By Kalyn Womack, The Root
New York got another Black-owned LGBTQ+ bar in late April. Owners and couple Charles Hughes and Richard Solomon opened Club Lambda Brooklyn on April 28th. The lounge is an expansion of their first location, Lambda Lounge, located in Harlem. Hughes and Solomon felt it was obligatory to create a safe haven where all are welcome and also create a safe space for queer people of color.
Years ago, the two attended a club in New York where the DJ said, “Men don’t dance with men here.” That moment catalyzed the creation of Lambda Lounge. From there, they decided to expand Lambda and ultimately plan to open 10 Lambda locations spanning across the east and west coast. Big names who have attended Lambda Lounge include Lil Nas X, Meagan Good and DeRay McKesson.
Charles and Richard Spoke to The Root about the grand opening of their second location and what inspired them to set out on creating Black-owned queer spaces in New York.
Charles: So if we take it all the way back, prior to Club Lambda in Brooklyn, and Lambda lounge in Harlem, we started Lambda Vodka. We saw a need for spirit within the LGBTQ+ community that they were lacking that was created by us and specifically targeting us. The only issue with trying to sell and promote it was we didn’t have a strong enough following to make substantial amounts of money that we wanted to, to kinda have freedom within our life.
So we said, well, “Why not create a bar to sell our spirit directly to ourselves?” That’s where the idea of this came into play. Lambda lounge…it shocked us the way it took off. The first day of opening during COVID outside, we had to stop individuals from coming in. The community definitely came out to support us and we saw that a lot of cities around the country didn’t have Black-owned queer spaces targeting them. So that’s why we decided to move into Brooklyn next. And that’s where we are right now.
We felt we had to give our community a location of quality. We couldn’t speak for any other location that was out there, but there’s enough room for all of us to survive and all of us are surviving. It was like – if we’re gonna do this, we’re not just going to throw paint on the walls and open the doors, but give them a place that’s comfortable to them and for them.
TR: what were your experiences trying to find a safe space to enjoy nightlife in NY?
Richard: I’m a native New Yorker. I came from a time when it was very easy to go out to Christopher Street and find a space for people that look like me – and what I mean by that is people in the urban community, people of color. And all of those spaces are gone, long gone. So what I found very difficult is trying to resurrect those spaces within New York. We got a lot of pushback but we found a very comfortable home in Harlem.
Of course, Harlem, very safe space for people of color, it was very easy to incorporate queer people of color into that circle. We were welcomed with open arms. We thought we would run into a lot of adversity within the community being a queer space, but it was the complete opposite. We were welcomed, they actually assisted us, they had our back and it made it very easy to make that transition from the downtown nightlife to the uptown nightlife.
TR: Why is it so crucial for Black LGBTQ+ members to have spaces like these?
Charles: I think it’s important because now we are accepted in a location and not just tolerated. What we normally have to deal with within New York, and I’m sure in a lot of other cities, is we get one night a week and it’s between certain hours. I also noticed that if going to any of [their] social media, there was no presence of us on there but we would generate a large number of the income for them.
That’s why we feel the need is theirs. Every community owns their own and why not for us? And what we are starting to see now is being young, LGBTQ+ individuals, a lot of other young people are starting to or wanting to move into the nightlight or the restaurant industry or actually owning their own businesses because they’re starting to see examples of that now.
TR: What makes Lambda stand apart from other clubs/bars?
Charles: So people call it the “gay cheers” (laughs). With that being said, a lot of times you don’t go into a location and you see the owner having a drink with you or taking a shot with you. Ricky and I are very prevalent in the location. If you’re in there, there’s a strong chance you’re gonna see us sitting on a couch having a drink with some of the patrons who come in on a regular basis. It’s a place we call home.
TR: What can visitors look forward to at Club Lambda Brooklyn?
Charles: In Harlem, I do know that 100% of our DJs are a part of our community. We do currently offer karaoke night once a month. We also have a “big boy party” which is for our plus size LGBTQ+ men within the community and that’s really big for us. Outside of that, it’s normally a male demographic. In Brooklyn, however, we are trying to change that narrative – we have brought on a trans party where Thursday nights, once a week, is going to be dedicated to the people within the trans community, which I think is pretty awesome.
Sunday, we are trying to work with a lesbian promoter to where she will come in and bring her following. Now we’re, we’re broadening our market segment to not just target males, but pretty much all the letters within the LGBTQ+ community.
TR: Some straight women feel safer attending gay bars. However, sometimes they can take up space created for queer people. Will allies be invited to the new club?
Charles: We have an open door policy. Surprisingly enough, we are starting to get a lot of heterosexual females coming to the bar to kinda enjoy themselves and let their hair down. They come, they get sections and sometimes they’ll even bring their boyfriend in which is kinda shocks us that heterosexual males feel so comfortable within the establishment. We don’t have any restrictions. All friends of the community are welcome.
Click here to read the full article on The Root.