Local gay bar ‘hopes’ to reopen by end of week

Boxers staff and friends. Courtesy Boxers PHL

Largely due to community support and legal restructuring, the LGBTQ bar, Boxers PHL hopes to reopen its doors Friday “with a full liquor license,” according to General Manager Ben P. Ablao, Jr. 

Boxers has been closed since Feb. 4 due to a liquor license dispute, wherein David Singer, a principal owner at Michael Singer Real Estate, filed a petition to intervene against the liquor license transfer from Boxers PHL’s New York owners, 1330 Walnut Street Partners, to IMER DEDJA LLC. 

While Imer Dedja is listed as the liquor license transferee, Tim (Prentim) Dedja will be the owner and manager of Boxers if the transfer is approved, according to William Morrin, the liquor law and licensing attorney representing Tim Dedja.

Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) confirmed on Feb. 6 that three protests and one petition to intervene were filed against the transfer, which requires a hearing. 

Though Boxers originally indicated Singer’s petition was due to hate, Singer noted concerns about health violations of Imer Dedja, citing Big Ass Slices as a reason for his concern. 

PLCB stipulates that “anyone with knowledge of the reputation of the applicant’s owners, officers, or proposed Board-approved manager may file a petition to intervene.”

“As a neighbor, I have a multi-family building,” Singer told PGN in early February. “I have people living up there sleeping up there. It’s my responsibility that they have a safe and sanitary place to live. It has nothing to do with what type of restaurant or establishment it is.” According to the City of Philadelphia records, Singer owns the property next to Boxers at 1332 Walnut St. 

On June 3, 2019, Big Ass Slices was issued a Cease Operations order. At that time, Imer Dedja was listed as the person “in charge” at Big Ass Slices and signed documentation from the Philadelphia Department of Health. But the owner of the establishment was Junto Restaurant Group LLC, with its corporate officer listed as Eric Keiles. 

Morrin told PGN in early February that Singer’s complaints against Imer Dedja are “baseless.”

Nevertheless, a lengthy wait for a hearing to decide whether or not Imer Dedja, LLC would be awarded the transfer of a liquor license forced Boxers to look into alternate routes for reopening.

Morrin said, “We have restructured the transaction with the New York owners in order to reopen Boxers and continue the fight.  We will be continuing with the PLCB transfer application process, and are trying to schedule a hearing on Mr. Singer’s protest as soon as possible.  We have acquired additional funding from an investor, who is a member of the LGBTQ community, in order to continue with the process. We hope to reopen by Friday.  We appreciate the support from the local community, Sen. Larry Farnese and State Rep. Brian Sims.”

The new investor wishes to remain anonymous until after Friday’s opening but sent a statement to PGN through Ablao indicating excitement “to get Boxers PHL reopened” and confirming that they identify as LGBTQ.

While the indication is that Boxers will reopen on Friday, the reiterated word “hope” is essential. The liquor license for 1330 Walnut Partners LLC was put into “safekeeping” status by the New York owners at the beginning of the original transfer process, which means a representative from PLCB must assess Boxers in its current form and approve removing the license from “safekeeping.”

Ablao met with staff on Tuesday to inform them of the anticipated reopening and said, “as soon as I made the announcement to them, all I heard was cheers and applause. Everyone shared a feeling of being happy, and they were just waiting for the news. Words can’t express how I felt.”

He added, ”I’ve had separate conversations with employees as well, and they were just so grateful because they had not previously worked for people who worked so hard to make sure that they were OK.”

Ablao said he frequently checked in with staff, and they were told, “that they weren’t going anywhere, and that even if they had a temporary place to work, they knew that it was only temporary — that once Boxers reopened that they were going back to work.” 

Ablao estimates 90-95 percent of Boxers staff are returning once the bar reopens.

He said the LGBTQ community at large and those queer folks in the industry have been incredible since Boxers closed. “I am eternally grateful for their support, and for not only for the establishment, but for our staff.”

He said Boxers regulars and other LGBTQ community members have visited Boxers’ staff at their temporary places of employment to support them and be in contact, even after a month’s long process. 

“It was heartwarming that the community was engaged and concerned,” said Ablao. “Bar managers and others asked if there was anything that they could do.”

“We’re happy to reopen and continue to provide a safe place for the community and for everyone,” Ablao said. “There was no time I ever felt like this isn’t going to happen, and we’re going to close. I never felt that way, and I was very honest with staff when they asked if we were going to open. My gut feeling was yes, just stick with us longer and not only will we reopen but with the support of new investors, we’ll be able to get where we are wanting to be and move forward.” 

If Boxers reopens on Friday as expected, guests can look forward to the “Rupaul’s Drag Race” viewing party hosted by Iris Spectre at 7.p.m and the local gay bar’s largest monthly event, Clymaxxx, beginning at 10 p.m.