Downtown Los Angeles’ gay nightlife renaissance continues to be touted as the hot new thing, but those of us who’ve followed and frequented LGBTQ clubs and parties for more than the past few years have seen it snowballing steadily for quite some time. From Shits & Giggles at the now-demolished 740 Club on Spring Street, to Fingered Fridays at the Alexandria Hotel, to the still–lush ’n’ lit Mustache (formerly at La Cita, then the Lash), DTLA has hosted some unforgettable gay underground events. And, of course, that’s not even considering the area’s loft and warehouse party scene predating all of the above.
But it’s no longer underground, and this Sunday, Wintertramp will prove it. It may not look or feel like Christmas yet, but the flamboyant holiday delights scheduled to take place at Pershing Square are sure to bring joy anyway. The merry pansexual day party produced by Andrés Rigal (with support from partners Luke Nero and Oliver Luke Alpuche) will offer nonstop amusements: hourly faux snowfall, a sexy Santa, a giant 100-foot-tall carnival-style super slide, a photo booth, bars and food trucks, plus a white-turfed dance floor and huge DJ lineup. The nearby ice skating rink will be accessible for an additional fee.
The event is the flipside to Summertramp, a splashy bash that happens during the warmer months at various loft-adjacent locales (Tony’s Bar, the Escondite), and has been around for seven years. With the emergence of bars including Redline, Bar Mattachine and Precinct the past few years, the gay community downtown has not only become strengthened from within but also has brought together LGBTQ Angelenos from across the city, attracting promoters and patrons from Hollywood and WeHo to the mix. Rigal is one such nightlife figure who made a name for himself on the Westside before focusing his attention on downtown.
After leaving Creative Artists Agency in 2007, Rigal delved into booking at Bardot above the Avalon, showcasing an impressive lineup of artists including Bruno Mars, Florence + The Machine, Mayer Hawthorne, Macy Gray and Prince. He met and joined forces with Nero when his club, Mr. Black, became an after-dark sensation at Bardot, with themed nights, androgynous club figures as hosts and its signature visuals: male waiters and dancers in “assless” pants. Mr. Black, by the way, was a popular club venue in New York, which Nero successfully moved to L.A. as a weekly party, until he “killed it” in 2012.
“It was during that time that I conceptualized and founded my longest-running brand, Summertramp,” Rigal says, speaking a bit hurriedly on the phone as he puts touches at this weekend's Wintertramp extravaganza. “The idea was a hidden paradise in downtown covered in AstroTurf with an above-ground pool, bubble machines, every single type of pool toy you could think of, giant water slide, and a cross-section of every color of the LGBTQ community.”
The pair went on to produce several uniquely themed LGBTQ happenings over the next 10 years. Rasputin: Russian Love Machine was a dark and vampy, vodka-soaked affair in WeHo, and was the venue for the night Rigal says holds the title for “most magical moment” of his career: Cher herself came out and hosted the album release party they produced for her. Then there was EVITA, a haute fashion–minded Hollywood au-go-go that was “truly lighting in a bottle,” he says. Next came Simon Says and Rothschild, which Rigal describes as “dark, sexy and sophisticated staple weekday brands.” Plastic Fantastic was a “fun and flirty pop-minded romp," and their most recent was Commodore, which he labels as a “luxurious, hot and heavy weekend night out.”
For Nero it’s been a fun ride, but he says he’s moving out of club land and into TV land these days, leaving Rigal to take full rein on events and projects. Still, Nero has a lot of reflections about what he and Rigal have learned the past decade doing events. “Club owners love to blame social apps for things, changing the way people interact, and pick up, what have you. Maybe so, but the reality is clubs have simply failed to adapt,” he says. “This generation have little desire to use clubs as a tool to meet and pick up, and they prefer a place to have fun and express themselves. People would rather save their energy … save themselves for weekend music festivals with international headliners with amazing production value and specialty dance parties."
Rigal’s approach to promotion, which views parties as “brands,” has proven successful in attracting these younger crowds while also keeping older ones interested with targeted atmosphere and a certain old-school hedonism. You always know what vibe to expect when you attend one of his and Nero’s events, and, more importantly, how to dress (or undress) for them. Fabulous fashion has always been an important element at their offerings, which arguably brought an element of glamour to the scene that was missing from more underground shindigs. Another component that Rigal brought to the gay club model: production value in the form of props, decor, lighting and other environment-driven extras.
“When I first started out in nightlife, the LGBTQ scene was very divided and more like islands floating across the sprawling landscape of Los Angeles,” notes Rigal, who moved downtown 14 years ago. “It was around that time that I made it my objective to create unique parties that bridge the gay gaps within the scene by creating a sense of unity within the LGBTQ landscape, events that are all-encompassing and welcoming to the queer community and its allies."
His detail-driven visions led to more outside-the-box bashes, including Thunder Ground, the pop-up roller disco and rink at L.A. Pride in WeHo, which ran for two consecutive years; and maybe his most important event of all, downtown Los Angeles’ first gay pride event, the DTLA Proud Festival. “Our first year was 2016 and we welcomed more than 10,000 community members into Pershing Square,” he recalls gleefully. “This year’s festival was two days with over 20,000 guests!”
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Wintertramp will be the third time he throws an event at Pershing Square, and Rigal says its high profile is meaningful. Co-producer Oliver Luke Alpuche agrees: "It showcases the best of what downtown has to offer. It's smack dab in the middle of the city, not hidden away, a place to party and be proud of our community."
“I have always taken great pride in creating spaces where everyone can let their hair down, take their clothes off, be themselves and ultimately raise their freak flag without any judgment," says Rigal, who hopes Sunday's event will raise funds for an even bigger DTLA Proud in 2018 (a portion of proceeds go to the fest). "All my events are without imaginary lines of East versus West. No matter who you are, or how you identify, you will be welcomed and celebrated.”
The event will be co-hosted by Nero and Mario Diaz, and feature DJ sets all day by Aaron Elvis, Casey Alva, Chris Bowen, Derek Monteiro, Lina Bradford, Whitney Fierce and Josh Peace. The first 100 attendees get a free pass to the ice skating rink, which can be used Sunday or on another day or night the rink is open.
WINTERTRAMP at Pershing Square, 532 S. Olive St., downtown; Sun., Dec. 17, 2-10 p.m.; $10 in advance, $15 at the door. Tickets and more info at summertramp.com.