overview

In 1962, openly gay African-American entrepreneur Harold “Mackie” Harris purchased the Starlite Lounge and established it as an LGBT-inclusive bar.

Before being forced to close in 2010 after the building was sold, the Starlite was known as the “oldest black-owned non-discriminating bar in New York” and an important long-time gathering space for the gay Black community.

Header Photo
Credit: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.

History

Formerly located in the building at the corner of Bergen Street and Nostrand Avenue in Crown Heights, the Starlite Lounge was established by openly gay African-American entrepreneur Harold “Mackie” Harris as an LGBT-inclusive bar in 1962.

Starlite was possibly the first Black-owned gay bar in Brooklyn, catering to LGBT people of color at a time when the Mafia operated most LGBT bars in New York. Harris lived in the neighborhood and created what became a legendary safe-haven in central Brooklyn that catered to a diverse clientele, LGBT and straight, depending on the hour of the day and day of the week.

Because there are so few places for this community to go, when Starlite was open, they came from all over. It went from being a neighborhood bar in the ’50s and early ’60s into being really an institution in the gay black community.

Kate Kunath, director of We Came To Sweat, 2014

Between 1992 and 2004, the bar was owned by William “Butch” King, who was the resident DJ and helped establish Starlite as a destination for house music and dancing.

By the end of its 50-plus-year run, the self-described “oldest black-owned non-discriminating bar in New York” catered to LGBT people of color and a broader clientele throughout the week and especially at Friday night drag shows and Saturday night house music events. It was considered one of Brooklyn’s oldest gay bars when it was forced to close on July 31, 2010, after being evicted due to the sale of the building.

Entry by Ken Lustbader, project director (March 2017).

NOTE: Names above in bold indicate LGBT people.

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: Unknown
  • Year Built: c. 1920 (altered facade)

Sources

  1. Erin Durkin, “Crown Heights’ Shuttered Starlite Lounge to Star in a New Documentary,” New York Daily News, December 21, 2011.

  2. Kate Kunath and Sasha Wortzel, dirs., We Came To Sweat (2014), bit.ly/2dSzRmS.

  3. Susan Dominus, “A Brooklyn Bar and Haven Teeters on the Edge of Extinction,” The New York Times, January 22, 2010.

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Curated Themes

17 Sites

Communities of Color

26 Sites

Gay-Owned Businesses

25 Sites

Bars & Nightlife

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