Owner Charlie Rice of New York City’s famous gay establishment, the historical Monster, took some time out of his busy day to chat about the history of the bar as well as what goes on there. It was an honor and a pleasure to be able to speak with him. He is such a nice man.

So Charlie, how did you acquire the Monster?
I met my partner Joe, who is the original owner of all the Monsters. The flagship was in Fire Island.

I remember it.
Oh, so you have been there?

Yes, the last year or two.
In the ‘70s, pre-AIDS, it will always always be known as one of the best restaurants.The tail end of it was dreary. Joe had already sold it in ‘85. He’d seen the epidemic coming and had lost a couple of lovers. He saw that Fire Island and Key West were going to change, so he sold them. Anyway, I come from a family of chefs. Both of my dads – I had a biological father and stepfather – were chefs. Then I met my partner Joe, who was a chef. … I went to work for him eventually, probably in 1975 when I was 24. I’m 64 now. I had come to Fire Island with a friend of mine that happened to be a friend of his. We were all friends in those days. And I met this wonderful man with this wonderful, charismatic personality. And then I came to work with him. We kept that relationship going for a long time. I lived in Florida for a very long time. Joe opened up the Monster there in 1975 in Key West. Fire Island opened in 1971. I went to visit him in 1975, and Joe and I reconnected, after having worked for him for one season. Eventually, in 1987, he became a free agent. His partner was deceased. We got together on a date, and the rest is history. I came to work for him in Manhattan, and when Joseph finally passed away 10 years ago, I became his legacy. So I’m very happy to be doing this for him, for the community.

Eileen, we really are an LGBT establishment. We have really always been. Joe has always been a lover of life. Also a lover of both sexes. We have always been open to women and men. I mean, that’s how we do business in Fire Island, the restaurant and Key West. Likewise here. We are still riding a wonderful wave of popularity, in this day and age when so many people feel disconnected. They are reconnecting to a little semblance of legendary past history. They like coming here because it’s a great mix. There’s boys, there’s girls. Everything is here. I stay true to our core values of what the Monster has always been – that is equal opportunity, and the drink prices, for one, are still something that’s affordable and not overly priced. We still give away the second or third drink on the house. We give away free food, which has always been a good thing, because it’s really tasty, for happy hour.

Do you do happy hour every day?
Every day! Yes, every day, and it’s not just your average things. Steven, who has been here since day one, will cook up peppers and sausage, and it just flies out the door. We have always done some nice tasty things to get people to join. Now, did you know that this place has always been a dance club since the ‘30s?

No, I did not.
We still have murals of the Spanish dancers that used to be here. It originally, in the ‘30s all the way through the ‘50s, was called Chicos. It showcased flamenco floor shows. There is illustrious history. I mean Ingrid Bergman, Tony Bennett was here, Tony Greco danced here, and the photos that are online are marvelous. You see these vintage photos, what the downstairs used to look like, with a level dining room with a full kitchen. Then you see the prices of the menu and see how affordable food was. Then I guess in about the ‘60s an Israeli guy bought it. It became a Middle Eastern joint where they had belly dancing. So there’s a lot of ghosts, and we have been here since the early ‘80s. The younger generation has no clue of the ghosts that are still here. It’s got good energy and such a history. There is even a film where Chicos is mentioned.

That is so cool.
I was privy to be a part of all of the Monsters, from Fire Island and Key West and this one. When you think of all of the people, the snowbirds that came to Key West, like Leonard Bernstein and Grace Jones, to dance the night away, it was incredible to hobnob with them. Fire Island had its share of fabulous people like Ethel Merman and Tommy Tune. They all came there to eat; the food was so spectacular.

I think you know one of my favorite queens. Do you know China?

Yes, yes, he’s such a nice guy and still looks fabulous. Do you know Charity Charles?

Of course!
Charity and I go way back. She was one of the first Miss Fire Islands.

Yes, I know.
Where were you born?

I was born in Brooklyn.
I was born in Pennsylvania. At my age now, I’m very happy getting older, like next year I’ll be 65. I don’t feel it. I don’t know, maybe my parents have given me the spirit of being a child forever. But you know, 60 something is really the new 40. I feel good. People are still pursuing their goals. They say you can be street smart as well as book smart, but you become smarter as you’re getting older. That’s what working at this club has done for me. It’s really helped me find a path, and I keep doing something and enjoying that rhythm. I’m always reflecting and thinking about Joe, of course, because he’s here, he’s in the house. Not only that but his ashes are really here too. His ashes are in an old can above the bar. I tell everybody that was his testicles.

What did he die from, if you don’t mind me asking?

He died from COPD. To the very last day of his life he came to work. He was a constant host. He loved New York. Towards the end he could barely breathe.

It’s very sad; however, you sound like a very nice man, and it sounds like you enjoyed each other.
I got some good life lessons from my soulmate. I’m very fortunate, but I don’t know if it will ever happen again.

Never say never!
I am open to it. But I don’t know, Joe was one of a kind. I was so lucky that I met him at that moment in time. Destiny was meant to be. I think he would’ve been very happy right now if we had gotten married. We were domestic partners. I know he always wanted to feel that way. We had wedding rings, and he always said that he was the best husband I ever had. He was such a card. He never offended anybody; however, he had a little devil in him.

That’s a nice story. So Charlie, give me a quick rundown of what goes on on a daily basis at the bar.
On Tuesdays we do the Disco Inferno, where we play flashbacks. It’s retro from the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and we do videos with that as well.

Who is your DJ?
At night it’s Michael Wilson. Then the legendary Lady Bunny will play on Sunday. And she does her share of the oldies, and everyone will come out for her, because she’s a character. That one is a character, oh my gosh. So Bunny is here on alternate Sundays doing her thing. We’ve had a terrific success for Fridays for women that’s called Hot Rabbit. At first a lot of the men didn’t think it was right and were saying, “Oh, if Joe was alive…,”and I say, “If you really knew Joe, he would be very, very pleased.” Fridays have come back with an amazing success of having gorgeous women. They call them the lipstick lesbians. The slowest day is Wednesday, midweek, but we still have a great show with Holly Dae. We also have some terrific DJs like Johnny Dynell. He always brings out a crowd. So we have some tried-and-true people who understand rhythms and we like working with.

monsterbarnyc.com

80 Grove Street
Sheridan Square
New York, NY 10014