Escuelita, the legendary Latin LGBTQ nightclub, has closed. A notice on their website says thank you for 49 years and "it's time to say goodbye for now..."
That's all the information I can find on the closure. The club's phone has been disconnected.
Two days ago, DaGrapevine called it "Truly The End Of An Era For The New York City Underground Gay Night Club Scene... However Tbh We At #DGV Aren't Surprised About This At All," due to the club's struggles with the State Liquor Authority.
In 2012, the Post reported on Escuelita's fight. "In papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, Escuelita charges the SLA is cutting corners in a bid to take away their license, a move the club charges is clearly aimed at clearing gay, lesbian, transgenders and minorities out of the gentrifying area."
Said owner Sayvon Zabar in an affidavit, "I also believe that we are no longer welcome on West 39th Street as minorities scare the mostly white tourists who patronize the newly built and expensive boutique hotels on the block."
Zabar also told the Daily News that "Minorities...do not fit into the gentrification plans of the city."
Escuelita won that fight--and the fight went on.
Located on West 39th Street near Port Authority, Escuelita is, in fact, surrounded by a crop of new hotels. But the harassment isn't new.
Writing about queer club culture of 1990s New York in her book, Impossible Dance, Fiona Buckland reports on the surveillance, undercover actions, and raids that Escuelita had to deal with. She recalls a police cruiser parked outside the club. "I bet they ain't hanging around outside straight, white clubs," remarks someone in line.
When the old Escuelita closed in 1995, the final night was a scene of tears. "All of the drag queens, the transformistas, and impersonators," reports one regular in the book Puerto Rican Jam, "gathered on stage for the grand finale. They sang 'America the Beautiful.' They cried. Their makeup ran. An American flag unfurled...upside down."
Lady Bunny with Jerry O'Connell and Andy Cohen backstage, via Daily News
For decades, Escuelita was an important part of the queer scene in the city, providing a space for drag performers like Lady Bunny, and--in the words of 60by80--for "fierce trannies, homo thugs, papichulos and voqueing pier queens from all 5 boroughs."
A list to which New York adds, "Dieseled-out hip-hop gays, sweet cocoa go-go boys, and a handful of blanquitos, all of whom stick around for the truly fierce after-midnight drag competition."
In Queering the Popular Pitch, the authors recount how Escuelita got its name. It was originally located in the basement of a language school. And from "the use of diminutives by Puerto Ricans when giving directions--the club was, thus, the place under the 'little language school.'"
Escuelita has closed and moved before, and it may do so once again. "Goodbye for now," they say. But where in the white-washed tourist city will they be welcomed? My guess--Jackson Heights.