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Alibi Lounge, One of the City’s Only Black-Owned LGBTQ Bars, Is in Another Fight for Survival

Owner Alexi Minko must come up with $12,000 by March 31 to secure the bar’s lease renewal

An exterior view of a temporarily closed Alibi Lounge in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan on June 24, 2020 in New York City. 
Alibi Lounge in Harlem
Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images
Erika Adams is the editor of Eater Boston.

Alibi Lounge in Harlem — one of the city’s only Black-owned, LGBTQ bars — is facing another battle for survival this month, marking the latest hurdle in owner Alexi Minko’s ongoing struggle to keep the bar open during the pandemic.

Minko still needs to raise $12,000 in order to pay Alibi’s landlord Mordy Getz $20,000, the total amount due to renew the bar’s five-year lease before it expires on March 31, he tells Eater New York. Minko is hoping to cobble together the funds from the sales the bar is currently generating combined with donations from Alibi’s GoFundMe campaign, which was first launched in May 2020. Fox 5 New York first reported news of the upcoming lease renewal.

In total, Alibi has raised over $180,000 in donations from 6,800 donors since the fundraising campaign began ten months ago, according to the GoFundMe page. The donations have been essential in keeping Alibi afloat throughout the pandemic, Minko says.

Despite the looming financial obstacles, Minko did not characterize the upcoming payment as unfair. Getz and Minko maintain a good working relationship, Minko says. Getz has granted the beloved bar multiple mid-pandemic rent breaks, including forgiving several months of payments early on last year; reducing the bar’s rent by 30 percent for some months; and moving back the lease renewal deadline from its original date of March 15.

Getz also donated $500 to Alibi’s GoFundMe campaign this week. “I was like, ‘Morty, you should have just deducted that from the amount I owe you!’” Minko says with a laugh. “He’s great. But I don’t want to use and abuse his kindness. I really want to work and come up with the money.”

Minko says that business has been better than usual in the past few weeks as the weather has warmed up, but the pandemic curfew has been severely cutting into the bar’s revenues. Minko currently stops accepting orders for food and drinks at 10 p.m. so he can completely shut down by 11 p.m., when restaurants and bars in the city are required to go dark.

The curfew is particularly crippling for Alibi because customers know it as a late-night drinking establishment, not a restaurant. “People still have it in their minds that we are a lounge or club,” Minko says. “When it comes to eating, Alibi Lounge is not the first choice. It’s funny because people will show up at Alibi Lounge at 9 p.m. and I have to say, ‘Ok, guys, we have to close in one hour. Why don’t you come a little bit earlier?’” A group of 46 New York restaurants and bars filed a lawsuit against the state last Saturday to try and force the removal of the curfew.

Aside from the curfew, Minko has been struggling to navigate all of the state’s pandemic restrictions, including repeatedly shooing customers away from banned bar seating. Minko recalls diners repeatedly asking why they can’t sit at the bar, to which he’ll reply: “‘I don’t know, ask Andrew Cuomo. Call Albany.’”

It’s the confusing state restrictions Minko says that are hardest to work around, not his situation with his landlord. “We shouldn’t have to go to GoFundMe,” Minko says. “None of us opened a business to do this. We should be able to find constructive and smart solutions to the pandemic problem.”