Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, beloved LGBTQ Venice dive bar the Roosterfish is ready for a second act. First opened in 1979, the Abbot Kinney staple closed its doors in May of last year, leaving a void in the Westside gay community. Now under the same ownership but with new leaseholders, the Roosterfish will first reappear as a pop-up party called Roosterfish Revived on Saturday, Sept. 23, the day before the Abbot Kinney Festival, with plans to reopen permanently before the end of the year.
Founder and president of Venice Pride Grant Turck is one of the key people behind the bar's surprise resurrection. Turck originally tried to save the bar last year by arguing that it should be preserved as a historic landmark. When that didn't pan out, he decided to trademark the name Roosterfish after discovering that it never had been trademarked. “[I did it] as a way to try and protect an asset that should be protected by the community,” Turck says. “Venice Pride was very much born out of the closing of the Roosterfish. Had the Roosterfish not closed, that probably would never have come to be.”
The first Venice Pride took place on June 3, 2016, shortly after the Roosterfish's closing. After Venice Pride's successful return in 2017, Turck says he learned that two men had taken out a new lease on the Roosterfish's space and were planning to open a bar there under a different name. “I said that's the silliest thing in the world,” Turck says. “You definitely should call it the Roosterfish because there's so much built-in brand awareness around that name — not to mention a thousand raging queens would be at your door if you called it something else.” The new leaseholders, Mario Vollera and Patrick Brunet, agreed, and formed a licensing agreement with Venice Pride to keep the old name.
“We love Venice. We love Abbot Kinney. Roosterfish is such an historical landmark that we wanted to make sure it won't become another retail store; that is why we contacted the landlord and convinced him to give it to us,” Vollera and Brunet, who also run the South End pizzeria and wine bar on Abbot Kinney, said via email. “Venice's identity was forged from the melting pot of nationalities, cultures and ambitions. Reopening Roosterfish is a cultural act.”
Turck says the new leaseholders plan to keep many beloved aspects of the Roosterfish intact. “The ceiling in the men's bathroom [which features vintage pornographic images] will remain in place at least for the next decade. Most of the interior will remain intact,” he says. “They're [also] maintaining the exterior so it will appear as it always has up to this point.” Vollera and Brunet also have expressed interest in rehiring some of the old staff, although they haven't been approached by any of them yet. “We want to hire people from the community, that is our objective, people who have the same passion for Venice and want to make sure the spirit of Venice does not go away,” they said via email.
As far as what they're changing, Turck says the pool table and jukebox are now gone and that they plan to remove the cement blocks that are covering the windows at the entryway right off the sidewalk. “There's no need to hide in the dark anymore,” he says. Unfortunately, higher rent also means the end of the bar's famously low drink prices. No more $4 margaritas on Wednesdays. “If we could [keep the same drink prices], we would, however we had to adjust our pricing with the reality of the market,” Vollera and Brunet said.
The first incarnation of “Roosterfish 2.0,” as Turck refers to it, is in the form of a pop-up called Roosterfish Revived the day before the Abbot Kinney Festival on Saturday, Sept. 23, from noon to 2 a.m. The event, which will be hosted by liqueur brand DeKuyper, will have a $5 cover and feature numerous DJs throughout the day, including Glenice Venice and Aiden Ramos. “It will be a community celebration, if you will, and a harbinger of good things to come,” Turck says.
Ultimately, the hope is that the new Roosterfish will carry on the welcoming vibe of the original bar. “There's no gay bar west of the 405 in Los Angeles. I'm mincing words a little bit there, because you have the Birdcage west of the 405, but that's technically Santa Monica,” Turck says. “There's a real need for a gay bar again on the Westside, and there's no better place for it to be than the place that was always there. I think the vision is that the Roosterfish 2.0 will be a place that's welcoming to the LGBTQ community and its allies.”
While there is no set date yet for a permanent reopening, Turck says he believes Vollera and Brunet's plan is for it to happen before the end of the year. “I know that we’re planning on [selling] T-shirts at the [Roosterfish Revived event] that say '2017' on them,” he says, “so we're pushing for a 2017 open.”
Tickets for the Roosterfish Revived pop-up event on Saturday, Sept. 23, can be purchased at VenicePride.org/roosterfish.