The Underground Niteclub, a beloved haunt for members of Buffalo's gay community for much of the past 40 years, will close Sunday after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development denied the property owner's application to renew the bar's lease.
The decision not to renew the bar's lease followed multiple noise complaints from tenants of the Touraine Apartments at 274 Delaware Ave., a HUD official said. The bar has operated as the Underground or Buffalo Underground on the ground floor of the federally subsidized apartment building since the early 1990s.
Before that, it operated as a gay bar under the name of the Hibachi Room in the 1970s and Me and My Arrow in the early 1980s.
The complex is owned by Rockland County-based Multifamily Management, which receives subsidies from HUD for the building's 104 rental units. HUD has subsidized the building since 1982.
"While HUD recognizes the community sentiment surrounding the closure of The Underground, the Department’s primary duty is to provide safe and decent housing for low-income seniors," Charles McNally, a spokesman for the New York and New Jersey office of HUD said in a statement.
"Resident complaints detailed excessive noise and police activity that were directly impacting their quality of life. After careful consideration, HUD instructed the owner of Touraine Apartments to seek a commercial tenant more beneficial for the building’s residents.”
After receiving at least one phone call from a resident complaining about the bar, HUD sent a survey to residents and received "more than one" complaint from building residents, according to a senior HUD official.
The News obtained excerpts from three of the resident complaints, which contained concerns about customers making noise on the corner past closing time, urinating and vomiting in the bar's entryway, police being called to the premises and suspicions of drug sales inside the bar. The names were redacted from the complaints.
One resident, a HUD report stated, "began by stating that he has nothing against gay people and that XXX has a relative that is gay." That resident went on to say "he believes drug dealings are going on at the bar, that Underground Niteclub patrons are rude to the residents, they sit on the steps of Touraine Apartments loitering."
Another resident said in a phone call to HUD that he or she "believes the new owner of the nightclub is less respectful and the patrons are less respectful and rowdy" than under its previous ownership and "has wished for a long time that place would be gone."
Nick Tiede, a longtime bartender at the Underground who purchased the bar six years ago, said the closure is a direct result of the HUD decision and was not related to the bar's profitability or any other issues.
"The business is doing well," he said. "It's not like we have a lot of legal problems where the police are here often or something. There's no reason for it."
An employee at the offices of Multifamily Management reached Wednesday declined to answer questions about the bar's closure, referring a reporter to HUD officials.
The club, hidden behind a frosted glass door and down a short flight of stairs, has long been a haven for members of Buffalo's gay community. Its clientele is a diverse mix from all corners of the LGBT community, from fledgling drag queens who got their start at the club's weekly shows to late-night club-crawlers crowding onto its tiny dance floor.
"It's been here for 30 years. It's kind of been an icon in the gay community," Tiede said. "It's just a home to so many different people. This is kind of the bar where you could come as you were, and if you were a little bit different from everyone else, you would fit in."
Patrons spoke glowingly about the bar's importance to the gay community, praising its protective atmosphere and its openness to all walks of life.
"This is where we feel protected. This is our haven, and we lost it. It's a deep loss. It hurts," said Omar Parra, who has been coming to the bar for 20 years. "It's my family. I feel protected. I feel loved. Where else can you go besides your home to feel that way?"
The bar's former co-owner Andy Munroe, who sold the bar to Tiede in 2013, called the decision by HUD "ridiculous."
"The Underground has generated a lot of money for charities, done a lot of good work, including fundraisers for Children's Hospital," Munroe said. "A lot of good has come out of that place, and for HUD to close it down is just unthinkable."
The bar is hosting a series of events this week, including drag shows Friday and Saturday nights and an all-day celebration Sunday. Tiede, who said he doesn't know what he plans to do after the bar closes, said the closure hasn't sunk in yet.
"I have no control over this, so I have no choice but to accept it," Tiede said. "I just want to keep the happy memories and be positive about that. I'm very proud of everything we did."