David Cooley has long prided himself on welcoming everyone into his establishments, whether gay, straight, trans — or this week, presidential.
As part of the soft opening for the Chapel, Cooley's spinoff of iconic West Hollywood hotspot the Abbey, the nascent nightclub popped its cherry with a fundraiser for the Hillary Clinton campaign, featuring opening remarks by Obama speech writer Jon Favreau and a DJ set by electronica guru Moby.
“I always open my doors to support the people I feel gave us the equality as gay men,” say Cooley, standing just outside the cast iron gates of the Chapel's entryway, the beats from Moby's turntables pulsing in the background. The new gayborhood watering hole sits on Robertson just north of the Abbey, and shares much of its predecessor's aesthetics: gothic architecture, religious statuary, stained-glass windows. The biggest difference is the menu, or lack thereof.
“It's your neighborhood bar,” says Cooley, “but without the food.”
This entree-less establishment stands in stark contrast to where Cooley's WeHo career began 25 years ago. In 1991, the future nightlife maestro founded the first incarnation of the Abbey, a humble coffee shop occupying what is now a Bossa Nova Brazilian restaurant. After relocating across the street, and rebranding as a full restaurant/bar, Cooley's brainchild has evolved into arguably boystown's most visible hotspot, as well as one of the highest tax revenue-producing businesses in West Hollywood.
The Abbey's baby brother was conceived back in February, when Pat Rogers, owner of neighboring gay bar Here Lounge, sold the space to his friend and colleague Cooley, whose ultimate goal is to physically connect the sibling properties. For now, that dream is inhibited by bureaucratic red tape, but the Chapel is connected to its big bro through Cooley's policy of radical inclusion.
“It's the first gay nightclub where everyone is welcome that’s opened in over a decade,” boasts Cooley.
Patrons of the Abbey can attest that the bar is notable, and often notorious, for catering not just to the gay community, but all blips on the Kinsey Scale. Over the years, the nightclub has attracted gaggles of girls raised on Sex in the City vying for “fruit fly” cred — because, as their fictional party-girl role model Samantha put it, “Gay men understand what's important: clothes, compliments and cocks.”
By 2012, Cooley declared a prohibition on the nightly glut of bachelorette parties smothering his establishment. The restaurateur claimed it was a protest against the gay marriage ban occurring at the time, but blogger Louis Peitzman offered a different interpretation.
“Here's what Cooley isn't saying,” Peitzman wrote in a Gawker post. “Bachelorette parties at gay bars are fucking annoying. … And it's unique to straight women and gay men. Straight men wouldn't celebrate a bachelor party at a lesbian bar. I mean, they might try, but I'm not sure how well that would go over.”
Cooley's next venture, opening a Bottega Louie around the corner on WeHo's Santa Monica strip, has, according to a Wehoville.com article, “prompted a debate among those who [argue] that it’s another step in the collapse of Boystown as a gay destination.”
“We need to stop the infiltration of the straight people taking over our gay districts!!!!!!” local real estate agent Gary Yamaguchi posted on Facebook in response to the Bottega Louie announcement. “We all need to show them what gays are really like!”
“There’s room for everyone in Pasadena and Santa Monica and Westwood and Torrance and frigging everywhere,” added psychotherapist Ken Howard. “West Hollywood was and still needs to [be] specifically a GAY oasis and haven. Look at North Carolina. We take our rights for granted, we lose them. The Weimar Republic in 20’s Berlin was really gay. We know what happened next.”
To these criticisms, Cooley merely shrugs.
“Look next door at Pump, and down the street at SUR, and you’ll see a lot of women coming in from Orange County,” he says. “The neighborhood is changing. And my policy is why I’ve been open 25 years. From day one I’ve welcomed everyone. Many, many gay bars have closed, unfortunately, because they only cater to a certain clientele. My doors are open to everyone, and that’s why I’ve been able to expand.”
His words were backed up by the Clinton fundraiser, which was populated by as many women, both straight and lesbian, as there were men. Females are welcome in the Chapel, as they hopefully will be in the Oval Office on Nov. 8.