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.