Boxers Sports Bar brand has tapped an undiscovered marketplace
Gay bars have traditionally had certain themes, from leather bars, to dance clubs, to country and western bars. There has always been something for everyone. Well, almost everyone. The Boxers franchise came roaring into New York City several years ago and gave locals, as well as bridge and tunnel Jersey boys, a place to go catch the latest Giants or Eagles or Devils games.
Based on the success of the original bars and the new locations that seem to be popping up everywhere, Boxers co-owners Bob Fluet and Rob Hynds seem to have tapped an undiscovered marketplace. They show no sign of stopping now. I sat down with co-owner Rob Hynds to chat about what makes a great gay bar from a management perspective. We also touched upon the growing trend of straight women in gay bars, and what he sees as the future for Boxers.
Michael Cook: How do you straddle the sports bar atmosphere and vibe, while still keeping it a traditional gay bar that has showings of RuPaul’s Drag Race?
Rob Hynds: You know, the gay bar has kind of evolved through the years. The original Boxers opened nine years ago and back then, we were totally paranoid to do too much of either aspect really. We thought maybe if we were too much of a generic sports bar, the “masculine” sports bar if you will, that would turn off some of the gay community. As it has evolved, we have found that there is definitely room for both.
The live games are over by ten or eleven in the evening, and it always kind of just works out. There are enough televisions, and in some of the Boxers Sports Bar locations, we even have different sound systems to accommodate everyone. Through the years, we have tried to have fun with our marketing as well, with things like “Drag Is A Sport” as a tag line. We are a gay sports bar where drag is a sport kind of thing.
Boxers is a place guys can bring their family to
Was it initially difficult to get straight men to come into a gay sports bar?
RH: From the beginning, we wanted Boxers to be a mix of different people. As a kid, I would go to bars and it was either the “men’s bar” where women were not allowed in, or it was the leather bar that restricted guys with sneakers. There was all kinds of divisiveness! I did not want that at Boxers, for many reasons. Obviously, there is a bigger market being open to more people. I also wanted guys to be able to come with their moms. It’s one thing Bob (Fluet ) and I are proud of. Boxers is a place guys can bring their family to.
Back in the 90’s in New York City, there were bars that physically did not let women come into the bar unless they were accompanied by women. Fast forward to 2018, and we have women coming into bars with bachelorette parties and groups of women coming alone because, among other reasons, they are not harassed at gay bars. What are your feelings on this as a business owner?
RH: I have heard that rift from gay men who complain that there are too many women at a bar. Honestly, it’s still ninety-nine percent gay men at the gay bars I see in New York City. But we welcome women at Boxers Sports Bar. If a guy doesn’t like it, than perhaps Boxers isn’t the place for him. We want everyone here. If that is not comfortable for a guy, or he thinks it’s going to get in the way of him getting laid, there are still bars in that will tell women that they are a “men’s bar.”
From an ownership perspective, what do you think makes a truly great owner for an establishment geared towards the LGBT community?
RH: I have to tell you, I don’t know that there is just one thing; there are so many pieces to managing any bar. From the general maintenance, to upkeep, to cost controls, and then, with us, there is an absentee owner factor, which Bob and I are. You have to have systems in place, and reporting, and above all, you have to have the right people. Without the right people you don’t have any shot and they have to also have an eye for the marketplace. For example, in our Philly location, we have Kip Phelps who is a long time friend of mine and we have been able to have general managers like that at each of our locations. I am a little older in the community, and I am able to have people who have stepped up and run the places for us, so we can have these people be our point people.
What makes a certain location a fantastic place for a Boxers?
You have your Philadelphia Boxer’s location that has prospered. And you just opened up the Washington Heights location. What is about it that makes you see that a certain location would be fantastic for a Boxers?
RH: Well, you could go where everyone else already is, like we did in Hell’s Kitchen, which worked for us. That bar had one unique phenomenon, which is the rooftop. It has a beautiful terrace, and that was the difference maker. You look at our other locations, like the Upper East Side, which is doing very well, and there was no one there. We thought that there had to be someone in that area that wanted to go out. So, we took a chance. It was similar with the Upper West Side. In our eyes it’s like the new Hell’s Kitchen. So many people have moved up there. It’s becoming a little gay mecca of its own. But there was only one bar! So, we decided to give them a nice little gay hub in their neighborhood.
Anywhere we can expect to see a new Boxers location potentially pop up?
RH: You know, we haven’t locked anything in. They really grow organically. We have one that just opened a couple months ago and one on the rise now. We will have to see what opportunities present themselves. It would have to be a great area. And then we need someone perfect in that area that we would want to do it with. We are taking it one step at a time. There seems to be enough desire and hunger for it. In a couple weeks, I am going to Chicago to take a look there. So, who knows? It’s all about getting someone you are comfortable with — who knows the local market. Can they do the stuff that needs to be done day to day.
Do you think that running a bar and being a nightlife presence is even more important now than it was before, especially in times as divisive as we have now?
RH: Yeah. I would have thought that we would be going in a more divisive direction, but it certainly seems like a certain President is leading the world against democracy. It seems that families are more divided when they have to sit down and discuss politics. To have a place like Boxers, that is nonjudgmental, is absolutely terrific.