On May 20 and 21, the third largest gay pride festival in the country will take place in Long Beach. Now in its 33rd year, the Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride Festival reflects an evolving and growing gay community with a long and rich history. In preparation for this year's pride event and its famous parade, my friends and I took a trip south from L.A. to Long Beach to check out some of the area's most popular LGBT establishments and see where we should go after catching this year's festival headliners, who include Jody Watley and Chaka Khan.
We began our night on the famous Broadway Strip, also known as the Broadway Corridor or "Gay Ghetto," a stretch of East Broadway near Alamitos Beach that's home to a plethora of gay bars. Our first stop was for dinner at Paradise Bar and Restaurant. Although Paradise opened in 1985, the building was originally built in 1929. "We have high ceilings, we have brick walls, we have a huge eagle that used to be on top of a flagpole. Our bar top was from a 1920s Bank of America. Its got a lot of nostalgia, a lot of charm," says Paradise owner Michael Barber, who purchased the bar around 2000.
Fitting the 1920s theme, Paradise featured a live piano player accompanying our dinner Saturday night. Musician Laura Wiley played away, taking crowd requests and belting them out, from "Like a Prayer" to "It's Raining Men" (Wiley normally plays at Paradise Tuesday nights but was performing this Saturday to promote her upcoming play, Buffy Kills Edward). The crowd was a bit older but was definitely lively, and the overall atmosphere was casual and comfortable. The food itself was definitely delicious; we'd recommend the crispy Brussels to start, followed by the seared salmon with a side of mac and cheese.
According to Barber, Paradise also has some of the best burgers in Long Beach and a great brunch that features bottomless mimosas for $15. Aside from the live piano performances, Paradise has karaoke nights, open mic nights and Taco Tuesday specials featuring $2 tacos or $15 all-you-can-eat tacos. DJs also pack the house at 10 p.m. on weekends to turn the restaurant into more of a nightclub.
After dinner, we left Paradise and headed a few door downs to the Brit Bar, a small British-themed bar that first opened in 1983. "[The] Brit is the new realm of gay-friendly establishments; it's not as traditional and you'll see a lot of neighborhood people there, women and men," says Brit owner Jeff Darling. "We've recently stopped doing go-go dancers and DJs and the bartenders and people [have been] concentrating on the type of music they want to play."
The crowd at the Brit was indeed an eclectic mix and the venue offered up something for everyone. In the front, patrons can enjoy some old-school arcade games. Towards the back, those who want to play DJ or dance can make requests on the jukebox, located right next to a classic British red telephone booth. There's a large patio and, most importantly, the bar itself was large enough that we could all comfortably order drinks, and enjoy the hot bartender, Andrew, whom Darling calls "quite a draw." Watching over all this was a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II surrounded by rainbow flags — a queen's shrine to the real queen.
Following the Brit, we moseyed next door to the other bar owned by Darling, the Mineshaft, known for its strong drinks and rustic decor. This Broadway staple, which just celebrated its 40th birthday last month, was originally owned by Darling's uncle-in-law, as was the Brit. "My wife's uncle Jimmy Casto started [the Mineshaft] 40 years ago and at one time had six different bars in the Long Beach area. [He had] moved down to Long Beach to open a dive shop and ended up getting in the bar business," says Darling, who lives in Redding but comes down to Long Beach three or four times a year. After Casto's death in 2003, "it passed onto his heirs and we've continued to own and operate it ever since and honor everything he built."
Darling took over the bar's ownership about three years ago. "Not being a gay man, I wasn't sure how they would receive me," Darling says of the Mineshaft's longtime customers. "You don't necessarily have to be gay, but you have to listen to the community. ... It's caused me to be more open-minded, more accepting and less judgmental from the way I grew up. Instead of me changing them, they've changed me."
By the time we reached our final bar on the Broadway Corridor, the Falcon Bar, we were more than sufficiently buzzed. Oftentimes the Falcon is the last bar visited on a Broadway pub crawl because, unlike the Brit and the Mineshaft, the Falcon takes credit and debit cards.
The Falcon first opened its doors in 1996 and is also owned by Paradise's Michael Barber, who bartended around Studio City and North Hollywood before coming to Long Beach. He had always wanted to own his own bar, so he saved up enough money and eventually purchased the Falcon.
"The Falcon is small, like 700 square feet, but it's always packed. It's considered very trendy [and] we have a very wide variety of clientele," Barber says "It's a neighborhood bar but we have people driving from L.A. and Orange County ... [so] we call it the World Famous Falcon. We have great drinks, good specials, great bartenders."
The vibe of the Falcon was fresh and fun. Black lights made all of us wearing white glow in the dark and current music videos played on screens throughout the bar. (I'm always partial to a video bar — it's so much fun to not only dance to the music but also see the music videos.) Signs advertising Beer Fest on Sundays with $1.50 beers also tempted us to come back the next day. The place was actually getting pretty packed by the time we left for a fifth and final stop of the night, Club Ripples.
Club Ripples is a two- or three-mile drive from the Broadway Corridor, so we called a Lyft there. While there was great music at a lot of the Broadway bars, we wanted to end the night at a bigger dance club and Ripples is the biggest in Long Beach. The club has a ton of history, first opening in 1972 and getting firebombed a few years after it opened; the consensus is that another competing bar did it, although it's never been proven. It was during the rebuilding process that current owners Larry Hebert and John Garcia got involved and slowly bought out the club's previous owners. "We feel that Ripples has [helped] put Long Beach on the map," Garcia says.
The club itself didn't disappoint — with two huge floors and an outside patio, there's plenty of space to dance, and the location is pretty amazing, too. "We're the only gar bar on the whole West Coast right on the beach," Hebert says. "We have a beautiful building, its got a beautiful view, we've got breezes, we've got free parking. It's just a nice place to come and visit. You don't have to get all dressed up, it's a beach bar [that's] comfortable, inviting and homey."
The night we visited, the club was a bit emptier than some of the Broadway bars we went to, but Hebert and Garcia are in the process of reinventing the club, which will hopefully attract more people. "We're trying to rebrand ourselves," says Garcia. "We want to come back to where we were before, the number one club in Southern California." To do that, they're introducing an urban night on Fridays and planning to bring Paul Nicholls' Stripper Circus party to the venue on Sundays.
Although Ripples may be trying to target a younger crowd, they've been a staple in the Long Beach LGBT community for years, with a long history of giving back. Garcia and Hebert started what is now the Gay Chamber of Commerce in Long Beach and were instrumental in helping the AIDS Food Store that started back in 1982. During the AIDS epidemic, they were also involved in the Homestead Hospice & Shelter and the AIDS Walk. "We're grateful to still be here and humble that we're still in demand and that people still like to come here and support us, support the gay community and support Long Beach 45 years later," Garcia says.
As 2 a.m. grew near and we were growing more tired (and more intoxicated), it was time to call it a night and Lyft it back to L.A. — a ride that cost us $36, which seems like a bargain given the distance. We all agreed our first night out in Long Beach was definitely a success and it made us excited to come back for Long Beach Pride. "From what we've heard, a lot of people are getting tired of going to West Hollywood and they're looking for other places to go. They feel that downtown L.A. and Long Beach are just ripe for the picking right now," says Club Ripples' Hebert.
Paradise and Falcon owner Barber echoed this sentiment. "So many people are moving from West Hollywood and other places to Long Beach because you get so much more for your money. The climate is better, you're close to the water and it's very, very popular," says Barber, whose new leather bar, the Eagle 562, is opening in North Long Beach on Pride weekend. "Our gay pride is right on the ocean."
For more information on Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride weekend, visit longbeachpride.com.
Paradise Bar and Restaurant, 1800 E. Broadway, Long Beach; (562) 433-0357, paradiselongbeach.net.
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The Brit Bar, 1744 E. Broadway, Long Beach; (562) 432-9742, thebritbar.com.
Mineshaft Bar, 1720 E. Broadway, Long Beach; (562) 436-2433
Falcon Bar, 1435 E. Broadway, Long Beach; (562) 432-4146, falconbar.com.
Club Ripples, 5101 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; (562) 433-0357, clubripples.com.