The oldest gay bar in Queens will remain a cornerstone in the Jackson Heights community after the owner purchased the building in which it has operated for more than three decades.
Friend’s Tavern owner Eddie Valentin and his business partner Casimiro Villa persevered at a time when so many bars and restaurants were forced to shutter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am thrilled to be celebrating our permanent acquisition of Friend’s Tavern, after over 32 years of business here in Jackson Heights, which is a melting pot of the world,” Valentin said. “It has been our privilege to serve this neighborhood as well as so many customers from the rest of the city who seek a second home, and a safe space where we serve smiles and hugs with every libation.”
When she heard that Friend’s Tavern wanted to purchase the building at 78-11 Roosevelt Ave., Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz connected Valentin with the Queens Chamber of Commerce. The chamber facilitated an introduction to representatives from TD Bank, which led to a mortgage.
“For 32 years, Friend’s Tavern has served as a cultural mecca, a home and haven to those without, and a beacon of hope and love for the LGBTQI community,” Cruz said. “I am honored and thrilled to have been a part of the purchase of the building by Friend’s Tavern owner, Eddie Valentin, and his team, so that we can give this cultural institution a permanent home.”
A ribbon-cutting celebration at the tavern Monday night followed a difficult year and a half for so many small businesses in Queens that were impacted by COVID restrictions placed on bars and restaurants. The trying circumstances only strengthened Valenti’s determination to purchase the building and ensure Friend’s Tavern could continue to operate for decades to come.
“For three decades, our space has been a refuge for our LGBTQ community, not only from the U.S. but from so many countries from around the world,” Valentin said. “We look forward to the next 30 years of creating friendships, and giving our love back to our wonderful community.”
Friend’s Tavern has been a particularly important nightlife space for gay and bisexual Latino men, many of whom, as immigrants, found a sense of community in an openly gay environment that they may not have had in their native countries.
“We are thrilled that we were able to be a trusted partner to Eddie and Casimiro, providing them with the financing needed to continue their 32-year legacy as a safe space for the Queens LGBTQ community and its allies,” LGBTQ+ & Community Business Development VP Steven Garibell said. “This celebration reinforces how strong partnerships between local officials, community organizations and financial institutions can help our small business community reach their goals and help fuel the local economy.”
The Queens Chamber of Commerce served as a conduit in securing the mortgage.
“Iconic establishments like Friend’s Tavern make Queens special, they add to the unique character of our neighborhoods and create jobs and opportunities for all,” Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Grech said. “At the chamber, we pride ourselves on helping facilitate connections between our members that allow businesses to grow and thrive. We are delighted that Friend’s Tavern will continue to serve the LGBTQ community in Jackson Heights, and look forward to enjoying many more celebratory occasions at the bar for years to come.”
Friend’s also played a role in social justice and commemorative events in the neighborhood. In 1993, when Jackson Heights was chosen as the site of the inaugural Queens Pride Parade, representatives from the bar marched and sponsored the block party on nearby 37th Road.
“As the oldest gay bar in Queens, Friend’s Tavern has been an inclusive and historic and safe space for our LGBTQIA+ community for decades,” Councilman-elect Shekar Krishnan said. “I’m so proud to celebrate with Eddie and the whole team at Friend’s, their purchase of the building, and to recognize how beloved of an institution it is for Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and all of Queens. Friend’s Tavern reflects the very best of our community — a shining example of inclusivity, equality and warmth. Here’s to many more years of celebration of this cherished small business as it continues to grow.”