‘The Energy Was Just Indescribable’: Club Langston Didn’t Go Quietly

Endangered Spaces

Located on an unassuming block in Brooklyn, one of the last black-owned gay nightclubs in the city has closed.

In the daytime, Club Langston was easy to miss. There was no sign, only two unmarked black and white doors. The biggest landmark was the nearby auto parts shop.

But on Friday and Saturday nights, the thudding bass of soca, dancehall and hip-hop would attract groups of clubgoers — largely gay Caribbean or West Indian men — to queue up on an otherwise isolated block on the border of Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

“The energy was just indescribable,” said Johnny Kimble, a frequent Langston’s D.J. and promoter, who is more commonly known as Tyson The Event. “Every party we had, you knew this was the one place you could go where you could dance a certain way or look a certain way or change up and explore and know you wouldn’t be judged.”

The club was originally called Moor’s Bar and Lounge, “after the black Moors of Spain,” said Calvin Clark, one of the club’s founders. But it eventually came to be known as Club Langston (or, simply, Langston’s), because of the portraits of the poet Langston Hughes that used to surround the bar.

Langston’s, which closed last spring, was one of the last black-owned gay dance clubs in New York City. It has joined a long line of other clubs for black and Latino gays and lesbians that have closed over the last decade, including several Manhattan spots: Secret Lounge in Chelsea, No Parking in Washington Heights and Escuelita in Midtown West.

The club opened in 2001, a month after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. People were afraid to go into Manhattan following the attacks, Mr. Clark said, “so the space popped off very quickly.”

Langston’s originally drew both straight and gay crowds. “The place was crowded, lines around the block,” Mr. Clark recalled. As the club evolved into an L.G.B.T.Q. hot spot, however, straight promoters took their parties elsewhere.

The club flourished for years. But then earlier this year, one of Mr. Clark’s other venues flooded and closed. Mr. Clark accumulated over $70,000 in back rent, taxes and costs for city-mandated renovations. This affected his ability to pay the bills for Langston’s.

Successfully running a nonwhite gay club these days can be difficult. Owners must contend with rising rents driven by gentrification, anti-night life sentiments among developers, the migration of meeting spots to virtual ones like social media and dating apps, and a growing acceptance of L.G.B.T.Q. people in traditionally straight spaces.

But to Mr. Clark, and many former patrons, there is still a need for clubs like Langston’s.

“In the 18 years that Langston’s was open, we saw incredible shifts in the ways that gays are perceived in America,” he said. “But until we have spaces where a man can walk up to another man in a straight club and not be afraid of getting attacked, we still need spaces like Langston’s.”

Last February, in a final effort to save his club, Mr. Clark staged a silent protest. For 12 hours a day over 10 days, he stood outside of Club Langston to bring awareness to a fund-raising campaign to rescue the club.

“I did everything I could do to take a stand,” said Mr. Clark, who made around $18,000 of his $70,000 goal. “But in the end, it wasn’t enough.”

Langston’s closed in March.

Thomas Beauford, 27, who grew up on Franklin Avenue and spent time at Langston’s, remembered how the “purple strobe light would swim across the white walls, and a crowd of people formed a circle around the dancing.” He said “there’s definitely a void in the neighborhood now.”

But Mr. Clark and Mr. Kimble are working ever so slowly, once again, to fill that void the best they can. They have started to throw parties at a small venue nearby called Kinanm Lounge & Bar.

Maybe opening a more permanent place will be their next step.

Illustrations by Julia Wertz

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