Denis Woychuk is the founder of KGB Bar (1993) and publisher of KGB Bar Lit.
Lori Schwarz is Associate Publisher of KGB Bar Lit.
Carrigan Lewis Miller is the current Editor-in-Chief of KGB Bar Lit.
Thirty years ago, in March of 1993, KGB Bar opened in the former headquarters of the Ukrainian Labor Home in the neighborhood known both as Little Ukraine and the East Village. It was the first post-communist nostalgia bar of its time. Its official name, Kraine Gallery Bar (Kraine as in Ukraine), did business (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) as KGB Bar, permitted to do so by the US Department of State because of our pre-existing Kraine Gallery, which had itself opened on the main floor in 1982.
The KGB one-room bar (originally opened as a speakeasy by Lucky Luciano in 1920) was one flight above the Kraine Gallery. Its "official" name, therefore, is The Kraine Gallery Bar, doing business as KGB Bar.
The name itself was galvanizing— we called it that because we could.
Freedom of speech. Freedom of the word. (We like writers.)
Truth be told, after ten-hour days alone in their rooms, serious writers need somewhere to go. (Not-so-serious writers too.) There were few bars at the time that didn’t feature disco balls or hairy-chested men draped in chains.
And there were exactly zero bars whose"patron saints" were the likes of Leo Tolstoi (whose statue rests on the back bar) nor Taras Schevchenko (his oil portrait on the wall)... writers both.
The time was ripe and the first literary book reading seemed to spring up on its own: The Culture of Desire: Paradox and Perversity in Gay Lives Today, by Frank Browning, in 1994.
The New York Times covered the reading and reported there was a new literary series in town... at the KGB Bar.
When the Times says something like that, people take it seriously. We posted the review at various colleges and two young men from Columbia University, Ken Foster and Dirk Standen, stepped up to become reading series directors, launching our future as a literary hot-spot for Sunday night fiction.
Poetry followed on Mondays, Tuesdays were for nonfiction, and so on. Before we knew it, we had lit events every night.
Five years later Ken Foster was still with us. He sold our first fiction anthology, THE KGB BAR READER, which was published in 1998. The contributing writers were referred to as the literary "lion cubs" of the day, and most of them now have grown into full-blown literary lions, whose names many of you might recognize.
The KGB BAR BOOK OF POEMS, edited by David Lehman and Star Black Poetry, THE KGB BAR NONFICTION READER, edited by Mark Jacobson and ON THE ROCKS: THE KGB BAR FICTION ANTHOLOGY, edited by Rebecca Donner, were next.
But then came the internet, which changed everything - especially publishing. So we changed, too.
As we relaunch, we welcome Carrigan Miller as our new editor-in-chief, and we especially welcome you, dear reader, as we embark on new literary adventures.
Special thanks to Lori Schwarz, our associate publisher, Suzanne Dottino, our founding editor, Billy Cobin, Ben Shields, Melvin Bukiet, Alice Turner, Mark Jacobson, Terry Bisson, Prof. Patricia Zumhagen, the dozens of series directors and the hundreds of writers who have helped us present to the world - and the community - the very best we can offer.
The journey continues.
Publisher & Founder, KGB Bar