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Photos: Harlem Soul Food Restaurant Sees Boost From Underground LGBTQ Parties

On a recent warm, autumn, late Saturday afternoon, the indoor and outdoor seating at Brunch Harlem, an Uptown Manhattan soul food restaurant with an LGBTQ following, was packed. Many tables were filled with couples devouring fried chicken, buttery pancakes and seafood pasta – a house favorite.

 

In a subterranean space below, called Room 623, patrons danced to music, smoked hookahs and tried to converse during an event dubbed the G.A.B. – Gay Ass Brunch Party, produced by a lesbian promoter group, Raw Honey, and featuring a lesbian DJ.

 

“At least 85% of my customers are LGBTQ,” said Adriane Ferguson, who owns the establishment on West 119th Street between Frederick Douglass Boulevard and St. Nicholas Avenue. “We have been successful because of word of mouth.”

 

Ferguson, who was born and raised in the neighborhood and describes herself as a lesbian person of color, first opened her restaurant as Billie’s Black in 2006. Ten years later, she rebranded it as B² Harlem, which has become better known as Brunch Harlem.

 

Room 623 was inspired by a speakeasy that occupied the space during the Prohibition era, Ferguson said. The building dates back to 1895 and the basement — with its low ceilings, lack of windows and faintly musty air — exudes the charm of a secret after-hours club from the 1920s. An illuminated “Room 623” sign casts a bluish tint on patrons seated beneath it, while clients sitting along a back wall reflect the orange light from two fluorescent lamps nearby. Seating is limited to a handful of dispersed benches and three couches. Two customers seated on a sofa, whispering, had to lean in close to each other to be heard over the music. 

 

A woman, clad in a t-shirt and tight black leather jacket and seated at the bar, said she was visiting from Atlanta and had been wanting to check out Brunch Harlem for years. She was excited that she came on a weekend when a lesbian event was underway.

 

As the afternoon transitioned to evening, and then the night came to a close, the music gradually mellowed in tempo. Customers made their way up the stairs and out of Room 623 as Ferguson cleared the restaurant.

 

Owner of Brunch Harlem, Adriane Ferguson, smiles with open arms. New York City, Oct. 10, 2023. (Credit: Sophia Glazer)

Owner of Brunch Harlem, Adriane Ferguson, smiles with open arms. New York City, Oct. 10, 2023. (Credit: Sophia Glazer)

 

People at a G.A.B- Gay Ass Brunch Party in Room 623, the speakeasy attached to Brunch Harlem. New York City, Oct. 7, 2023. (Credit: Sophia Glazer)

People at a G.A.B- Gay Ass Brunch Party in Room 623, the speakeasy attached to Brunch Harlem. New York City, Oct. 7, 2023. (Credit: Sophia Glazer)

 

People at a G.A.B- Gay Ass Brunch Party in Room 623, the speakeasy attached to Brunch Harlem. New York City, Oct. 7, 2023. (Credit: Sophia Glazer)

People at a G.A.B- Gay Ass Brunch Party in Room 623, the speakeasy attached to Brunch Harlem. New York City, Oct. 7, 2023. (Credit: Sophia Glazer)

 

People at a G.A.B- Gay Ass Brunch Party in Room 623, the speakeasy attached to Brunch Harlem. New York City, Oct. 7, 2023. (Credit: Sophia Glazer)

People at a G.A.B- Gay Ass Brunch Party in Room 623, the speakeasy attached to Brunch Harlem. New York City, Oct. 7, 2023. (Credit: Sophia Glazer)

 

People at a G.A.B- Gay Ass Brunch Party in Room 623, the speakeasy attached to Brunch Harlem. New York City, Oct. 7, 2023. (Credit: Sophia Glazer)

People at a G.A.B- Gay Ass Brunch Party in Room 623, the speakeasy attached to Brunch Harlem. New York City, Oct. 7, 2023. (Credit: Sophia Glazer)

 

People at a G.A.B- Gay Ass Brunch Party in Room 623, the speakeasy attached to Brunch Harlem. New York City, Oct. 7, 2023. (Credit: Sophia Glazer)

People at a G.A.B- Gay Ass Brunch Party in Room 623, the speakeasy attached to Brunch Harlem. New York City, Oct. 7, 2023. (Credit: Sophia Glazer)

 

Owner of Brunch Harlem, Adriane Ferguson, wipes down the bar at the end of the night. New York City, Oct. 10, 2023. (Credit: Sophia Glazer)

Owner of Brunch Harlem, Adriane Ferguson, wipes down the bar at the end of the night. New York City, Oct. 10, 2023. (Credit: Sophia Glazer)

About the author(s)

Sophia Glazer is a Master's student at Columbia Journalism School where she specializes in stories about gender equity.