"I'm freaking out" – what it feels like to open a business during the pandemic
Who’d open a business during a pandemic? Not just any business … but a bar. What kind of madness?
“But we didn’t,” insists Roy Arias. “We did by accident. Obviously, if it had been by choice, we'd never have done that.”
Roy – whose Off-Broadway 777 Theatre was home to Drunk Shakespeare – had been looking for a new space after the 8th Ave building closed. A W46th St location came on the market – a one-time massage parlor, which then became an Irish bar, and he says: “I always wanted to open a bar before – something a little high-end.” However, it didn’t lend itself to a theater. So, after a little juggling, he was able to move Drunk Shakespeare to his comedy club, and signed the lease for XOXO, a new gay bar on Restaurant Row, in July, 2019.
“Everything was fine and dandy,” he says. “There were some issues with the building and getting the liquor license, and we thought we were going to open in December … then January … February … and it didn’t actually happen until March 5. Ten days later, everything went to hell in a hand basket.”
Now reopened, operating at a fraction of capacity, he says, his plans for live performances and piano are on hold.
“I feel like I'm freaking out. We don't know when there is going to be inside dining. And I get it.” But with a capacity of around 200 indoors, and a maximum of 30 able to be seated outside, the numbers don’t add up.
"You have to think, you're doing rent for seven months and you're making zero.”
“We went through that the first few days and we decided we need to operate like a restaurant. We have to. So we do bar food. We could use the backyard – I’ve asked for permission to do that – but that's only temporary. Even if we do, in November, we're not going to be here. Customers won't be here.
“A lot of people have closed … I can count at least nine of them. The 9th Ave Saloon, Brazil Brazil was next to us. You have to think, you're doing rent for seven months and you're making zero.”
Nonetheless, the man who’s been a part of the cultural scene in Hell’s Kitchen since 1995 says he’s sitting tight and trying to make it through.
“I moved to the neighborhood when I graduated with my masters in acting,” he says. “I was a full time actor. Then in 2004, we opened a theater at 300 W43rd St, in the Times Square Arts Center. I had that theater until they closed the building, then opened 777 Theatre and the comedy club.”
He produced Strawberry and Chocolate, and Sex on the Beach. But his biggest success was probably Next to Normal, which started in his studios and jumped to Broadway in 2009, where it was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won three.
“We had great people in there,” he says, “including Angela Lansbury – she’s probably the one I was most star struck with. When I saw her, she was a lot taller than me, and I kind of froze.”
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