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2 former bartenders are glad they were a part of the Starlite Lounge

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps. New Year's Eve is one of the busiest nights for bars across the country. Two former bartenders, Albert Johnson and Donna Cuthbert, came to StoryCorps to remember working the holiday at the Starlite Lounge, a historic gay bar in Brooklyn.

ALBERT JOHNSON: New Year's Eve - the best thing to do is go in party mode with the people. You know, setting up the bar and people coming in with noisemakers and the music and the - you know, the laughter. And you - you know, spilling drinks, picking them up. You know, you name it, it's all going on, and nobody really cares. And the only thing is it goes on sometimes till, like, 8 o'clock in the morning. And it's also kind of lonely. If you're by yourself and you're a bartender, it's like, you see all this hugging and kissing at midnight, and most of the time, bartenders know this, and we kind of, like, gather around each other. But working New Year's Day, oh, that is really heart wrenching. I think the most depressing day in the world for bartenders is New Year's Day. I do not like working because people may have gotten dumped. They just don't know what to do with this upcoming year. And you can see it in their eyes.

Now, we have to explain to the world what the Starlite was.

DONNA CUTHBERT: (Laughter).

JOHNSON: It's the Black gay version of Cheers.

CUTHBERT: Right.

JOHNSON: There was a family atmosphere there that was second to none. That jukebox had everything on there from Muddy Waters to Beyonce. It was the most welcoming place in the world. There were people that stayed there, and some of them never went home. There's this one story. Somebody had been cremated, and they brought him to the Starlite...

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: ...Before they were going to dump his ashes. Well, they all got drunk, and they didn't take the man home.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: They were cleaning up the back storage area, and he was stuck back up on the shelf for about 15 years. But they found the family, and they returned - I don't even think they realized they had left the man there.

CUTHBERT: Oh, my goodness.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: So that was a case of a party where the man did not want to go home. That's to show you that you could party in that place and just forget wherever you were. And I'm glad I got to be part of that.

CUTHBERT: Oh, I'm definitely glad I had that experience.

JOHNSON: As long as I live, will be those nine years standing behind that bar in the Starlite Lounge and the wonderful people and the infamous people that was on the other side.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORK IT OUT")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Break it down now. We got to work it out. We got to work it out.

MARTÍNEZ: That's former bartenders Albert Johnson and Donna Cuthbert remembering their days and nights pouring drinks at the Starlite Lounge in Brooklyn. Their StoryCorps conversation is archived at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORK IT OUT")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Yeah, blow your horn now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Esther Honig