New York City

Julius' Bar, Site of Historic Gay ‘Sip-in,' Threatened by Pandemic

Gay activists staged a historic protest at the bar three years before the Stonewall Uprising. Now, the owner is struggling to keep its legacy alive

Brendan Byrnes and Stephen Cabral clink their drinks at Julius' in New York on March 19, 2021. Byrnes and Cabral got married at Julius' in 2015
Julius Constantine Motal / NBC News

Julius’, a beloved New York City bar, has occupied the corner of Waverly Place and West 10th Street in the West Village for nearly 160 years. With little identifying it beyond its name in simple green cursive, the watering hole’s unassuming exterior belies its importance in gay rights history.

Like the Stonewall Inn just a few hundred feet away, Julius’ has been a lifeline to New York’s queer community for decades.

Now its owner is determined to make sure that legacy — and the bar itself— isn’t a casualty of the pandemic, which has devastated New York City nightlife.

Opened as a dry goods store in 1840, the building at 159 West 10th Street was already serving as a saloon by the 1860s. During Prohibition, Julius’ was a speakeasy, allegedly taking its name from the proprietor. Numerous unmarked doors and basement tunnels used for coal delivery allowed for quick escapes if the bar was raided, according to long-time bartenders Tracy O’Neill and Daniel Onzo.

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