It’s hard to say what makes a bigger impression when one first walks into Bar 107 — the horder-esque décor or the equally wacky mix of people who imbibe amidst it.
The bar’s sketch factor has been diluted somewhat over the years, but it always remained rough around the edges, charmingly so, from the staff's 'tudes to the blasting music. No matter the night, everyone who goes there is after the same thing: to drown the night away in cheap beer and strong hooch, to get distracted by interior eye candy, and to dance, sing and sometimes puke their guts out.
But after this weekend, none of the above will be possible ever again, at least in this bar. After being kicked out by their landlord, Bar 107 closes its doors for good on June 1. The owners say they're parting ways and won't be moving it elsewhere.
“I've been DJing since 1989 and Bar 107 is the first place I truly felt at home," says Morgan Higby Night, one of the bar's many longtime DJs. “I can play The Misfits into The Ronettes and then FIDLAR and the crowd is right there with me. I've been there seven years and it's heartbreaking to see it go.”
While lacking the history of King Eddy’s or the swanky neo-vintage allure of downtown's first scenester joints like Golden Gopher and Broadway Bar, 107 had something more special: It never took itself too seriously, even when the Hollywood “It” types started to frequent on the slum.
“People started to come here from outside of downtown around 2008, and it started changing a little, but before that it was the best," say co-owner Brian Traynam. "It was the Wild West. It was Cheers but cooler. I had to jump over the bar with a bat for the first six months pretty much every day. But I didn’t mind. We were cultivating the area.”
A little history for the art-walker-come-lately set: In the early 2000s, Traynam, a standup comic, threw underground parties at his various abodes, called the Chancho Sussio, first in Hollywood, then in Echo Park. All anyone needed to join in was a good attitude and maybe additional booze. At some point Traynam and his friends started bringing assorted collectibles and weird decor like posters, black velvet paintings, ceramic stuff, you name it, as a way to make things in the party space more homey.
At one of his most epic gatherings, an enterprising gal by the name of Vee Delgadillo approached Traynam about turning his bash savvy into a business. Soon after, the pair joined forces and Bar 107 — in the space that formerly housed austere gay bar the Score — was born.
Delgadillo went on to renovate and reopen Charlie O’s as the Down and Out, and more recently helm the New Orleans spot the Little Easy, while Traynam opened up Skid Row-adjacent hideout the Escondite and took over Seattle's famed Chop Suey bar. Both have done well maintaining divey ambience amidst DTLA’s rapidly gentrifying makeup.
But Bar 107 seemed to walk the line between bona fide hole-in-the-wall and ironic PBR swill and chill spot better than most, maintaining a punky authenticity even while surrounded by relentless property development and changes in the area. Developer Tom Gilmore has made the biggest impact, and few would argue that most of his changes were for the better. Cute new cafes, boutiques and galleries made downtown safer and cleaner for the most part.
But soon, the energy downtown changed along with the landscape. Outrageously priced lofts drew trust fund kids. ArtWalk became less about art and more about food trucks and signature cocktails at the newest hotspots. Landlord greed grew.
Delgadillo told LAist that the owner of the Barclay Hotel where 107 is housed gave them the heave-ho so he could open his own upscale bar in the same spot. The attempted takeover of bar clientele by venue owners is nothing new, but it usually doesn’t work with regulars. Bar patrons may enjoy dulling the senses, but we're not dummies. The loyal 107 boozer will probably go elsewhere, just as most of DTLA's lower income creatives have moved away out of necessity.
“Wimps who never dared enter downtown L.A. actually made the effort, because they had to go check out a bar that had something as nuts and creative as Gong Show Karaoke, Helmet Night or Unibrow Night,” says Joe Dana, singer for the band Pu$$y-Cow and regular at 107 since the beginning, including its Razorcake DJ night.
“In a world of mixology lounges and nouveau pioneer riche, Bar 107 decorated its walls with kitsch and tchotchkes. A story behind each one. This is where bad decisions start and a lot of times bad decisions make great stories and great stories make you remember a place fondly. Dives are becoming a dying breed and that is sad, sad thing.”
All this week, the bar's oddball theme nights have brought a packed house. On Tuesday, patrons wore helmets for the last time (everything from Boba Fett to Raiders football), and Wednesday the last bang of the gong for ear-splitting karaoke numbers made for a bittersweet climax.
Night spins his not-for-the-timid sound selections tonight all the way thru to the final goodbye on Sunday. And it's a goodbye in more ways than one.
"I think downtown is going in the wrong direction," say Traynam. "The thing that made it special was the diversity and they're simply getting rid of it all. It happened in Lower East [Side] New York, then Chicago and now it's happening here. But the bubble will pop soon and people will leave. It's a tragedy for downtown and for all of L.A."
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Bar 107 will be open from 6 a.m. - 2 a.m. all weekend long before shuttering on June 1. 107 W. 4th St., (213) 625-7382. www.facebook.com/bar107.