candle bar

Candle Bar, the oldest gay bar on the Upper West Side, is closing its doors in about a week. The bar at 309 Amsterdam Avenue is the only gay bar on the Upper West Side south of 109th street. The last day will be June 22, according to DNAinfo.

The bar has a fascinating history. A predecessor to Candle Bar opened in 1958, but was closed the next year “for permitting ‘homosexual activities’ on the premises according to New York State Liquor Authority records.” In 1960, Ralph Pansini opened the space again as the Candlelight Lounge in 1960; it was still a gay bar but the new owner must have been more surreptitious. Attorney Robert Ader bought the place in 1980, and his sister Michelle took over in 1995 after Ader died of AIDS, according to the blog Friends of Ours.

Michelle has now sold the entire four-story building, which was listed for $6.95 million, and apparently the new owner wants the bar out.

The closing will be a sad way to kick off Gay Pride week, but patrons are expected to toast the bar’s exit this coming weekend.

There’s some interesting material about the bar in an online memoir about gay life in the 1960’s. Here are a couple of excerpts.

“The Candlelight Lounge was as much – perhaps more in these days – a social meeting place as it was a cruise bar. This part of the Upper West Side was still dingy or worse, and no one was likely to come up there purposely to cruise in a bar, which meant the clientele remained a crowd of local guys. The atmosphere and energy of the place were low, curiously reminiscent of how I remembered many New York bars being in ’59 – and this was seven years later. Guys stood around talking quietly, for the most part their body language was restrained – they could have been standing in a subway station…

The bulk of the customers were guys in their twenties or early thirties, with a very much smaller number being in their forties. Many of the guys had office clerical jobs, some had technical skills, and – typical of the Upper West Side population in general, I think – there were a fair number of customers connected with theater or the arts….

In the following decades the Candlelight Lounge/The Candlelight/The Candle went through several cheapo makeovers, but in the Eighties Robert Ader, a new gay owner, did a big renovation and so totally changed the atmosphere that the place could have easily fitted into Christopher Street or Chelsea. But the doyen of NYC gay bars is scheduled to do its final trick on June 22, 2015: to close its doors for the last time. And with that the final vestige of pre-AIDS gay life on the Upper West Side will disappear.”

Photo via Candle Bar Facebook page.

NEWS | 7 comments | permalink
    1. joe says:

      there goes the gayborhood

    2. ScooterStan says:

      Well, if we can no longer “light a candle” then we’ll just have to “curse the darkness”.

      (with apologies to the memory of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt)

    3. Ken says:

      Does that mean that the awful (and C-rated by the health department) Grand Schezuan restaurant in the same building will also be closing? If so, good riddance.

      • Duck-wise says:

        Different building. The extreme decline of Grand Sichuan has been depressing. When they first opened, it was so exciting to have good MaPo Tofu in the neighborhood.

    4. Christina says:

      No wonder it was packed when I passed by.

    5. cozmo says:

      so sorry you are closing your doors. it’s always been the one comforting thing for my 30 years here to know the UWS wasn’t TOTALLY homogeneous OR homophobic… sad to see you go.

    6. Joseph says:

      Thank you Robert and Lonnie for providing us the opportunity to enjoy the Candle Bar for over 20 years beyond ur passing. I remember u both fondly and am greatful
      A former employee and ongoing patron
      Joseph L