Coronavirus in NY: KGB Bar is staying alive by telling artists’ stories online
As bars and restaurants across NYC struggle with the devastating effect of city-wide shutdowns due to COVID-19, one beloved literary hangout, KGB Bar, is doing its part to help its staff during this tough time.
The bar itself is shuttered, but writers, poets and artists will still be livestreaming literary readings and other events on Zoom that people can watch from the comfort of their own apartments (and hopefully, tip generously with Venmo).
While KGB Bar and its Red Room speakeasy have been hosting legends such as George Plimpton, David Foster Wallace, Elizabeth Gilbert, Jonathan Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates, Anthony Bourdain and more for the past 26 years, the history goes back much further. The building at 85 East 4th St. was built in 1838 and was the headquarters of Emma Goldman’s secret society of anarchists, as well as being home to Lucky Luciano’s Palm Casino speakeasy.
Later, it would be the site of the Ukrainian Labor Home where KGB owner/founder Denis Woychuk’s father, a Ukrainian shepherd who came to the US during the Great Depression, would go to find comfort and solace after having been blacklisted as a Communist and unable to find work.
Woychuk wanted to create a haven for lonely writers to gather over a drink and share their work. After attending law school at night while working three jobs, Woychuk was eventually able to purchase the building 15 years ago.
Now Woychuk and General Manager Lori Schwarz have come up with a few ways to raise money and provide some funds for their employees — by selling drink tickets to be used when they reopen, taking deposits for upcoming events, and selling ad space and/or sponsorships on their online lit mag, kgbbarlit.com, Web sites and social media posts.
“I want everyone to know that we’re going to take care of our employees with donations,” says Schwarz. “We want to be here when this is over, so we can go back and create and keep making the magic in the room.”
To watch livestreamed events from KGB Bar, visit kgbbar.com and 30 percent of funds received will be immediately Venmo’d to employees — and it’s possible to designate to which bartenders it should be given.
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