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Bar Owner's Death
Draws Mass of Mourners

Bar Owner's Death
Draws Mass of Mourners

More than a thousand people mourned the passing of upstate New York bar owner Joey Henderson. He wasn't gay, but his Blythwood Tavern offered a safe haven to gay men when no one else would.

Upstate New York's Blythwood Tavern has weathered the days when homosexuality was a crime, the Stonewall riots -- even the glam and excess of the New York City's gay scene in the '80s.

For more than 50 years, the bar served as a safe haven for gay men looking to escape police brutality in New York City. And earlier this month, those who found a home away from home at the Schenectady, N.Y., pub gathered to mourn the passing of the bar's owner.

More than a thousand people, to be exact.

Joey Henderson died of a heart attack on February 9, just two days after working his last shift at the bar. He was 50 years old.

According to patrons, Henderson made the bar "his life" for more than 30 years -- and he wasn't even gay.

Blythwood Tavern was established more than 60 years ago by his grandmother, Susan Krajewski, who opened the bar and restaurant after immigrating to the United States from Italy and personally welcomed the first customers who walked in the door.

Krajewski isn't gay; family members say she'd never even met anyone who was gay when she opened the bar. But they said a group of men dressed as women came to the bar one night and told her they needed a place for their group to hang out.

She welcomed them, and the bar morphed into a gay bar.

When Henderson turned 20, he took over the reins from his grandmother.

Krajewski is still alive. At 91 years of age, she's suffering from Alzheimer's disease and hasn't been told that Henderson is dead. His sister Kimberly says she wants to keep it that way because "I don't want her to die of a broken heart."

But she says she and her sister Barbara will do what it takes to keep the bar open because Joey "wouldn't want it shut. She also says Blythwood Tavern will continue to be a gay bar.

"I was raised there," she said. "They treat us like family. They are my family."

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