Los Angeles may be one of the most diverse cities in the world, but its LGBT scene is a bit behind cities such as New York and San Francisco. In both places, you can find a gay bar in almost any neighborhood. In Los Angeles, however, there's a few in Silver Lake, some downtown and in the Valley, and one or two on the Westside.
The local center of LGBT nightlife is no doubt West Hollywood, in terms of the sheer volume of options one has in that city. WeHo can be a little intimidating, so L.A. Weekly decided to provide a road map to those looking to spend a weekend night there.
My friends and I began the night with dinner at Saint Felix. It's a cozy restaurant in the heart of WeHo that opened in 2008, and it wouldn't be out of the ordinary to have some LGBT stars dining next to you — when we went, we saw RuPaul's Drag Race season three winner Raja Gemini. But the restaurant is anything but elitist. “I don’t care what you do, who you are, how much money you make … as long as everyone's having a good time,” owner John Arakiki says.
Saint Felix's signature craft cocktails were the perfect kickoff for the night — the Cucumber Dilettante and the Desperado were definite standouts. Arakiki describes the food as “California cuisine with an international edge” and “creative but familiar,” like the Kobe beef slider and nachos, both of which were highlights. Overall, Saint Felix was a great place to relax, converse with friends and fill our stomachs with quality food and cocktails before the craziness we would be getting into later.
After we finished dinner, we headed just a few doors down to the Bayou, one of WeHo's smaller, more divey bars. Co-owner Graham Northwood describes the Bayou as a “New Orleans–themed dive bar that is much more of a house-party atmosphere” and he couldn't be more right. Opening on Halloween 2012 (an “interesting” night to open on that strip, Northwood said), the Bayou is the perfect place to grab some cheap drinks before heading to other clubs. It has two happy hours every night, seven days a week — from 4 to 8 p.m. and from 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. — and they include $3 beers, $4 well drinks and $5 wines.
“We opened in a space that wasn't very popular prior to us but we managed to build that up with some very aggressive pricing and also making sure we have a friendly atmosphere,” Northwood says. “You have enough stress at work. If you're going out for a drink … you don't want to deal with door guys, bartenders or customers that are really annoying or rude.” Northwood also aims to keep the party going with his eclectic music playlists and even goes around the bar taking requests. By the time we left the Bayou, we were nicely buzzed and ready to warm up our dancing shoes.
Next we headed to Flaming Saddles a few blocks east. Officially opening at the beginning of 2015, the WeHo bar was the second in a chain started by Chris Barnes and Jacqui Squatriglia, one of the original bartenders and choreographers of Coyote Ugly in New York City. “Jackie said she wanted to open up a gay country-Western bar where [she could] see the bartenders doing [her] dances … because she thought [her dances] would come alive more [being done by men],” Barnes says.
Barnes and Squatriglia purchased what was formerly Eleven Nightclub in WeHo when they decided to expand Flaming Saddles to the West Coast, but they soon discovered they had to make a few changes. “We realized in New York City the bar is only 1,700 square feet … but in West Hollywood we have 6,000 square feet so … we had to double XL [the wow factor],” Barnes says. Barnes explained that he and Squatriglia consult an agent to seek out dancers, among them male and female competitive pole dancers, whom Squatriglia auditions. And you can tell — the talent on display amazed us. “We made the second floor more of a dance club experience and the downstairs more of the Cirque du Soleil show experience,” Barnes says.
Barnes also realized that they'd have to shift the genre of music they played. “We knew we had to go outside the country-Western genre to more of a pop sound, so we did that but we also didn't go as far as EDM,” he says. “We have a rule that we better hear somebody singing if you're DJ'ing at our place.” Indeed, Flaming Saddles is the perfect place to warm up and start dancing to some great music. After watching some of the dancers perform and dancing ourselves a bit, we were ready to head to the grand finale of our evening out in WeHo.
For the final bar of the evening, we recommend one of two, depending on what kind of music you want to hear: the Chapel at the Abbey for EDM/techno music or Bar10 for pop, Top 40 and hip-hop.
Let's begin with the Chapel at the Abbey, which opened in 2016 where Here Lounge used to be (adjacent but not connected to the Abbey). Todd Barnes, general manager of the Abbey and the Chapel, explains why the Abbey's brand expanded 25 years after it opened in 1991. “The Chapel was really inspired by the growing EDM scene. We built the Chapel to be like the best gay EDM party every night,” he says. Music isn't the only difference between the Chapel and the Abbey. While Barnes describes the Abbey as a “gay Disneyland,” he says the Chapel is “a little more secluded, a little more sexy and a high-energy dance party.”
It's no surprise that the Abbey and Chapel are the No. 1 Uber and Lyft dropoff and pickup locations for a nightclub or bar in the country — the Chapel is definitely the place to be on a weekend night. While it can get a bit packed, everything about it is sleek and modern — and the lights make it feel more like you're at an event or a concert than just at a club. “The Chapel is where your night will come to a climax. On a typical Saturday night, we'll have a great, well-known DJ, a packed and friendly crowd, the best-looking bartenders and dancers in Los Angeles and just fun, fun, fun,” Barnes says. “The lights, the music, the dancers and the music all make sure we turn your night up to 11.”
While the Chapel is definitely a great place to end the night, those who aren't big fans of EDM may prefer Bar10. Bar10 doesn't have the flashiness of the Chapel, but its best asset is its music if your tastes run to pop, Top 40 and hip-hop. At Bar10 you'll hear the hits of today but you may just find yourself getting down to a Spice Girls or TLC song as well. “We always try to make the environment feel nostalgic. We want people to come in here and not just feel like they're in a nightclub,” creative director Josh Westover says. “With the music that we play and with the friendliness of our staff, we want everybody to feel like they're welcome. We don’t charge covers ever at this club. We're not an exclusive bar; we're a bar for everybody.”
Opening in 2014, Bar10 was originally a fine-dining restaurant called the Horn. When the restaurant didn’t take off, the owners reconceptualized and opened Bar10 three months later. In less than four years, it has definitely built up its name as a premier destination in WeHo, even acquiring its own group of regulars. “We treat the regulars like family,” general manager Jared Stanfield says. “We really try to focus on the people that support us and I think that's important to have them feel like this is their second home.”
Despite these supportive core customers, Westover and Stanfield also stress that the biggest goal of Bar10 is to be a place that is welcoming to all. “[Bar10 is] an open, friendly neighborhood bar. It's a place for everybody,” Westover says. “We do drag events, we do lesbian events, we do trans events. We want to be a bar for the community and be a place that's welcoming. We want everybody to feel included.” Great music, great service and a nostalgia that connects the WeHo community of past and present makes Bar10 the perfect place to end your night out in West Hollywood.
As 2 a.m. drew closer and our level of sobriety dropped further, it was time to Lyft home and call it a night. West Hollywood can be intimidating, over-the-top and sometimes clichéd, but since L.A. doesn't have a gay bar in every neighborhood, WeHo stands out as the central hub for LGBT nightlife and a place to build a strong LGBT community. “I've been coming out to West Hollywood for the past 17 years of my life. Since I was 15, West Hollywood has kind of been my sanctuary,” Bar10's Stanfield says. “I've got a strong connection to my community. We understand that the community is evolving to be more inclusive.” Indeed, an inclusive and welcoming destination for everyone in the LGBT community is what makes West Hollywood so special and offers a plethora of options for a great night out.
Saint Felix, 8945 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 275-4428, westhollywood.saintfelix.net.
The Bayou, 8939 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 273-3303, thebayouweho.com.
Flaming Saddles, 8811 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 855-7501, flamingsaddles.com/weho.
The Chapel at the Abbey, 696 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 289-8410, theabbeyweho.com/thechapel.
Bar10, 8933 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (323) 332-6445, bar10weho.com.