Friend’s Tavern will remain in Jackson Heights, where it has served the LGBTQ community in Queens since 1989.serving the community as the oldest gay bar in Queens.
Opened in 1989 by Eddie Valentin, Friend’s rented its location at 78-11 Roosevelt Avenue. With the help of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, elected officials and TD Bank, the bar was able to purchase the building after the owner nearly sold the place to another buyer.
Valentin credits the dedication and determination of his team and staff for creating an atmosphere of love and friendship, as well as a safe space for many of his longtime patrons and employees.
“When we opened up this spot 32 years ago, we never imagined how far it would get and how it would bring a community together,” said Valentin. “We learned that working with the community and helping our customers is much more rewarding than selling drinks and making a couple of dollars.
“We integrated ourselves with the community and our customers,” he added. “We became an asylum or refuge for many people, especially in Jackson Heights.”
Valentin was ill with COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic when he found out the landlord was trying to sell the building.
Nearing the end of his lease, Valentin reached out to Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, who then reached out to the Queens Chamber of Commerce. Chamber CEO Tom Grech then connected the Valentin with TD Bank.
“When Eddie called me, the only person I could think of calling was Tom Grech,” said Cruz. “Not a city or government agency, but Tom, because every single time any of our businesses have needed help, it’s been Tom.”
Steven Garibell, TD Bank’s vice president for Business Development LGBTQ2+, helped the business obtain a commercial mortgage after an attempt to secure a loan with another bank fell through.
“Thank god for the Queens Chamber of Commerce and Catalina Cruz for stepping up and introducing me to Steven Garibell,” said Valentin. “Just having somebody listen to me when I thought the whole world was closing in on me, it was a beautiful thing.”
Ralph Bumbaca, TD Bank Market president of New York City, said it was crucial to keep a local legacy going in the heart of Queens.
“We sat down with them and really understood what their goal was,” said Bumbaca. “They understood the business and understood the property. It’s all about the individuals. They showed determination, the will and a level of enthusiasm for supporting the community.”
Valentin, who was born in Puerto Rico, says his business has long served as a safe space for his patrons. In 1993, Friend’s Tavern helped sponsor the inaugural Queens Pride Parade and has continued to provide a nurturing environment to immigrants who find themselves in America for the first time.
“Their first steps are in Queens, because that’s where the two major airports are,” said Valentin of newcomers to the country. “From there, they start looking for a place of refuge, a place that is going to accept them as they are. Many of them are running from persecution in their home countries.
“They end up coming through our front doors and then it’s our job to help them and guide them,” he continued. “Not just telling them what the drink of the day is, but leading them to a nonprofit organization that can help them. If we know there’s a job opening somewhere, we’re letting them know about it. They come here and they’re always welcomed with a smile.”