It's been only four months since the new LGBTQ club the Birdcage opened its doors in Santa Monica. As the only gay club west of the 405, it's perhaps no surprise that the venue, located on the top floor of the Victorian on Main Street, has quickly become a popular hang. On the heels of its success, co-owner Garrett Gerson has already started making some big plans for its future. Together with his new creative director, Andres Rigal, and the California Heritage Museum across the street, Gerson hopes to use the Birdcage as a springboard to create a new cultural center for the Westside LGBTQ community.
Just how does Gerson plan to accomplish this? “We wanted to create a space where you can drink, dine and dance but [also] incorporate an experience with art and culture. We're going to be doing this in partnership with the California Heritage Museum to feature the LGBTQ community, spotlighting past, present and up-and-coming artists,” he explains.
The California Heritage Museum is not officially part of the Victorian (at least not yet), but Gerson does serve on its board of directors and has worked to establish a partnership between the two venues. “Garrett and I started talking over the last couple of months [about joining] forces,” says Tobi Smith, the museum's executive director. Smith, who has worked for the museum since 1985, says the first step is to have an advisory board made up of people who are part of the LGBTQ community. “The idea of the museum having an arts program that’s more inclusive of the LGBTQ community made sense to me, and I think the timing's right with the Birdcage now, and the fact that there really hasn’t been [LGBTQ outreach] in the Santa Monica area,” she explains.
Smith says the museum has morphed over time from a historic house that never did rotating exhibitions to one that did mainly decorative art and historic shows. Recently, though, it's spotlighted a lot of contemporary art. On the lawn between the museum and the Victorian, she hopes to feature not only performance art but also exhibits of LGBTQ contemporary artists, both old and young, living and dead (some of the better-known names she throws out are Don Bachardy, Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns and Annie Leibovitz). The museum would not be solely devoted to LGBTQ arts, at least at first, but Smith is open to anything depending on the community's response, and ultimately just wants to spotlight good art. She even acknowledges the possibility of the Victorian and the museum becoming more of one unit in the future. Should it become a full LGBTQ museum, Smith believes it would be the first of its kind in Southern California.
Smith says she's hoping to start with some of the performance programming toward the end of the year (she mentions wanting to feature the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles) with some small exhibitions at the museum, as well as featuring LGBTQ artists during the museum's annual Christmas open house. Smith also brings up events such as book signings and guest lectures at both the Victorian and the museum. “People love the Birdcage; even though it's a brand-new venue, it seems to be taking on a nice new life here on Main Street,” Smith says. “There are so many possibilities. The LGBTQ community is diverse, large and not represented on the Westside of town. I wholeheartedly support Garrett's idea to start programming here, and he will be bringing it up at our next board of directors meeting.”
In the meantime, Gerson and Rigal are working on making further improvements to the Birdcage. Rigal has worked in nightlife for more than a decade, and his resume includes many LGBTQ events, including Mr. Black L.A., Rasputin: Russian Love Machine, EVITA and SummerTramp, the last of which was named Best Gay Themed Daytime Party by L.A. Weekly in 2013. “We spoke about the growing community in Los Angeles and how exciting it is that there is now a space for the LGBTQ community to call home again on the Westside,” Rigal says of his and Gerson's first meeting.
Gerson and Rigal are working on making three new concepts come to life inside the Victorian: Mr. Pinks, Habana and the Park. Mr. Pinks will be a lounge area that will host events and feature performance art and music. Habana is the front bar, which will have a “classic Cuban vibe” and feature live acoustic music. The Park is the front patio, which will be turned into an outdoor cafe. Gerson plans to launch Mr. Pinks within the next 30 days and then roll out the changes to the other spaces in the house in the next six months.
Overall, the main goal behind Gerson and Rigal's work is to make the Birdcage a cultural centerpiece for the Westside. “I believe that our shared vision at the Birdcage is bigger than just a venue. It's a community, and that's what we're establishing and building here,” Rigal says.