It’s the end of an era for New York City and thousands of visitors from across the globe as iconic Splash Bar announced it would be closing August 10.
Brian Landeche and the late Harry Bartel opened Splash in 1991, quickly making it the go-to bar in Chelsea. But as gay life has migrated to the East Village and Hell’s Kitchen neighborhoods, Splash became know more for tourists than locals, cutting into the crowds who once flocked to strip shows, happy hours and vibrant social scene.
“Maybe there is less of a need to have bars dedicated to just gay men,” Landeche told Queerty. “We used to offer a refuge for gay men looking for other gay men and now gay men can find that in other places. They can go to parks, gyms, churches, and community services. The nature of our business has changed. It was my hope Splash would be a nice, clean, and safe place where you could go every day of the week to strike up a conversation with another gay guy and have a drink or a dance and fall in love. I think we provided that. I feel very privileged to have actually given the gay community something it embraced.”
Splash will feature ten farewell celebrations beginning August 1 leading up to a dismantling of the disco ball. In preparation for these events, Landeche pointed out “Splash is planning on enticing two decades of people who have been coming through the doors to take a piece of Splash with them. People can take a piece of the sheet rock or steal a chair, or take some memory home with them. We’re going to feature some of the DJs and employees who have worked here over the last twenty-two years and hope to give everyone a fond memory to take away with them.”
The bar will be remembered for late night parties featuring nightlife gurus Mark Nelson, John Bantay, and Dougie Meyer, and surprise performances and appearances by Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, Grace Jones, Katy Perry, and Gloria Estefan, among others. Splash Bar was the scene for Cyndi Lauper’s “Into the Nightlife” video.
Nightlife promoter Justin Luke Zirilli said: “Splash Bar wasn’t just a bar, it was a historical location for millions of gay men who spent many a night within its walls. Husbands met. Boyfriends broke up. One night stands were forged. Strong friendships were found. Drag careers begun. Nightlife careers ended. Splash bar has become a permanent place in history, and in the hearts of New Yorkers and tourists from around the world. I’m proud to have started my nightlife career there over four years ago, and I’m sad to see it go.”
Landeche fondly remembered the glory days: “We had been open for only about six days. It was 2:30 in the morning and I was completely exhausted so Harry told me to go home and get some rest and I walked out on 17th Street and there was a line of taxis. And I thought, well, this is weird. It’s not like we’re in Times Square or Grand Central or anything. So I got into one and asked the driver why there were so many taxis lined up here and he said, ‘Don’t you know? This is the hottest place in town!’ and that was the most gratifying thing in the world, when the taxi drivers of New York endorse you. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
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Photos by: Jeffrey James Keyes