overview

Owned since 1989 by business and personal partners Eddie Valentin and Casimiro Villa, Friend’s Tavern (or Friend’s) in Jackson Heights is known as the oldest active gay bar in Queens.

It has been a particularly important nightlife space for gay and bisexual Latino men, many of whom, as immigrants, found a sense of community in an openly gay environment that they may not have had in their native countries.

Header Photo

Credit: Amanda Davis/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2018.

On the Map

Photo Above

Vigil for Pulse victims along Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, June 14, 2016. Photo by Angela Matua for QNS.com.

History

Friend’s Tavern (popularly referred to as Friend’s) has been in business at this location since 1989 and is considered the oldest operating gay bar in Queens. The modest storefront itself pre-dates Friend’s, with the exception of the business sign and the awning, which, at one time, included the slogan, “There is always time for friends.”

Owned by Puerto Rican-born Eddie Valentin and Colombian-born Casimiro Villa, who are also personal partners, Friend’s, like other nearby bars on and around Roosevelt Avenue, caters primarily to the LGBT Latino community. Valentin, who along with Villa also operates the nearby Club Evolution, has called this stretch of Roosevelt Avenue “the gay Village for Latinos,” in reference to the historically gay white enclave of Greenwich Village in Manhattan. Though Jackson Heights’ LGBT community was predominantly white dating back to the 1920s, many gay Hispanics moved in as part of a large influx of Latino immigrants in the 1970s and 1980s. 

Neighborhood bars and clubs have historically played an important role in the lives of LGBT immigrants. For Latinos, these nightlife spaces reflected the dance-driven cultures of their native countries, but also provided an openly gay atmosphere that, for many, was not available back home. According to LGBT rights activist and journalist Andrés Duque, walking into Friend’s soon after emigrating from Colombia in 1993 and seeing Colombian men kissing and dancing together was “a revelation of [his] life and [his] gay life.” Others also recalled the significance of being around people with shared backgrounds — Latino, immigrant, and LGBT — which fostered a sense of community, particularly for those who moved to New York without their families or were forced to be more closeted in their homeland (though gay bars did sometimes exist in urban areas) or in their immigrant communities here.

Friend’s has also had a presence in social justice and commemorative events. In 1993, when Jackson Heights was chosen as the site of the inaugural Queens Pride Parade, representatives from the bar marched and sponsored the block party on nearby 37th Road. Two days after the June 12, 2016 mass shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse, in Orlando, Florida, in which the majority of the victims were Hispanic (and nearly half were Puerto Rican), Valentin helped organize an English- and Spanish-language vigil outside Club Evolution that continued along Roosevelt Avenue to Friend’s and True Colors, another gay Latino bar. Valentin, who knew some of the victims from when they lived in Jackson Heights and frequented Friend’s and other area bars, spoke about the importance of gay nightlife spaces as safe havens:

“There are a lot of [LGBT] people who come from other countries, and they leave primarily because of the fact that there’s so much prejudice and homophobia in their countries. When they get to the U.S., the first thing they do is look for a business that’s gay, more likely a bar or a club, where they can make their first friends.”
Eddie Valentin, bar owner, 2016

While several newer gay Latino bars operate on and around Roosevelt Avenue, former bars and clubs include the Love Boat, at 77-02 Broadway in Elmhurst; Club Llamarada (pronounced “Yamarada”), a popular dance spot at 82-20 Baxter Avenue in Elmhurst; and Lucho’s Place, at 38-19 69th Street in Woodside. As with Friend’s, these bars were also frequented by non-Latino gay and bisexual men from elsewhere in the city and Long Island with an interest in the Latino bar scene. Lesbian Latinas, who primarily gathered at Bum Bum Bar a bit further west on Roosevelt Avenue, patronized these businesses in smaller numbers.

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