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Trailblazing Hell’s Kitchen Gay Bar Therapy Is In Danger of Closing Permanently

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The 17-year-old establishment regularly hosted shows by RuPaul’s Drag Race winners and contestants

Gay Bars, Social Centers Of Queer Culture, Struggle To Survive Across NYC Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
Therapy in Hell’s Kitchen
Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Longtime Hell’s Kitchen gay bar Therapy — a popular establishment where many RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants and winners have performed over the years — is in danger of permanently closing, co-owner Tom Johnson tells Eater.

“There’s a 99 percent chance of us closing,” says Johnson, who first hinted at the closure in a post on Therapy’s Facebook page, on Sunday. “When are people going to be confident about returning to a crowded bar?”

The bar, located at 348 West 52nd Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, has been closed since March 16, when the state-mandated shutdown on indoor dining went into effect due to the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike some other bars in the city, Therapy chose not to remain open for takeout drinks.

Therapy’s challenges have been multi-fold, Johnson says. The bar’s landlord did not reach an agreement with the owners, and Johnson says he handed over his keys on April 1. So far, no one has shown an interest in taking over the space, he says, and the bar’s interior remains intact.

A bigger problem, though, has been customers. “New York needs tourists, and we need Broadway to be open,” says Johnson. With Broadway not set to reopen until next year, Johnson’s concerns are echoed by many other business owners in the neighborhood.

Johnson says he also chose not to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program, the federal coronavirus-related loan program for businesses, because it didn’t seem feasible to pay employees with no money coming in. Even with outdoor dining and takeout cocktails, Johnson estimates Therapy would only have made 30 to 40 percent of the business it usually did. “That would have been a typical Monday or Tuesday night at the bar, but we can’t survive like that everyday,” says Johnson.

Therapy opened in 2003 as one of the first gay bars in the neighborhood. The bar’s opening paved the way for several other LGBTQ bars to open in Hell’s Kitchen, and helped establish its reputation as an LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood. In recent years, Therapy has hosted shows from several Drag Race contestants and winners — including Bianca Del Rio, Bob the Drag Queen, and Monét X Change — many of whom performed at the bar before gaining a wider audience through the TV show. The Sunday drag brunches were also a popular fixture at the bar before it shuttered in March.

Johnson holds a glimmer of hope for Therapy’s revival, but isn’t sure if the financial fallout from the pandemic will allow it. “It’s great if people want to come together and invest in Therapy at some point,” he says. “I want nothing more than for all of this to go away, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”

Therapy

348 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019

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