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Exclusive: Gay Bar Owner Discusses Recent Arson Attacks, the Resilience of Harlem

"Committing a crime motivated by hate is not a reflection of this neighborhood at all," says Alexi Minko, owner of the Alibi Lounge.

You can burn down a rainbow flag or three, but you can’t snuff out queer pride, especially in Harlem. That’s the lesson learned at Alibi Lounge, NYC's only black-owned gay bar, on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard near 139th Street, which was twice victimized by the flag-burning Tyresse Singleton, who was arrested yesterday, July 9, after having been captured doing his misdeeds on video. A few hours after his arrest, I dropped by the bar—a casual, intimate lounge—and talked to owner Alexi Minko about the kickass response to these ugly incidents.

Hello, Alexi. First of all, how would you characterize this bar?

Harlem is changing. It’s a reflection of what Harlem is becoming. It’s a black crowd, but we do have some Caucasians.

And I see women, too.

Saturday is lesbian night. Monday is Man Crush, with gogo boys.

Why did you open this place three years ago?

I used to practice international law. When my last contract ended, I thought, Do I want to go back to law or pursue a longtime dream of owning my own business? My primary skills are getting people drunk and making people feel good for about a minute. I moved to Harlem about four years ago. There was zero openly LGBTQ, 24-7 establishments in Harlem. Some places did weekly nights. It was difficult to tell myself, If I want a drink on a Tuesday, I have to go down to [Hell’s Kitchen]. But now, if you want to have a drink or meet a friend, you don’t have to go far. It’s a neighborhood lounge.

Walk me through recent events.

The guy [Tyresse Singleton, age 20] was arrested today. Before Pride, on May 31, he burned both flags by the entrance—I replaced them–and last Sunday, July 7, he burned one. He came back! Both times he was caught on video. He did it calmly. Scoping the place, making sure the coast was clear, then he sat on the stair next to the door. He was lighting a cigarette and drinking something. He lit the flags with a piece of paper dipped in something. Then he crossed the street as if nothing had happened. He even looked at the camera.

An extraordinarily stupid criminal. But you’ve gotten wonderful support in the aftermath of this.

It’s amazing. We were three years here with no issue whatsoever. For this to happen was surreal. I decided to post it on social media, and I regret some of the language I used. I didn’t know the next morning the story would be picked up all around the world. [He opens a package that was left for him] All kinds of people are sending me rainbow flags. I bet this is one. Yes! [Opens it up] It’s beautiful!

It really is. Any other stories of support?

The day after it happened, an elderly straight couple were holding each other and came in. The man could barely walk and the woman was blind. They were in their 80s. She had heard about what had happened and had never known there was a gay bar here. She said, “We have to support this place.” In Harlem, especially if it’s a black-owned business, even if they don’t share your views, there’s something about protecting each other around here. For this to happen twice, people are outraged. People do not want the image to be, “Well, it’s Harlem. It’s a black neighborhood.” They are adamant that it’s Harlem and people won’t stand for it. Committing a crime motivated by hate is not a reflection of this neighborhood at all.

No one’s come at you with a bible?

No!

One last question: Who are your gay idols from the past?

I wanted to be a writer when I was younger. I’m in awe that in the era he lived, Tennessee Williams was able to write such beautiful stories. And I admire any black artist that lived through that era and was still able to create such beautiful art, like Langston Hughes.

Good answer.

By the way, I’m sitting with you right now and sort of hiding out from all the reporters that are trying to descend on me.

Well, thanks for the exclusive!