Before closing its doors in 2010, Starlite Lounge, at the corner of Bergen and Nostrand, was the “oldest black-owned non-discriminating bar in New York.” What started as a LGBT inclusive bar in 1962 quickly became a hub for community, friendship, performance, and activism for people of color in Crown Heights and beyond.
For almost 50 years Starlite was a nexus for ritual, celebration, communion, and safety. Starlite persisted through the eras of the Stonewall riots, Gay Liberation movement, HIV/AIDS crisis, and Civil Rights movement—banding together and pushing forward into the new millennium. But with this era of social progress also came an accelerated gentrification of Brooklyn and when the building was bought by new owners, Starlite was forced to leave.
Filmmakers Kate Kunath and Sasha Wortzel documented the Starlite community’s activism to save the space in a documentary called "We Came To Sweat: The Legacy of Starlite" and in an essay titled “An Argument For Queer Space” Kunath wrote, “Queer space is a site for refusal, reinvention and redemption.” Queer spaces like Starlite are sites of resistance through belonging. Before it closed, Starlite was host to straight, gay, black, white, young, and old members of the community. Karaoke night brought in a multiracial group of newer residents, weekly drag shows brought queer crowds, and local senior citizens and regulars populated the bar every afternoon.
Spaces like Starlite show us how radical queer meeting places can be. A safe haven and space of inclusion is a politically meaningful act that permeates the community surrounding it. Collective warmth and passion can yield a better future for everyone in and outside of the queer community.
While Brooklyn community members lost an impassioned fight to protect this historical landmark in 2010, the history and magic of Starlite will never be lost, which is why we have commemorated its name with our new product to contribute to the preservation of its legacy.
Photos credited to We Came to Sweat