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Alibi Lounge, the only Black-owned LGBTQ+ bar in New York, isn’t going anywhere

Alexi Minko, the owner of NYC's Alibi Lounge, tells us how his bar continues to persevere.

Written by
Gianfranco Lentini

Gianfranco Lentini is a New York-based LGBTQ+ journalist whose work has been published with Grindr, Backstage, and Broadway Roulette, and for all the Potterheads out there, you can find him (on and off-camera) reporting on all the latest Wizarding World news for The Leaky Cauldron.

Nestled in the heart of Harlem on 139th St & Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd, the only Black-owned LGBTQ+ establishment in New York, has won the heart of the Harlem community and become a shelter for queer and BIPOC patrons. Owned and operated by Alexi Minko, a queer, Black immigrant from Gabon, Alibi has withstood the adversities of hate crimes and COVID-19’s economic impact and stands today as a tried and true testament to the love Minko has for those who find a home at his bar. We sat down with Minko for a conversation building up to #PrideWorldwide.

RECOMMENDED: Pride Worldwide 2020: A global celebration of LGBTQ+ culture

How did Alibi Lounge come to be in Harlem?

I moved to Harlem in 2015. When I started exploring the neighborhood, I realized that there were [no gay bars.] It was my dream to have what Hell's Kitchen has or what Chelsea has. A gay neighborhood… I just decided, that’s it. I'm going to open a bar. People were so enthusiastic about the idea. From the moment the word started to spread, it was just an outpour of support and anticipation. 

Photograph: Courtesy Tahseen Rabbi/@tahseenmachine

What does it mean to you that you are the only Black-owned LGBTQ+ bar in NYC?

I think it’s a tragedy… I'm proud that I was able to keep the doors open every single night for the past four years, despite the challenges and hardships. But I think it's sad that I'm the only one who is in the position of doing the work. I wish there were more Black, LGBT-owned establishments… I wish that people of color [knew] that it's possible to open a business, to be an entrepreneur, and to ally your sexual orientation and your color. You can be an entrepreneur, you can be gay and you can be black.

With the Black Lives Matter movement growing every day, how do you think it will impact the future of Black-owned businesses?

Well, this time around, we made sure to include Black trans lives, Black LGBT lives, and Black business lives. That's a sign of progress in our own community. Using the movement to also highlight the other issues. [Alibi] is a Black LGBT business. And it does matter. And that is our mission: to inspire. I want young, black LGBT people to say, “It is possible to succeed when you are a LGBT Black business because Alibi succeeds.”

Photograph: Courtesy Alibi Lounge

A GoFundMe to save Alibi from permanently closing during COVID-19 has raised over $110k. What does that support feel like? 

You gotta ask for help sometimes. If you deserve it, and if people know you’re speaking the truth, they will come to your rescue. The community showed that they wanted Alibi to stay. It's humbling. I wish there was a platform where I could just go and scream at people, “Thank you!”

Alibi and yourself have faced your share of adversity. Is it your community that’s given you strength to keep moving forward?

[During World Pride 2019], our rainbow flags got burned twice. Then [this year], I got viciously assaulted on March 11 by six people who came to Alibi. Then we got sent home by the shutdown on March 16. And then we got robbed during the pandemic. All of that, you can imagine that I was done. [But] everyone needs an Alibi. It’s where our community can spend time together. Where we can be resilient together, be happy together, be depressed together… And that renewed energy, love, and support from the community completely erased any of the hardships that I had gone through before. 

Photograph: Courtesy Alibi Lounge

When was the moment you knew Alibi had become a safe space?

Alibi had just opened. It was a night when a black guy walked in, and he sat at the bar and ordered a Hennessey straight. And then a white guy walked in and we thought, “Brace yourselves, people.” And then it turned out they were a couple… They got up, they walked to the middle of the room, and they kissed… I started crying. It was the first same-sex kiss, the first kiss ever, at Alibi. I thought, “That’s it. My work here is done…” Harlem is changing. There are a lot of new people coming, but they can come to Alibi, and Alibi is here to welcome them.

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