The Underground Niteclub, Buffalo's oldest gay bar, is getting a new one-year lease on life.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which expelled the bar from its longtime home in a HUD-funded apartment building on Delaware Avenue last month after citing noise complaints from residents, has reversed its decision after an internal review and a rash of bad press.
Lynne Patton, the administrator of HUD's Region II office covering New York and New Jersey, announced on Twitter Sunday morning that she and other HUD officials were working with the bar's owner to reopen the venue.
"I may be a Republican, but I am a New Yorker first," wrote Patton, a former event planner for the family of Donald Trump. "The traditional views of my party do not align w/my own."
Patton, in an interview with The News about the reversal in early June, said she personally convened the bar owner, property owner and her HUD team after learning from news reports about the bar's historical significance and importance to the LGBT community.
"While HUD doesn't make their decisions based on perception," she said, "the reason why we immediately suspended the eviction and convened all of the decision-makers on the phone is because my personal leadership style has always been to get all the principals in the same room."
After discussions with the HUD field office in Buffalo and negotiations among the parties, the New York and New Jersey office of HUD has approved a provisional, one-year lease for the bar. If everything goes smoothly, it will be extended.
No opening date has been set for the bar, which is owned and operated by longtime bartender Nick Tiede and long considered a welcoming enclave for members of Buffalo's gay community. Tiede, who is still working to finalize the details of the lease with the property owner, the Rockland County-based company Multifamily Management, said the community's embrace of the bar was a factor in HUD's decision.
"I get the feeling that after the news broke and details of the bar and its history came to light, that there were people at HUD who realized it was more than just a bar and that it had history and longstanding significance to the LGBTQ community," Tiede said on Sunday. "I wish it never happened. It's definitely created a lot of heartache. But at least they're seeing that they made a mistake and are trying to do the right thing.
"People felt a part of the local LGBT identity was under attack and I was amazed at how people really came together."
The federal department, Patton said, was in a difficult position with the Underground, which was legally required to be approved by HUD officials but somehow evaded that requirement for 30 years. When she was informed that the bar had been allowed to operate without HUD approval for that long, Patton said, she was shocked.
"I'm actually surprised that you didn't hear me screaming all the way from my office in New York City," she said. "We definitely bear responsibility for not addressing this sooner."
As for the complaints of residents about patrons loitering on the corner and making noise, which were solicited by HUD via a buildingwide survey, Patton said she and other HUD officials took them seriously but ultimately characterized them as "not that big a deal."
"The owner of the Underground should have been given an opportunity to address the complaints," she said. "They have been a very cooperative and respectful and impactful business in the Buffalo community and I think they deserve to be heard for that reason alone."
On Sunday, as news of the reopening trickled out, Facebook was filled with ecstatic posts from patrons excited about returning to their onetime haunt.
Patron Autumn Nuzum called the bar "the only all-inclusive bar that I've ever been to" and a place where "every day is a new day and they accept you as you are."
During what was supposed to be the bar's final week of operation in May, patrons flocked to the bar for one last cocktail, commiserated with old friends and scrawled messages of support on the back wall.
Soon, in what one Facebook commenter described Sunday as a "Pride miracle," they'll be able to return.
"I think it's great that we can maintain one of our safe spaces for the LGBT community," Tiede said. "The Underground gets a diverse crowd, so it's a place for people to feel comfortable and call home. I think it's keeping a piece of our history alive, but it's also an opportunity for our community's future."