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"Boxers" Gay Bar To Expand To Washington Heights: Gentrification Or Much Needed Service?

Gay bar chain Boxers is getting yet another location in New York City… but is that a good thing?

Last month, we shared with you the idea that Boxers could be considered the gay Hooters. The gay-themed bar hosts a staff of men wearing a pair of red boxers as they bartend, wait on guests, and more.

The chain has been expanding exponentially with locations in Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, the Upper East Side, and Center City Philadelphia. But the fact that the chain just opened two new locations earlier this year hasn’t stopped it from opening a new one in Washington Heights later this fall.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Gay residents in the northwestern New York neighborhood are celebrating the upcoming arrival of the bar and the owners of Boxers are doing the same.

“Washington Heights deserves its own neighborhood gay bar,” said co-owner Rob Hynds to AM New York. “A lot of our clientele have been coming from the area to our parties for years.”

Once Boxers has officially opened, it will be the only gay bar in the neighborhood of Washington Heights. The last one in the area was No Parking, which shut down back in 2014. In addition, the only other club in the area is Castro.

“Washington Heights, Inwood and the Bronx are the forgotten LGBT communities,” said Washington Heights resident Jamar Wilson to Am NewYork. “We constantly have to travel to Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea and the Village for our bars. That time is over and it’s a joyous occasion.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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But, is this truly a good thing or is it another sign of gentrification in the neighborhood?

If you have any knowledge of Washington Heights, including at the very least having seen playwright Lin Manuel-Miranda’s first Broadway hit In the Heights, you’ll know that the area has a long history of being a safe haven for the Latinx community.

The Dominican community, in fact, is so strong there that Heights residents who hold Dominican citizenship can legally vote for Dominican elections in the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, New York City continues to be a congested city with an increasingly expensive price tag.

As boroughs like the Bronx and Brooklyn become too expensive to live in, LGBTQ people and millennials/hipsters have started moving into Washington Heights.

“Change in the neighborhood started around the mid-2000’s,” said Led Black, a lifelong Washington Heights resident and owner of the blog The Uptown Collective which chronicles life in the neighborhood, to the Cooperator New York. “Gentrification picked up steam around 2011-12. This year seems to be a tipping point. When I visit places in the neighborhood I’ve visited all my life, I see the change in the demographics.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Back in June, The New York Post published an article titled “Washington Heights Is The New Williamsburg.”

According to the article:

"Washington Heights is brimming with more millennials than any other ’hood in the Big Apple, with 50,103 residents age 20 to 34, comprising 10 percent of the area’s population, the latest US Census data show.”

Unfortunately, the article also showed a grim future for Washington Heights by explaining what has happened to Williamsburg.

“Williamsburg and Bushwick have become victims of their own success, [and] millennials can’t afford to live there anymore,” said Michael Keane, an NYU adjunct professor of urban planning. “So they’re thinking, ‘Hey, Washington Heights is in Manhattan, it’s easy to get to Midtown, crime is down and the rent is several hundred dollars less.’ ”

But, will history repeat itself?

With the increase in money being spent in the neighborhood, there has also been an increase in building and construction there.

Several stores and restaurants have popped up along Broadway, the abandoned movie theater on 181st street is being turned into a three-story commercial center, and residential buildings are being renovated to fit a more expensive clientele.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The inclusion of the gay bar Boxers just adds more wealth to the area, and could eventually make the location too expensive for the historic Latinx community that has lived there for decades.

But, could Boxers instead become a staple for the community?

The bar is at least trying to reach out to multiple demographics, and it’s not trying to be just a typical meat-fest bar (despite it’s nearly naked staff).

The bar is planning a weekly line up of Sunday morning NFL games, Monday Latin nights, Tuesday karaoke parties, Thursday urban nights, weekly “RuPaul’s Drag Race” screenings, and after-dark open mics/drag performances.

“The original concept behind Boxers and what we try to do was to market to the sports community,” Hynds says. “But we want it to be a place for everybody. It always annoyed me as a kid that certain bars were women bars; men bars; black bars; leather bars; you had to be a certain thing to get in and feel comfortable.”

He added: “Our staff is gay, it’s straight, black, Latino, every ethnicity you can imagine. We want women to come and have a great time and men to come and have a great time. We just want good people.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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While the inclusion of Boxers is another sign of gentrification in the neighborhood of Washington Heights, it is one that’s trying to connect with the community. The bar owners are providing a service for a network of people who need a gay bar, a sports bar, and a place to call their own.

But, does that excuse its direct influence on the change in the neighborhood? Or, is it just a example that things, and specifically neighborhoods, naturally change? We’ll see in time.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Gay folk were instrumental in changing Key West, South Beach, and even Wilton Manors from very quiet, staid places to hip sites.. This process led to the displacement of their prior residents. South Beach used to called "God's waiting room," though that role now falls to Aventura.

As wealthy people moved into the now-desirable SoBe and Key West gayborhoods, younger gay folk found alternative places to live. Though many gay bars closed as a result of the most recent transformations, some gay bars continue to serve gay residents and visitors.

Wilton Manors residents have told me that the Alibi was key in flipping that city to the more settled gayborhood that it has become. So if Boxer's move to Washington Heights is a driver of its transformation, it won't be the first time that a gay bar's establishment did so.

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Don’t blame the local businesses for gentrification. Blame the landlords for raising the rent and pushing out poorer peoples. Like that one guy said who ran for governor, “The rent is too damn high!” As a Native NYer who left for the south a few years ago I wonder what will happen when it finally gets too expensive for even the middle class to afford to live there?

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I know. That's why NYC is so boring now too. Just too expensive, so all the cool stuff disappeared.

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