A Philadelphia gay bar posted a notice on Facebook last week that it was “officially closed due to hate.” The post was a photo of a flier that blamed its lack of a liquor license on a “well connected wealthy man" motivated by hate.
Comments poured in from customers and community members, who began looking into the man, real estate developer David Singer, who had no direct connection with the operations of Boxers PHL, an outpost of a chain of sports bars that serve an LGBTQ clientele. People were angry — it wasn’t the first bar in the Gayborhood to be shuttered — and some showed up at the bar Sunday for a fundraiser to support the 20 employees newly out of jobs.
Singer, who’s owned a building next to Boxers and has had a presence in the neighborhood for years, said he’s not motivated by hate or homophobia. He said that he tried to intervene in a liquor-license transfer out of concerns related to health-code violations and that his intervention isn’t what shuttered the bar. State records show the owners themselves put the liquor license in “safekeeping” status at the end of January, a pause they could undo at any time.
“They have literally closed themselves,” Singer said, “and are trying to pin it on other people.”
They have been in the process of selling the Philadelphia location to local restaurant owner Imer Dedja and his son Tim, who own spots like the seafood restaurants the Boiling House in Cherry Hill and the Boiling Pot in Old City, according to William Morrin, a liquor law attorney representing Tim Dedja.
A Philadelphia location no longer appears on the Boxers website, and employees said Tim Dedja had handled day-to-day operations for months. Morrin said Dedja had intended to continue to operate the business as a similar LGBTQ-friendly sports bar.
Morrin said the agreement of sale was contingent on the liquor license’s transferring from Fluet and Hynds to Tim Dedja, but that process was delayed, largely due to Singer’s intervention, and “the deal basically fell apart." Citing “legal and confidentiality reasons,” Morrin declined to explain further why the agreement was terminated. Imer and Tim Dedja didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Singer, who owns a frame shop and apartments in the building next to Boxers, said he filed a petition to intervene with the Liquor Control Board because the Dedjas have “a history of health code violations."
He said Imer Dedja was listed as the “person in charge” — typically a manager or operator — of Silence Dogood’s Tavern and Big Ass Slices in Old City, to which city inspectors last summer issued a 48-hour cease operations order following a handful of violations, including the discovery of mouse droppings and cockroaches. Dedja was not the owner at the time, and the establishment is now under new ownership following a sale in October.
Singer said he has “a duty” to the residents of his property to be sure the new licensees are asked publicly about the code violations.
LCB rules stipulate that petitions to intervene can be filed by owners of property within 500 feet of a business, as well as anyone with knowledge of the “reputation” of the applicant. A public hearing will be scheduled, and the LCB will then make the call on whether to approve the license transfer. An LCB spokesperson said a hearing hadn’t yet been scheduled.
Morrin said Singer’s concerns about health-code violations were “baseless” and “not sufficient grounds for blocking the transfer." He said he wouldn’t comment further on Singer’s motivation.
Ben Ablao Jr., general manager at Boxers PHL, said the flier and Facebook posting “didn’t make any speculation that it was homophobia.” He said he and the Dedjas were iced out by Singer through the license-transfer process.
“We had the feeling it was coming from hate, which I understand is a strong word," he said. Singer "didn’t like something. We don’t know if it was the bar, the clientele, the new owners, the old owners. There was some type of quote-unquote hate there.”
Singer called the accusation “hurtful and untrue.”
“We’ve seen a lot of support from many of the clients and customers,” Ablao said. “I’m going on the assumption that this is just temporary.”