It's been a couple of weeks since Hollywood's oldest gay bar, the Spotlight, closed its doors for good. Having done the Cahuenga shuffle a couple of times since then (including on our way to Freak City), we must say that the street feels different.
Many considered The Spotlight “Cahuenga's ugly sore thumb,” as we noted in our book Los Angeles' Best Dive Bars. But for others, it was a boozy beacon to individuality on the nightlife scene.
Rumors of the bar's imminent demise circulated for years, but it finally happened on Monday, September 5. There was weekend of wild goodbye parties beforehand, including the birthday bash for former club promoter Jeffrey Hilbert, who is currently working on a documentary about the place, tentatively titled The Last Gay Bar on Earth.
“I started doing research on the Cahuenga corridor gay bars of yesteryear last summer,” Hilbert tells us. “Using The Spotlight as a jumping off point, I want to show how gentrification and queer homogenization are killing off the last of the gay bars, [which are] longtime refuges for outsiders.”
Owner Don Samuels, who could usually be found sitting on a stool at the “delightfully crummy place” (as it said on his business card), had vowed to never vacate, but according to an employee the building's owner tripled the rent. Hilbert says Samuels is seeking a new venue for the bar, and hopefully it will find a new home. Still, there was something about the dichotomy of its trendy locale that made it special. While velvet ropes, glitzy clubwear and lots of cruising make the Cahuenga corridor a self-conscious clusterfuck, at The Spotlight the vibe was slower. Maybe it was sleazier, but it was welcoming to all.
“Everyone was always so nice there,” says Ginger Coyote, singer for punk band White Trash Debutantes. “People would say mean things about it, but most of them never even went inside.”
While sleek exteriors seem to come and go on Cahuenga Blvd., the Spotlight remained the same for almost 50 years — its blue awning noting its establishment in 1963, next to a rainbow flag. Of course, most gays in L.A. chose not fight the swarms on Selma and Cahuenga, preferring drinking holes in WeHo or Silver Lake, so Spotlight was never exactly crowded, even on Friday and Saturday nights. Still it was always lively inside, thanks to the cheap drinks ($4-6), colorful characters. and an air of history; its “old Hollywood” vibe, in Coyote's words.
As for the bar's beloved pool table? Longtime area resident and NCIS actress Pauley Perrette bought it at the farewell fete.
Check The Spotlight Bar's Facebook profile for updates.
Have stories from the bar? Contact Hilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org