One of New York’s most historic queer spaces is finally set to be revived as a brand new restaurant and performing space.
Before there were the drag queens we all know and love today, there were “female impersonators.” Before Stonewall, before the queer liberation movement and the long struggle for equal rights, these “female impersonators” led the queer nightlife scene in New York’s East Village. Back when the Bowery was still a dangerous place to be, celebrities and normal citizens alike all flocked to Club 82 to get a sight of these famous female impersonators.
Located in a secretive basement at 82 East Fourth Street, Club 82 transformed the seedy neighborhood atmosphere into an elegant night of romance, replete with mirrored columns, elaborate banquettes, and white tablecloths. From 1953 – 1973, Club 82 was the go-to spot for New Yorkers curious to see masterful performers bending the norms of gender conformativity. Owned and operated by the bisexual Anna Genovese, Club 82 featured incredible performances by what we would now classify as drag queens, before the literature emerged to properly classify the performance. These cross-dressing performers were complimented by staff of mostly queer women, all dressed in traditionally male tuxedos.
As a Mafia-operated (and protected) joint, the club soon developed a radical reputation and became an iconic destination for queer and straight celebrities alike. Luminaries such as Tennessee Williams, Burt Lancaster, and Liberace were well known to frequent the space, and while the club was mostly marketed to a heterosexual clientele, the space was known for being a welcoming refuge in an era of profound queer invisibility. As the future of New York’s queer scene began to change though, Club 82 became less popular as more queer venues opened up across the city and began resisting state laws on crossdressing. Club 82 eventually transformed into a punk music venue, and would go on to host legendary acts like David Bowie and Lou Reed. While the space formally closed for good in 2019 after a few different iterations, plans are now in place to once again revive the iconic venue.
The lease to the club has now been acquired by owners Harry Nicolaou, Lounes Mazouz, and Reginald Robson, who intend to reopen the space as Ella Funt & Club 82. Teaming up with the drag historian Professor Joe Jefferies, and Adrian, a legendary drag performer from the original Club 82, the team will be reviving the iconic space in all its original glory.
The core space will be split between two different but connected concepts. The ground floor will host a new modern French restaurant called Ella Funt, named after one of the club’s most popular original performers. The restaurant will be led by Executive Chef Tatiana Levha, a Parisian chef who got her start working at two different three Michelin-starred restaurants, and her sister, the internationally renowned sommelier Katia Levha. Additionally, Ella Funt will be designed by French architect Annabel Karim Kassar, one of Beirut’s most celebrated designers.
Below the ground floor, guests will enter the planned theatre and performance space known as Club 82. Based off of the design of the original theatre, Club 82 will host live events as well as film screenings. According to Harry, he hopes to revive the spirit and history of Club 82, and even plans on reviving Kit Russel’s famous variety show.
Harry and his team are now in the process of acquiring the necessary liquor license for the space, and are currently proposing operating hours of 9:00 AM – 4:00 AM from Monday through Friday, and 11:00 AM – 4:00 AM on weekends, though those hours are subject to change pending the board’s approval. Unfortunately, Ella Funt and Club 82 are still too early into development to have their own social media profiles, so you will just need to stay tuned and await further updates!