By Meghan Brink | June 28, 2021
Gay bars have long served as a space where LGBTQ individuals could socialize freely and safely while, equally, serving as the backbone of cultural and political development for the LGBTQ community throughout most major American cities.
Waterworks Pub, Albany’s oldest gay-owned bar and an important social space for the LGBTQ community, has reopened its dance floors to full capacity just in time for the remainder of Pride Month in the wake of the recently announced 70% vaccinate rate in New York State and the lifting of most COVID-19 related restrictions.
General Manager Scott Levine took a moment to reflect on the bar’s history and its role in foraging social and political advocacy and community for LBGTQ individuals in the greater Albany area.
“Gay bars were a safe space for people to be who they are without fear of discrimination or oppression regardless of the color of their skin and regardless of their sexual or gender orientation,” Levine said. “This is one place where the rest of the world doesn’t matter.”
Waterworks has been known as an important social space for the LGBTQ community in Albany since its opening in 1983.
According to Levine, the bar was initially a restaurant in the 1970s at its current Central Avenue location.
“This physical spot going on for close to 50 years has been a cornerstone for the [LGBTQ] community forever,” said Levine, who has managed the bar for the past 15 years.
Waterworks occupies a two-story building which includes a downstairs “Pub,” featuring a bar, seating, and billiards style games, and the upstairs “Club,” featuring a second bar, dance floor, smoking patio, and stage. It offers many events, including drag shows on Wednesdays, with some feature drag shows on weekends, special “Therapy Thursday” dance nights, and Friday karaoke.
In addition to entertainment, however, Waterworks plays a large role in giving back to the greater Albany LGBTQ community by donating and actively participating in a web of various LGBTQ and LGBTQ-allied nonprofits and businesses in the Albany area that work to make the city physically and politically more safe for those of all gender and sexual identities.
“Everybody is involved because it is a good cause,” said Levine. “We have known each other for years. We are friends on top of being members on a board or colleagues in business and that makes it so much better to put something on or to raise money for a cause or to get your voice heard on an issue.”
Waterworks regularly provides donations and support to LGBTQ supportive nonprofits such as the Pride Center of the Capital Region, In Our Own Voices, the Alliance for Positive Health, and the Albany Damien Center. All of these organizations focus on providing and advocating for LGBTQ political advancement, mental health, healthcare, and economic and physical security.
The Pride Center of the Capital Region, whom Levine himself serves as the Vice President of the Board of Directors at, is the oldest operating LGBTQ community space in the country. The organization works to provide a variety of educational and social programming as well as playing an active role in advocating for the physical needs and rights of LGBTQ individuals through the local government.
Levine said Albany has served as a leader in New York State in the passage of LGBTQ supportive legislation at the local level. He added that the work between local organizations and Albany Common Council member Richard Conti played a large role in scoring these wins for the community.
Conti “has been so instrumental with getting things passed since the late 80s and early 90s like domestic partnership laws and on-discrimination laws for both gender and sexual identity,” Levine said.
Conti, who has represented Albany’s 6th Ward since 1997, established the City of Albany Human Rights Commission, which helped to foster the grounds for LGBTQ non-discrimination legislation. Conti himself has also served as a volunteer for the Pride Center of the Capital Region.
“It makes it a better place for everybody to live so that you can often just be safe in Waterworks, but you can be safe walking down the street and be represented in your government,” said Levine on the interconnectivity of both the LGBTQ entertainment industry and the community organizations in Albany.
The month-long celebration of Pride in Albany is planned and coordinated by the Pride Center, where Levine has served as a key organizer since 2006. According to Levine, they work to coordinate celebrations with other regional cities to ensure there are no overlapping major events.
“Places around New York collaborate with everyone around the big New York City pride parade and festival,” said Levine. “The big pride events [in Albany] end in the second week of June because we can't have an event in Albany when there is a pride event going on in New York City, because everybody goes to New York.”
The highlight of Albany pride, the annual pride parade and festival, was moved due to COVID-19 related concerns and is currently scheduled for Sept. 19, pending the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and approval by New York State.
To substitute for the moving of the parade and festival, the Pride Center hosted a Block Party on June 13, shutting down Central Ave to make way for the celebrations.