NYC’s Secret Lounge Closes
By Nathan James
Secret Lounge, the longtime gay nightspot in New York City’s Chelsea section, has closed its doors, the latest casualty of Manhattan’s changing landscape and soaring business costs. The club, a popular destination for the city’s gay men of color, was perched on West 29th Street, hard by the High Line Park, and hosted numerous LGBT celebrity events and Pride gatherings during its decade-long operation. The venue, with its speakeasy-styled motif–nondescript front entrance and all–was almost always packed to capacity, and its location on the far West Side assured discretion. Veteran LGBT radio personality DJ Baker, who hosted the Best Of Out Music (BOOM) festival at Secrets with comedienne Tammy Peay, during NYC Black Pride, lamented the closure. “I am saddened, but not surprised, at the closing of Secrets,” Baker said, “I’m saddened for the nightlife crowd that was faithful to Secrets, but not surprised by the closing, which is caused by the rapid development of the area. Secrets will be missed by some, but not all.”
The owners of Secret Lounge declined to comment at length on the closing, but did acknowledge that the shuttering of their club follows a trend of gay establishments, particularly those catering to black gay men, going under. The legendary Starlite Lounge in Brooklyn was the first to shut down several years ago, after which Chi-Chiz in the Village was forced out of business in 2011, in an acrimonious legal battle that drew the NYPD into the fray. Ronelle Wilson, one of the defunct bar’s co-owners, characterized the campaign to shut Chi-Chiz down as a “systematic effort to get black LGBT people out of the Village.” In August, another Chelsea nightclub, Splash, citing out-of-control costs amid declining patronage, turned off its lights for good.
“It’s really sad the way the gay clubs in NYC are dwindling down to a precious few,” said Erwin Joseph, a longtime exotic dancer and Secrets regular, “and soon, we won’t have any other place to go.”
Along with the clubs, several venerable gay-oriented businesses have felt the sting of increasing rents and gentrification. The popular Rainbows and Triangles book and gift shop in Chelsea has gone out of business, as has the Oscar Wilde Bookstore, the oldest LGBT literary shop in the United States.
Rapid development of Chelsea and the far West Side, fueled by the extension of the #7 subway route to the Jacob Javits Center, slated to begin operation in June, and new high-rise residential construction along the High Line, have contributed to a five-fold increase in area property values, just as new gentrification in the Greenwich Village section was a factor in the closing of Chi-Chiz. Although Secrets had enjoyed a secluded location on an industrial block of West 29th Street, their location is now a prime target for developers looking to build more apartment or condo towers in the area. “Nobody wants a gay nightclub next to their building,” said a real estate agent at the upscale Corcoran Group, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Secrets was the setting for several gay-themed TV shows and movies over the years, and featured retro and contemporary music that appealed to a wide range of patrons.