Art & Culture | Bars

An Old Socialist Speakeasy Turned Literary-Themed Bar with Nightly Readings

KGB Bar Exterior East Village





About KGB Bar

 & why it made the Carpe City list

  • Literary panache and unique history as a two-time speakeasy
  • If you’re a fan of the written word, KGB should definitely be in your rotation.
  • Opened in 1993, it’s one of the few places that has stayed true to the artistic and radical roots of the neighborhood.
  • KGB has nightly performances ranging from literary readings to poetry, jazz, cabaret and burlesque.
  • The 1920’s era building houses three separate spaces.  On the bottom floor is the Off-Broadway Kraine Theater; you’ll find the Soviet-themed bar on the 2nd floor; and the prohibition-era Red Room is tucked away on the 3rdfloor.
  • Prior to it being KGB (More about the name below!) it was the Ukrainian Labor Home, a social club for Ukrainian socialists.
  • The bottom floor was the socialists’ great hall for parties and dances. On the 2ndfloor, members could feel comfortable discussing their left-leaning political sympathies during the McCarthy era in a private speakeasy.
  • Prior to the Ukrainian ownership, the building housed another speakeasy during Prohibition.  Called the Palm Casino, besides being a speakeasy, it was also a brothel and, you guessed it, a casino, owned by non-other than the infamous mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano.
  • It’s an intimate and what we would call a comfortably-divey space.
  • The literary talent is usually very good.
  • With a menu of prohibition-influenced drinks, KGB Bar is more of a solid cocktail spot than a wine and beer spot.
  • Most of the Red Room performances are 21+ and 2-drink minimum.

Carpe City Trivia

Why is it called KGB Bar?

Owner Denis Woychuk is of Ukrainian roots and purchased the great hall on the bottom floor from the Ukrainian Labor Home, whose socialist membership was dwindling with age and changing political tastes. With a nod to its history (and an added letter “e” for good pronunciation measure,) Woychuk changed the space to an art gallery and named it the Kraine Gallery. A few years later, the Ukrainian group closed the 2nd floor bar. Woychuk purchased it and thought what better name than “KGB Bar” for a tucked away 2nd floor bar with no signage, (the small signage you see today did not arrive until 2000) and subversive leftist history. Unfortunately, when he applied to the Department of State to name his new watering hole KGB, he was given a big NO! … a Soviet-themed name was verboten. Mind you this was shortly after the end of the Cold War! The only way he could get it approved was by saying that it was an acronym for Kraine Gallery Bar and thus the d/b/a of KGB Bar was born.

By: Christi Scofield





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