Friday, June 25, 2010
By James Lomuscio
Clem Bellairs, owner of Westport’s Cedar Brook Café, expects his establishment to be filled to capacity Saturday night when the nation’s oldest, continually operating gay bar holds its farewell bash ending a 71-year run on Post Road East.
The Cedar Brook Café closes with a Saturday night farewell party. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Helen Klisser During for WestportNow.com
“It’s sad, very sad,” said the Stamford resident who purchased the business 12 years ago.
Bellairs, 57, cites hard economic times and harassment from neighbors at a time of “a more restrictive society.”
He also took aim at Internet dating, and in an ironic twist, increased societal acceptance of gays that has negated the need for gay bars once considered sanctuaries as well as meeting places.
“It’s not gay marriage, per se,” he said about gay and lesbian couples being more settled. “Gays have been accepted at straight bars, and they don’t need a gay bar. A lot of straight bars even have gay nights. And you have the Internet.”
Bellairs said that over the past five years he has tried to adjust to the times by advertising the Cedar Brook not just as a gay bar for men and women, but as dance club open to all.
“I created a New York bar scene here, and we didn’t know who was what when they were out on the dance floor,” Bellairs said. “Everybody was there just to have a good time.”
He said that his clientele is “50 percent male and female, and 50 percent minorities.”
Bellairs noted that blacks and Hispanics, especially, have found the same sanctuary there that white, gay males did when it first opened.
He said that Latin music nights have been a big draw for the club.
New property owner Andy Im, who operates Swiss Cleaners next door, said, “Neighbors don’t like cafe. Too noisy. They get drunk. Make pee-pee outside.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) James Lomuscio for WestportNow.com
But despite these changes, Bellairs said he could not compete with a weak economy exacerbated by a rent spike with his new landlord effective July 1.
“He doubled the rent,” said Bellairs. “I was paying $3,800 under the old landlord, Paul Kish.”
In October, SNC Properties owned by Westporter Andy Im purchased the 5,455-square-foot, two floor café, adding it to the property Im owns next door. It includes a Subway franchise and Swiss Cleaners, which Im owns and operates.
Im, however, insists he did not double the rent. He also says that when he purchased the property from Kish the rent at the time was supposed to $5,800.
“I still charge him $3,800,” said Im, a Korean immigrant who purchased Swiss Cleaners 10 years ago.
He added that the new rent is $8,000 per month, “not bad for Westport,” and not double what the rent was supposed to be.
“I raised it to $8,000 and he not take it,” said Im. “He’s been here a long time. He’s a good man, but he said business was slow.
“It’s a free country,” he added. “If he doesn’t want to stay, I can’t hold him. It’s not a Communist country.”
Im said he is not certain what type of business will replace the café. Perhaps a restaurant, he said. But he did note that he would have to raise the rent to cover the cost of renovations.
“I have a mortgage,” said Im. “I have to pay a mortgage every month. If a new tenant comes in, I have to charge him $11,000.
“Neighbors don’t like cafe,” he added. “Too noisy. They get drunk. Make pee-pee outside.”
Bellairs disagreed, saying that is not the type of clientele that patronize the Cedar Brook. He also said that opposition to the café is indicative of a growing wave of neo-prohibition.
A sign outside the Cedar Brook Café. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Helen Klisser During for WestportNow.com
“Westport is turning into every other town,” he says about a more staid, suburban lifestyle that has supplanted the dance club scene that burgeoned in the 1980s.
“People worry about being pulled over for DUI after having two drinks.
“And there are nonsmoking laws,” he said, noting that he was fined $250 for smoking in his office at the club.
The smoking ban, he said, forces many patrons outdoors to smoke, and with “the doors opening and closing and the music being heard outside,” neighbors have complained.
“I’ve been harassed by the neighbors,” he said. “I told them, ‘Don’t call the police, call me first.’ ”
But that point remains moot after Saturday night. Bellairs said that when the dust settles he plans to move to Provincetown, Mass.
Meanwhile, Belairs says he is sad, a sadness that is echoed on the café’s Web site with The Three Degrees singing “When Will I See You Again.”
Posted 06/25/10 at 05:30 AM
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