The legacies of pioneers interwoven in the LGBTQ+ movement echo throughout the streets of New York City. It was in communities like Harlem where queer visionaries were at the forefront of the artistic renaissance and the neighborhood became the backdrop for the underground drag ball scene. During the 1920s, the emergence of LGBTQ+ culture in the borough of Brooklyn was fostered by prominent residents who unabashedly embraced their sexuality and spearheaded transformative initiatives rooted in activism.
Standing on the shoulders of these luminaries are entrepreneurs Charles Hughes and Richard Solomon who are advancing their mission to cultivate safe spaces that promote authenticity and liberation. The married couple—who founded Lambda Vodka and Harlem’s Lambda Lounge—have opened Club Lambda in Brooklyn. We spoke to the pair about their new venture and the importance of queer spaces designed for people of color.
NewsOne: What led to the creation of the Lambda brand? Where did you pull your inspiration?
Charles Hughes: We initially started about six years ago with Lambda Vodka. We were going to go into real estate but the deal fell through, so we said let’s do something positive with the money instead of just spending it on frivolous things. I saw an advertisement for Cîroc and wondered why doesn’t our community have a spirit that speaks directly to us and is created by the community as well? After that, we went through the process of bringing Lambda Vodka to life.
We started to do a lot of events within the community and created a name and a buzz for ourselves. However, it still wasn’t taking off to where we were able to do it on a full-time basis. Ricky and I decided to open a location where we could sell Lambda Vodka. That’s where the idea for the Lambda Lounge came from. The Lambda Lounge took off during COVID. During the pandemic, a rigorous time, we had to constantly adapt to COVID rules and regulations, but we made it through. We thrived. Then we said if you look across the country, a lot of our major metropolitan cities don’t have a location like Lambda Lounge. That’s when we decided to move to Brooklyn.
NewsOne: Why did you specifically choose to open your businesses in Harlem and Brooklyn?
Richard Solomon: When we first decided to open Lambda Lounge, we got a lot of pushback for wanting to open a queer space in Harlem. It was expected not to be accepted by the community and it’s been the complete opposite. We’ve received unlimited support from the community; both the queer community and the straight community.
Harlem is still considered the Black Mecca. We’re surrounded by a number of Black-owned businesses, so we’re right at home. In Brooklyn, there was an establishment that was the only urban gay club in the borough. Since it closed down, we felt the need to fill that gap.
NewsOne: Can you talk about the importance of creating gathering spaces for people to unwind and come together, and why it’s essential to cultivate spaces like that for the Black LGBTQ+ community?
Charles Hughes: Through going out, our community would generate large amounts of revenue for venues in Manhattan, but we would see that we were being disrespected and not given social media presence by these locations. It was more so ‘come spend your money and then we want nothing to do with you after that.’ Now we have places we could go to that represent us and are actually created by us. They are safe havens for people within the community.
Richard Solomon: I’m a native New Yorker. I’ve been here all of my life. I used to hang out on Christopher Street when there were a number of establishments that catered to our demographic. They’re all gone. The idea of building something downtown wasn’t my thing because I didn’t want to run the risk of being shuttered. Uptown was a better option. The adjustment was a little different because everything that we’d known in the gay community, like the nightclubs, were all downtown. We were one of the first spaces to come uptown. It was a more comfortable fit for us and our demographic, especially for people of color. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Lambda Lounge is a space for us 24/7. Lambda Lounge was one of the first prevalent places uptown that provided a space for us.
NewsOne: What’s on the horizon for you both?
Charles Hughes: We’re going to keep working. Our goal is to have ten Lambda locations across the country in all major metropolitan cities from D.C. to Miami to Los Angeles. With that, we’d also like to extend the spirits brand. We currently sell Lambda Vodka in a few liquor stores uptown, Lambda Lounge and it will be sold in Club Lambda. We want to create a gin tequila and possibly a cognac. Outside of our businesses being created by and for the urban LGBTQ+ community, we’re open to all supporters from every community.