For decades many have considered West Hollywood the gay capital of Los Angeles. While countless young homosexuals, including myself, have turned to WeHo to sow their wild oats, others have wished for an alternative. Especially as you enter your 30s (as I begrudgingly did last year), Santa Monica Boulevard sometimes feels a little too crazy.
Luckily for people like me, a new "gayborhood" has emerged in downtown Los Angeles. While divey Mexican gay bar the New Jalisco has been around for years, three new gay establishments all opened their doors in 2015: Bar Mattachine, Redline and Precinct. I went with some friends to check out the burgeoning downtown LGBTQ scene and explore how a night out in DTLA compares to Silver Lake and West Hollywood.
My friends and I began our night out at Bar Mattachine. Open since October 2015, the bar's focus on craft cocktails is what makes it stand out and why I chose it as our first stop of the evening. “There really is not another gay bar in L.A. that is teaching their bartenders the difference between bourbon and rye and the history of distillation,” says co-owner and operator Garrett McKechnie. Once McKechnie realized the innovative nature of the bar, the name quickly followed: The Mattachine Society was a 1950s Los Angeles–based gay rights organization. “This is sort of a first for an L.A. gay bar, [so I thought] what was a first in L.A. gay history?”
Bar Mattachine is not a big establishment but it's definitely conducive to conversation. The larger downstairs bar has plenty of seats, and the numerous communal and smaller tables provide many options to sit and chat. A smaller bar upstairs offers more seating, the DJ booth and a small stage.
Most important, the drinks definitely live up to their reputation. The bar has a semi-seasonal menu; there are some permanent staples but new drinks are rotated in on a quarterly basis. Highlights among the signature drinks are the Pershing Square Fix, a vodka cocktail with crushed raspberries; the Reconditioner, a drink with three types of rum of which the menu says, “If you’re straight, will definitely turn you gay,” and the bar’s two frozen drinks, the strawberry-infused Pisco Punch and the vodka-based Strawberry Fields. The seasonal menu also had many home runs, including the Japanese whiskey–based Geisha, created by one of the bartenders, and the egg white–infused Purple Rain.
As we left Bar Mattachine happy and slightly buzzed, we headed to Redline, only a five-minute walk away. Redline is named not only for the Metro line that runs through downtown but also for the Red Car, the original light rail in L.A. “We named it Redline after the transit systems because that’s what brings people together and is a big part of building a community,” co-owner Oliver Alpuche explains.
Redline doubles as both a low-key bar/restaurant and crowded nightclub. I highly recommend getting to the bar before the kitchen closes at 9 p.m., as we did, because the food is incredible. Highlights of head chef (and CIA graduate) Justin Schwartz's menu include handmade empanadas with rib-eye, shredded chicken or mushroom, the roasted chicken and artichoke flatbread, and a poutine made with garlic cheese curds, duck confit and duck gravy. While Redline's drink menu is a bit more limited than Bar Mattachine's, the cocktails are still not your average gay bar well drinks. The Orange Bloom, a vodka drink featuring fresh OJ, was especially tasty.
By 10 p.m., the tables had been cleared and the music turned up. By the time the drag show featuring RuPaul’s Drag Race season-three winner Raja Gemini began close to midnight, the dance floor was packed and the Redline had indeed transitioned to a full-on club.
Our dancing shoes now warmed up, we headed next to Precinct, about a 10-minute walk. Co-owner Thor Stephens describes it as a “rock & roll gay bar, [where] everyone’s welcome.” Before Precinct opened as a bustling gay club in May 2015, the building that houses it was a parole office. “People assume [Precinct is] a cop-themed bar, but it basically means a neighborhood section of town with a community,” Stephens says.
As the largest gay establishment downtown, Precinct can get crowded, sometimes with a line around the corner. The influx of customers could be due to its popular themed nights and performers. Every Friday, the Boulet Brothers host Queen Kong, a drag night that features some of the most popular talent around. Themes rotate on Saturday nights and include bear and Latin nights, the latter being the theme on the night we went.
The dance floor at Precinct was huge but completely packed. The crowd was definitely feeling the music as go-go dancers shook their booties around the room. The drinks weren’t as fancy as the craft cocktails from earlier, but by the time we reached Precinct, the well drinks did their job just fine. Precinct also offers a decent menu of food, which definitely satisfied our "drunchies" — the kind of food perfect for eating when trying to sober up at 1 in the morning (the kitchen is open until 1:30 a.m.). The grilled cheese and sirloin steak (yes, steak at 1 a.m.) were especially delicious.
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As last call was approaching fast, our final stop of the packed evening was at the New Jalisco, only four blocks from Precinct. This LGBT Mexican bar is definitely a dive bar in every sense of the term, and is cash only. The drinks were pretty strong and perfect for our nightcap. While the New Jalisco may not be as fancy as the newer gay establishments, you can feel the history pulsing throughout the building. After a round or two, it was definitely time to call it a night as we summoned our Lyfts to head home.
Bar Mattachine, Redline, Precinct and the New Jalisco have all contributed to a strong sense of community in DTLA. The area even had its own pride celebration last August. “I feel like gay culture is at a time when now that we have more equality — knock on wood — we’re kind of realizing that it’s OK to be different,” said Bar Mattachine's McKechnie. “People have said to me, ‘Oh I hope there’s a time when we never need gay bars.’ I [responded], ‘I hope there’s never a time when we don’t need gay bars.' Gay bars provide something different.”
Indeed, in a city like Los Angeles that celebrates diversity, different is always welcome — and the emerging downtown gay scene provides just that.
Bar Mattachine, 221 W. Seventh St., downtown; (213) 278-0471, barmattachine.com.
Redline, 131 E. Sixth St., downtown; (213) 935-8391, redlinedtla.com.
Precinct, 357 S. Broadway, downtown; (213) 628-3112, precinctdtla.com.
The New Jalisco Bar, 245 S. Main St., downtown; (213) 613-1802.