Home » New Queer Nightlife In Los Angeles

New Queer Nightlife In Los Angeles

by Jason Heidemann

Do you know about the transition,” the door person at queer-women focused wine bar and hangout The Ruby Fruit asks me.

Nightlife In Los Angeles (Photo by Jose Adriano)

A handful of promising new LGBTQ+ bars and bar nights have opened in Los Angeles recently. PASSPORT visited them and has some seductive and delightful stories to tell about the new queer nightlife there.

The pandemic left a mass grave of shuttered LGBTQ bars in Los Angeles (may they rest in power).  You can no longer do the hustle, for example, on a Saturday night in the Valley because Oil Can Harry’s, with its legendary disco night, closed after more than 50 queer years. Nor can you drop your pants on Thursdays and have your schlong photographed and judged by horny WeHo boys at Big Fat Dick because Fubar also shuttered its doors. And while we’re at it, goodbye Faultline, Gold Coast, and Flaming Saddles. But a handful of promising new bars and bar nights have risen to take their place, and in one single weekend I’m hitting them all up armed only with cash in my pocket and too much time on my hands.

“Do you know about the transition,” the door person at queer-women focused wine bar and hangout The Ruby Fruit (3510 Sunset Blvd. Tel: 323-522-6323. TheRubyFruit.com) asks me. I almost raise an eyebrow but am aware she’s referring to the January 2023 closing of upscale restaurant Eszett and the lightning-fast replacement in February with The Ruby Fruit, the first lesbian-owned queer bar to open in Los Angeles in years and a nod to Rita Mae Brown’s 1974 Sapphic novel Rubyfruit Jungle. I nod my head regarding said transition.

It’s 7 P.M. and there’s only one vacant stool left in the place, which I take. A Sarah MacLachlan song permeates the room and it feels paradoxically surreal, but weirdly comforting to be in a queer bar where I’m outnumbered by women 50 to 1. Owners Emily Bielagus and Mara Herbkersman have done a nice job with the bar. Like a lot of good things in LA, The Ruby Fruit sits in a strip mall (this one includes both Domino’s Pizza and a Baskin-Robbins). The interior boasts a sunset-hued color palette, stylish furnishings, and a dash of potted plants. On the wall behind the bar hangs a tasteful nude oil painting; I also spot a bumper sticker that reads: I love salty dykes, and of course a vintage paperback of Rubyfruit Jungle for which the bar takes its name. I’ve never seen so many stylish lesbians in one place; my big bar weekend is off to a rousing start.

Emily Bielagus (left) and Mara Herbkersman, Owners of The Ruby Fruit(Photo by Jesse Saler)

Emily Bielagus (left) and Mara Herbkersman, Owners of The Ruby Fruit (Photo by Jesse Saler)

Immediately upon sitting down at The Ruby Fruit, I’m accosted by two queer women. “Put those sunglasses on for me,” one says referring to a pair of glam, midcentury shades I purchased in Palm Springs and have since left behind on a train bound for Barcelona. I fulfill her request. “I’m in love with you,” she says. And just like that I have two new lesbian soulmates.

Their names are Kate and Britt and they make me feel right at home in this queer woman’s paradise. Kate is an executive and we gush in unison over a shared love of Sparrows Lodge, a chic Palm Springs hotel. Britt, meanwhile, works in reality TV, including on the show Naked and Afraid. Somehow, I’ve charmed these ladies: “If you want a f*cking TV show,” says Britt earnestly, “I will get you one.” They both gush over The Ruby Fruit, but share a common concern: Will it last?

The Ruby Fruit is not a cheap night on the town, but I enjoy flowing glasses of natural orange wine and a full dinner menu—everything is outstanding. The grilled bread dusted in confit garlic, fried herbs, and Italian anchovies, and served with honey butter satisfies my cheat day carb cravings. A plate of smoked blue oyster mushrooms with chili oil yogurt offers a smorgasbord of textures, and there’s also a plump grilled chicken sandwich slathered in mayo, cabbage, pickles, and chile vinegar and served on a fluffed potato bun. The Ruby Fruit is doing it right. At the meal’s end, three forks intermingle as my new Sapphic friends and I devour a slice of olive oil cake. We exchange Instagram handles and I proceed to my next destination—West Hollywood.

I’ve flirted with the cute mixologist at Schmitty’s (8737 Santa Monica Blvd. Tel: 323-572-6400. SchmittysWeHo.com) before, and like any good bartender, he pretends to flirt back. I’m not sure if it’s the thick ‘stache, the washboard abs, or that he’s wearing the tightest, teensiest, and most revealing pair of cut off jean shorts ever stitched together, but I enjoy gawking in his direction as he pours me a tipple.

Bartender Eric at Schmitty's (Photo by Schmitty's)

Bartender Eric at Schmitty’s (Photo by Schmitty’s)

Schmitty’s opened in November 2022 from the same folks behind now-shuttered Fubar. It took over Gym Bar which itself moved a few blocks west to take over the Halal Guy space. Schmitty’s has quickly established itself as the neighborhood bar of my dreams and exactly what WeHo needs right now. It boasts a wonderfully lived-in feel, like it was once the rent-stabilized apartment of some LA queen who lived there for decades and died leaving behind vintage treasures. Picture an old piano papered in stickers that read “I love Penis” and “Nobody Knows I’m Gay,” gaudy lantern lights, queer Polaroids, and ferns. It’s an easy place to just chill, or as one staffer put it, “We’re the only bar in WeHo that hasn’t turned into a nightclub.”

It’s peak imbibing hours and I’m pretending to lean casually against the bar cushioning my body with my tush and making eye contact with a bearded cutie in line. “I know you from Palm Springs,” he says. “You took me to underwear night.” (That’s true, I did). Behind the bar I see Bruce Daniels, the temp manager at Schmitty’s and a fantastic comic who used to open for Margaret Cho and now runs a queer comedy show on the East Side called “Drunk on Stage.”

As I float across the crowded room, I get a sudden and unexpected bear hug from a stranger. Locked in a beefy embrace, my hugger presses my ribs together and says, “It’s good to see you.” I’ve never seen this dude in my life, but I play along. He’s handsome and possesses unnecessarily large biceps and a wide smile. He keeps kissing my hand and insists we met at some disco, but I have no idea what he’s talking about. I drift away from him and toward a cutie hidden between two banana plants like a gay spy. He thumps his chest and says, “I’m Tarzan.” Actually, his name is Jesus, but both men wore loin cloths so it’s six of one really.

I pivot away from him and toward a guy in suspenders and his friend. “Are you two together,” I ask. “Yes,” says Suspenders, though I think he’s playing with me. “Do you have gay sex,” I further inquire. “No, we have straight sex,” he says. “He tucks it in and rams me.” This is why I love Schmitty’s—zero attitude, zero f*cks given, and lots of LA characters.

I rise, shine, and vigorously scrub my privates. I am bound for Lincoln Heights, an East Side neighborhood famous for, well, nothing actually. But it’s currently home to Jordan Service, a queer photographer who shoots a lot of events around town like VPL (an underwear night) at Precinct and has a steamy NSFW Twitter feed (@jxcollab). Today, he’s hosting Shameless (follow Service on Instagram at @JordanServicePhotography for details), a new monthly interactive erotic art event and photo session with GBTQ men at his airy loft studio.

Steven Polania (@polania1991) at Shameless (Photo by Jordan Service)

Steven Polania (@polania1991) at Shameless (Photo by Jordan Service)

Service answers the door in his birthday suit and points me toward clothes check. The event is completely full and one by one guys arrive, strip down, and eventually form an oblong circle in the living room where furniture is blanketed in tarps. After brief introductions in which we each share our favorite turn on, Service explains the rules of consent (we’re to offer our comfort level to each person we interact with via a numeric scale) and instructs us to lather each other up with coconut oil and use each other’s bodies as canvases to unleash our inner Jackson Pollocks. Service, meanwhile, grabs his Nikon D850 camera and waits for us in the upstairs loft where a stream of afternoon light determines the event’s start/finish time.

We’re a wide range of ages, sizes, and ethnicities. I even recognize a few among us, including: a mustached little dreamboat I follow on Instagram, but had never met in person until now, and a go-go boy famous for having a sausage so big I always wondered if the undies he dances in are tailor made to contain it. (Sufficed to say, everyone lines up to paint him.) The afternoon is a flurry of swirling colors, dripping paint, and erotic intermingling, especially in the shower. My only regret is that I wish I’d been bolder—with my color choices that is.

The first bar I hit tonight is Or Bar (8228 Santa Monica Blvd. Tel: 323-380-6060. TheOrBar.com) in West Hollywood. Or Bar opened in the space occupied by legendary gay dive Gold Coast and once the ribbon was cut and the doors swung open to the public, expectations immediately ran high. Some patrons were dismayed by the drink prices and one friend of mine took to Yelp to express his displeasure. I am excited to see for myself.

The sidewalk outside Or Bar makes seismic rumblings as I approach, a nod to the loud music pumping from within, and I half expect to be greeted by a red carpet and the discerning click of a velvet rope. Or Bar is an upscale lounge and some in the crowd dress to impress. One might imagine daddies in blazers and twinks in tees, but it’s mostly the other way around with older guys rocking ripped jeans and Chuck Cons and the Gen Zers donning their weekend best.

Or Bar (Photo by Darren Kendrick)

Or Bar (Photo by Darren Kendrick)

Once again, I am lucky to grab the last seat at the bar, and a corner one at that. My mixologist has curly blonde locks like the ones Madonna sported in the film version of her Blonde Ambition concert tour, and he’s also wearing a backward ballcap and sparkly bowtie. I order a New Fashioned and at $19 I now see why the Yelpers are complaining, but I also like the place. It’s got plush banquettes, a decadent chandelier in the middle, and a surprisingly diverse crowd.

I meet a Los Angeles native named Reuben and his boyfriend Pablo, a blonde Dorian Gray-type from Buenos Aires. As we collectively note the arrival of Or Bar in the queer bar landscape, we also reminisce about the ghosts of LA’s gay nightlife past while Reuben name checks long gone bars like Factory, Spotlight, and Numbers (a daddy bar) among others.

Reuben and Pablo are later replaced by a trio of young cuties. “Is Vaseline Alley still a thing,” I ask them referring to the alley behind the bar that has been a gay cruising ground for decades. “You’re gonna walk out that door and let us know in like 30 minutes,” the tallest one replies.

As I sip to the bottom of my diluted cocktail, the song “Funkytown” by Lipps Inc. plays and the catchy chorus phrase “gotta move on” has me thinking it’s time I do the same. But I’ll be back.

Across town, in the shadow of the enormous East Hollywood Target on Sunset (which boasts stellar views of the Hollywood Sign and Griffith Park Observatory from its parking garage) I approach a nondescript doorway. The bouncer looks genuinely surprised to see me: “What event are you here for,” he inquires. I can’t blame his suspicion. I’m at Honey’s at Star Love (1532 N Western Ave. honeysla.com), a new pop-up bar for queer women.

Honey's at Star Love (Photo by Evgeniy Kalinovskiy)

Honey’s at Star Love (Photo by Evgeniy Kalinovskiy)

A handful of promising new LGBTQ+ bars and bar nights have opened in Los Angeles recently and we visit them all in a single weekend and come back with delightful and seductive stories to tell.

Thanks to its nightclub vibe, Honey’s is more dimly lit than The Ruby Fruit. It’s cut into multiple rooms ideal for canoodling and boasts terra cotta checkered floors, walls painted teal, long banquettes, high boys, and lush palm trees, all of which are continuously sprayed with the passing lights of the disco ball that is twirling at a measured pace. I might be the only one in the place who isn’t a Gen Z queer woman, but I can’t imagine anyone not feeling right at home.

A growing crowd is building on the dance floor, lured by salsa music with a techno beat and a DJ engaged in a call-and-response with the young booty shakers in which she points at them excitedly and in perfect unison every one of them points and shouts right back.

Finally, a young woman in a white jean jacket turns to me and pointedly asks what my deal is. Her name is Kate Greenberg, she is one of the founders and wants me to know Honey’s is a party hosted at Star Love indefinitely and not just a dance party, but also a lounge. “We just booked a 62nd birthday party,” she tells me. She introduces me to cofounder Charlotte Gordon who further explains that Honey’s is trans inclusive, lesbian, and queer focused. Gordon tells me the space used to host a night for older lesbians called Hot Flash—a great name. I poll a few attendees and ask how they would describe the place: The words I hear most are sexy, moody, and fun.

When Hot Dog Sundays at El Cid (4212 Sunset Blvd. Tel: 323-668-0318. @HotDogSundaysLA on Instagram) made its debut a couple years ago it included a ritual that has since faded. After paying the cover charge, the drag host would offer a choice of solo cup color coded to a gay man’s preferred sexual position: Red = Top Dog, Pink = Greedy Bottom, Blue = Power Vers, and Black = Don’t Touch Me, and during that first summer every time a pink cup was selected, she would announce it to the crowd who would erupt in cheers. My house shares an alleyway with El Cid, which is mostly an outdoor venue, so I could hear every raucous applause perfectly. Sufficed to say, it was a siren’s call.

The Cast and Crew of Hot Dog Sundays at El Cid (Photo by Mario Diaz)

The Cast and Crew of Hot Dog Sundays at El Cid (Photo by Mario Diaz)

Two years later, Hot Dog is the glammest weekly queer party happening in the city, and the best reboot so far this decade. Host Mario Diaz, the reigning king of LA’s sleaziest queer nightlife, first introduced Hot Dog many years ago, and in summer 2021 decided to bring it back as a post-pandemic return to raunch. It begins every Sunday at 4 P.M. and by dusk the line of horny queers often stretches a city block.

I Venmo the doorman twenty bucks (the cover is $10) and he returns my change in singles for the dancers. Diaz is famous for personally styling his go-go boys, which means a dancer might be sporting a zebra-print thong, a bejeweled choker, a hot pink crop top that reads “SlutPig,” and ski goggles. Diaz himself is at the door tonight and wearing a t-shirt of Disney’s Goofy with the word TWAT scrawled across it.

Celebs like Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Joel Kim Booster, and out Olympian Gus Kenworthy are often in the house, but they can count themselves as just a few among the many interesting queers who turn Hot Dog into their weekend escape. Tonight, I see writer and Jeopardy! champ Louis Virtel, the visual artist John Parot, a gallerist friend who just opened a photography show on vintage men’s fashion, and Mama Fierce, a sweet older lady and jeweler who doles out necklaces in exchange for hugs. Mama hones in on my crop top which features a line drawing of a gay sailor. “We need to give him a name,” she says. I nod and tell her I’ll think on it.

I immediately run into a TV writer friend who bowls on the queer league with me and who is holding a pink cup which is good information to have. I also openly thank a dude hunched over the bar for wearing the tightest pair of Timoteo SOMA denim “Booty” shorts and am embarrassed later in the evening when I meet him again and realize he’s Eric Cervini, Pulitzer Prize-nominated historian and author of The Deviant’s War and co-founder of online queer bookstore ShopQueer.co. (But my goodness you should see him in these shorts!)

My friend Danny shows up wearing a Tina Turner shirt (which soon comes off) and a pair of shorts slung low so that the room can see the hot dog novelty jock strap he has on underneath. He’s talking with a Brazilian friend named Danilo who happens to be a go-go dancer in LA and shows me his Instagram feed to back up the claim. We’re instantly smitten with each other, and Danilo beckons me to follow him to the bathroom, though I soon lose him in the crush of dudes in line to pee and dust powder off their upper lips.

As always, Hot Dog is insanely packed, so I squeeze outside again for fresh air. “This is the perfect height,” a slumped-over guy with wavy hair, tattoos, and stud earrings sitting waist level near the stairwell says to me with a nod toward my crotch. “We’re outside and in full view of everyone,” I say in response, but he assures me a modicum of privacy if we head to the busy dance floor which is flanked by booths on one end. So yeah, Hot Dog is that kind of place.

I decide to call it a night. After all, I am completely satisfied after my encounter with crotch guy. I realize I never used any of the singles given to me upon arrival so on the way out I make it a point to feed them into the g-strings of each dancer, all of whom have gathered at the entrance for a group photo op. I stumble home tired, but also relieved. We lost a lot of bars thanks to the pandemic, but LA queer nightlife is alive and well—at least for now.

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