Reading at the KGB Bar

New York City hosts many intriguing venues. One of my favorites is the KGB Bar, in the East Village. A few weeks ago, I read there as part of a Mystery Writers of America (MWA) reading series. It’s a very red and vibrant place. Feels magical. I’ve always been curious about the bar’s history, and this is what I discovered.

Reading at KGB Bar. (I am the small person in front of the microphone)

Some interesting facts about the KGB Bar:

  1. First of all, and possibly most importantly, the bar has nothing to do with the KGB secret police. Which, in case you’re wondering, is no more. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the KGB was dissolved and replaced with the FSB, which is a lot the same. However, none of this has anything to the bar, which was instead named for its founder’s art gallery: Kraine Gallery Bar.

2. The son of a Ukrainian immigrant, Dennis Woychuck, founded the current version of the bar in 1993. Before that it was a speakeasy controlled by gangster Lucky Luciano, and later a private social club for Ukrainian socialists. The stained glass windows, which you can see in the photo, date back to the 1920s.

3. The bar is filled with all sorts of relics from the Soviet era. For example, there’s a photograph of a famous Soviet cosmonaut. Also a portrait of Misha, the symbol of the 1980 Olympics (boycotted by the U.S.) Pretty sure I saw a portrait of Lenin, as well.

4. The list of authors who’ve read there includes: Jonathan Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates, and Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler).

KGB Bar at 85 East 4th Street


Almost everyone who’s lived in New York City for a while, or gone to NYU, has a KGB bar story. Do you have one? Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Susan Breen is the author of the Maggie Dove mystery series. Her stories have been published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. The MWA anthology, Crime Hits Home, in which she has a story, just won an Anthony Award. She teaches novel-writing at Gotham Writers and is on the staff of the New York Write to Pitch Conference.



  1. What fun! Never been there. I’ve only been to NYC once for a burial. So many people and buildings! In fact I wasn’t there long enough to sit down. Afterwards we piled back into our cars and raced back to Freehold.

  2. Include me in the list of authors who have read there. I don’t have an exciting story about the place to share but it’s always exciting to share my story with an intimate crowd.

    But those steps. Too many, too steep so when you finally make to KGB you really need a drink. At least I do.

    1. The steps are killers. I had people who couldn’t go to the reading because of them. But the drinks are good!

  3. I was there when I was taking screen writing courses at NYU, still living in New York. Wow I haven’t thought of that in a long time! It had terrific atmosphere back then, and looks like it’s still does.

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