This Brooklyn Bar Will Do Anything to Make You Feel ‘Insane and Alive’
Maybe you’ve seen it on social media? That delightfully absurd scene: a dozen or so people, tightly packed and shrouded in a smoky haze, racing to finish their cigarettes. The competitors would go on to wrestle in a kiddie pool filled with lube and compete in other events by day’s end, all in pursuit of the grand prize: a voucher for fillers and Botox.
This was the Twinks vs. Dolls Olympics, a tournament that pits lithe queer men and transmasculine people against trans women. The event was hosted by Singers, a bustling bar on an otherwise placid street in Brooklyn. Viral videos from that cigarette marathon have repeatedly courted engagement on social media over the past year, spurring praise and disgust — and, of course, business.
But it’s not always cigarette contests and lubed-up wrestling matches when you walk through Singers’ doors. Sometimes it’s a sauna rave. Other times, a pop-up petting zoo or a screening of “Paper Moon,” followed by a show and tell featuring a can of beans signed by Burton Gilliam, an actor who played a minor role in the film.
“The world’s on fire,” said Erik Escobar, 30, Singers’ social media and events coordinator. “We might as well have a laugh for a minute.” Much of the time, however, Singers, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, is a chill hangout spot for a mostly, though not exclusively, queer clientele, one that gets decidedly less chill at night.
That quality of being both laid back and unpredictable is part of Singers’ appeal, said P.E. Moskowitz, a writer and a Singers regular who helped organize Twinks vs. Dolls. “When I go to a hip bar like Clandestino, I feel like I’m being watched,” Mx. Moskowitz, 35, who is nonbinary and uses they and them pronouns, said. “But when I go here, I’ll literally wear tennis clothes covered in sweat,” which they were, in fact, wearing on a recent Thursday evening.
“Maybe some people come here because they think it’s cool, but no offense, I don’t think it’s a cool place,” they said. “It’s a place where no one knows your name, except the people who do.”
Singers, which opened its doors in May 2022, is housed in a converted warehouse that had sat unused since the closing of a gastro pub in the space in 2018. Michael Guisinger and Brooke Peshke, who own Singers and live near the bar, had watched the venue remain vacant for years and wanted to transform the husk of the restaurant into a neighborhood saloon. They initially thought to name it Guisinger’s but decided that Singers was easier to pronounce.
Singers draws a quieter crowd during the day before it fills up at night: stylish gay people with pan-European accents, couples on awkward first dates, solo journalists on assignment sipping a “Not Lasagna No. 1” (a spicy pineapple margarita the bar has recently rebranded as “Girl Dinner”).
The diverse crowd that Singers attracts can be partly attributed to its branding — or rather, lack thereof. Its exterior is nondescript, bearing no distinctive L.G.B.T.Q. markers like rainbows or trans flags, but word of mouth has lured a growing pool of regulars.
The staff, like that of C’mon Everybody, a bar known for its drag shows a few blocks away, also reflects this mélange of patrons. It’s not a lesbian bar or a gay bar or a trans bar so much as it is a bar run by lesbian, gay and trans people, said Myles Platt, Singers’ manager.
Kelly McCarthy, an owner, with Drew Adler, of the nearby photography shop Exposure Therapy, spends many nights at Singers. She said she loved that the bar doesn’t cater to only one type of L.G.B.T.Q. customer. “It’s doll-friendly, it’s trans-friendly, it’s nonbinary-friendly,” she said. “People who are cool from those groups, even people who are really annoying from those groups, can all feel very comfortable there.”
On any given night, patrons said, you are likely to recognize someone you know from queer pockets of X, formerly known as Twitter, or maybe a person you spotted on a gay dating app.
The bar sports a vending machine in its red-lit back room, which, depending on inventory, may be stocked with gum, Emergen-C, collagen face masks, disposable cameras and even USBs stored with every “Final Destination” movie. “Just, like, anything we can fit in there,” Mr. Escobar said.
Tampons, however, are free; a neatly stacked pyramid sits beside an aromatherapy diffuser atop a ledge in the venue’s lone single-stall restroom.
Ms. McCarthy makes special effort never to miss Wednesday trivia nights. “A couple weeks ago,” she said, “the first category was ‘Martha Stewart’s Time in Jail.’”
There’s also karaoke on Sundays, film screenings on Mondays and trivia on Wednesdays, though it’s the one-off, often unannounced programming that sets Singers apart. The bar might throw a “Pig Party” — one with literal piglets — or the New York nightlife fixture Kevin Carpet might be rolled up across the doorway between the bar and the back room, waiting to get stepped on.
“We did a photo booth pop-up for Christmas and Valentine’s Day,” Mr. Adler, the photography shop owner, said. “Parents came by with their kids in the daytime, then at night it was all naked Cupids getting their pictures taken.”
Cat Zhang, 26, a Singers regular and an editor at Pitchfork, received an invitation to a sauna rave at Singers in April that didn’t mention the bar by name, but listed its address. “I thought there was no way that Singers would be converted to look like a sauna,” she said, “but yes, it did happen.”
Freezer-flap curtains hung over doorways, fog machines blasted on full and borscht martinis were served at the bar. “They had steaming coals, eucalyptus towels, everything was fogged up,” said Ms. Zhang, who returned home with a Singers-branded bathrobe.
Business was as usual the next day. Singers carried no evidence that anything out of the ordinary had taken place. This, Mr. Escobar said, was typical for the bar. “We’ll throw a party one time and then scrap it, reuse it, chop it up for parts and come up with something new,” he said. “Anything to make people feel insane and alive.”
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