Before its present incarnation, the second-floor venue was a speakeasy for Ukrainian Socialists who met behind its double-locked doors to hide their political affiliations from the rampant McCarthyism of the era. Since opening in 1993, the KGB Bar has become something of a New York literary institution. Popular authors read here pro bono on Sunday evenings (fiction), Monday evenings (poetry), and most Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. KGB has been named best literary venue in New York City by New York magazine, The Village Voice, and others.
The bar hosts several regular reading series which include:
- Trumpet Fiction – Literary fiction & arts, held on the second Saturday of every month, hosted by Jonathan Kravetz
- Fantastic Fiction – A monthly speculative fiction reading series at the KGB Bar, held on the third Wednesday of every month, currently hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel
- Monday Night Poetry Series – Founded by David Lehman and Star Black, this legendary series has lasted more than a decade and features an impressive slate of major contemporary poets in its fall and spring seasons. The series spawned a book, The KGB Bar Book of Poems, in 2000. Currently hosted by Matthew Yeager and John Deming.