighborhood bars and restaurants struggle every day,” read the post signed by Kennedy and Nayden. “Twenty years of serving this community is something we are proud of, and in this World Pride Month we plan on celebrating each and every day.”

The owners of the queer watering hole between 15th and 16th streets had been in negotiations with their landlord since their lease expired in October, but the only deal they could settle on was accompanied by a meager one-year extension. Meanwhile, their liquor license — which can only be renewed in two-year intervals — is set to expire on Aug. 1, and the prospect of spending $10,000 for a permit that might become obsolete within the year was what ultimately led the pair to make the decision to close, according to Nayden.

“It didn’t make sense to stretch it out for the couple extra months, versus spending the additional money on our license,” he said.

And Nayden also admitted that queer nightlife has changed in the last two decades, saying the need for sanctuaries catering exclusively to gay and lesbian crowds has diminished as the city at large becomes a more queer-friendly place.

“The younger LGBTQ community does nightlife differently than say a 40 year old and up,” Nayden said. “They didn’t experience that same need for a space only to themselves. They are welcome in more places and that’s a fantastic thing.”

Excelsior first opened in 1999 at another Fifth Avenue location between Sixth and Seventh streets, where Nayden and his partner offered gay Park Slopers a small, intimate place to gather, he said.

“In the old space, I used to say it’s an extension of everyone’s’ living room, a chance for people to relax and have conversations and feel safe,” the barkeeper explained.

The couple were forced to closed that spot after a 15-year lease ran dry in 2014, and Nayden recounted how the property’s owner had agreed to a five-year lease extension, only to turn around and sell the place as the then newly married business partners enjoyed their honeymoon.

Excelsior’s loss was hard felt amid Kings County’s gay community. Perennial LGBT advocate and current mayoral advisor Matthew McMorrow wrote an impassioned editorial lamenting the bar’s loss in Gay City News that year, calling the bar’s 15-year run a remarkable achievement for a queer saloon that existed long before gay marriage.

“By just about any standard, 15 years is a short amount of time. But to measure history by the life of a local gay bar, it was a pretty remarkable 15 years,” wrote McMorrow. “When Excelsior opened its doors, no state recognized same-sex marriage. But that didn’t stop gay people from falling in love.”

Excelsior did not stay closed for long, and within a year Kennedy and Nayden had brought Excelsior to the larger storefront located in a more affordable part of town, where they’ve offered the same live acts in a second-floor space — including comedy, drag, and music — they promise will keep patrons entertained throughout Pride Month and into July.

Nayden couldn’t say whether he and Kennedy would consider opening a third incarnation of Excelsior, but suggested that 20 years of serving Park Slope may be more than enough.

“We are not ready to make a decision on that at this point, it’s a little to raw” he said. “We adore the community and we loved doing what we did, but it’s just not correct to continue.”

Park Slope’s queer community is still served by two other Fifth Avenue watering holes, Ginger’s Bar located between Fifth and Sixth Streets, and Xstasy Bar and Lounge between 26th and 27th streets.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.

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