Legendary Venice watering hole the Roosterfish shut its doors to the public back in May 2016 after 37 years as one of the only gay bars on the Westside. Now, a little more than two years later, the Roosterfish is back and set to permanently reopen on Friday, just in time for Venice Pride.
If you've never heard of the Roosterfish, chances are you may have seen it when driving through in the area: It's the aqua blue building in the middle of Abbot Kinney with a giant painting of a fish-headed rooster. The bar was opened by life and business partners Walter Schneider and Alex Alexander, who had previously started the first gay establishment in West Hollywood, the Gallery Room, as well as a discotheque called Up Disco. After a friend spotted the current location on Abbot Kinney, the pair bought it and opened its doors in 1979. They frequently visited Cabo San Lucas and, on one of their trips, decided to name the bar after a species of game fish.
Over the next three and a half decades, the Roosterfish remained a pillar of the Westside LGBT community, known for its cheap drinks and dive-bar atmosphere, complete with pool tables and barbecues on the weekend. One of the new leaseholders, Mario Vollera, used to frequent the bar under its old management. "We used to come in for some drinks and some pool shooting," Vollera says. "We loved the local vibe."
After Alexander and Schneider died, the bar was managed by a handful of others before closing its doors two years ago due to rising rent prices. It was at this time that the founder-president of Venice Pride, Grant Turck, decided to trademark the name. When he heard that a new lease had been signed and that the bar was going to reopen under a new name, he immediately got in touch with Vollera and the other new leaseholders and convinced them to keep the name and reopen as a gay bar. "There are so few places in which LGBT people can be who they want to be anymore," Turck says. "Everywhere you go is a straight place … so it's definitely important that every community has a place or bar in which they can be who they want to be."
After a few pop-ups last year (including a temporary reopening during last year's Venice Pride), the Roosterfish's permanent reopening is a centerpiece event of this year's Venice Pride, kicking off with the "Roast of Roosterfish," featuring a cast of comedians poking fun at the bar, at the Canal Club, followed by the official grand reopening party at the bar itself.
"We consider the new Roosterfish a local spot that people can hang and have fun," Vollera says. "We elevated the decor and the ambiance in order to make it appealing to the community … [but] the soul of the old Roosterfish always will be in the walls of the new one, in the menu — cocktail names, in the [pornographic images on the men's bathroom] ceiling, in the bricks."
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The drink names might be the same but the prices won't be. Well cocktails will be around $12, craft cocktails $14 to $16 and happy hour drinks $6 to $10. Still, Turck insists the spirit of the old bar will stay alive. "The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence can say three Hail Marys," he jokes. "The 'Cistern' Chapel remains intact and open for daily confession."
"The future of the Roosterfish is another 40 years of fun," Vollera adds. "We will have more gay events and Venice Pride events."
Turck believes, however, that the real future of the Roosterfish is in the hands of the community. "We did a lot of the heavy lifting, but it's now up to the community at this point as to whether they’ll be patrons at the bar," he says. "Venice Pride is still dedicated to ensuring that the Roosterfish is and will for the foreseeable future remain a gay bar."
The Roast of the Roosterfish, Fri., June 1, 8 p.m., at Canal Club, 2025 Pacific Ave., Venice. After-party at the Roosterfish, 1302 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. Venice Pride events run Fri.-Sun., June 1-3. More info here.