On June 9, West Hollywood's historic lesbian bar the Palms will be closing the doors to its location of the last 48 years. But this old gal had herself one last hurrah before her forced retirement.
Last night, the Palms held its official goodbye party, kicking off its final week of operation, coinciding with Los Angeles' Pride Week. The event could best be described as casual and upbeat. A throng of women crammed into the narrow dive bar, overflowing onto the sidewalk of Santa Monica Blvd. The dance floor at the back was a sea of cropped haircuts and sensible button-downs as DJ Gayanne spun retro nostalgia, like En Vogue's “Free Your Mind” and Salt n Pepa's “Push It.” The vibe was welcoming and non-judgmental, standing in stark contrast to the catty atmosphere that permeates many of West Hollywood's male-oriented bars and clubs.
The Palms' aura of warm camaraderie was matched only by the literal heat radiating throughout the tiny, over-packed, un-air conditioned space. Revelers fanned themselves with neon pink frisbees, the event's only shwag. Before entering, a female bouncer at the door warned patrons, “Careful, everyone is having a hot flash at once.” The crowd was dominated by, as one male patron politely put it, “Lesbians of a certain age.” The same tart-toungued young gay went on to quip that the humid lesbian bar was “a clam bake.”
But mugginess is the least of the lesbian community's worries. Over the last few years, West Hollywood's few female-oriented establishments, such as Normandie Room and Girl Bar, have gone out of business, while their male analogs, like the Abbey and Mickey's, continue to thrive. Some of WeHo's denizens attributed this nightlife imbalance to simple gender psychology.
“Males are conditioned to venture out and hunt while women stay home and nest,” speculated a middle-aged woman at the farewell party.
While the legitimacy of this theory is highly disputable, Shawne White, the events coordinator of the Palms, claims the bar's closing is simply a business matter.
“Woman, when they get in a relationship, tend to nest. So, yes, they go out less,” said White during a pre-party interview. “But the closing is only due to the property owner wanting to tear down the building for new construction.”
The property on which the Palms resides changed hands a number of times over the last several decades. Eventually, its lease ran out and the establishment was switched to a month-to-month arrangement. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, this too came to an end.
“We have been waiting for 10 years for this letter to come to tell us we only had 30 days left,” said White.
The closing of the Palms signifies more than just the demise of a girl bar — it's the death of a beloved grandmother. Sure, her visage is weathered, but her memories are full of wild adventures and taboo anecdotes. Oh, the exciting people this wrinked Nanna has encountered. The Palms has wet the whistle of not only lesbian royalty, like Ellen Degeneres and Melissa Etheridge, but also testosterone-fueled rock stars like David Lee Roth and Jim Morrison. Of all the notable personalities who have graced this unassuming dive, one took precedence in White's mind.
“A celebrity patron that will always stick out would be Timothy Leary,” she went on to joke. “Now that was a trip.”
Beyond the famous clientele, the Palms' strength was in its huge heart. The hospitable atmosphere that permeated its good-bye shindig was nothing new. It's an attitude rooted to the establishment's core.
“The Palms created a comforting atmosphere for not only lesbians, but the recently divorced woman who wanted to go out and have a drink without the stresses of men around,” said White. “The young man who just rolled into town, unsure of his sexuality, that sat at the bar until he had the courage to get his feet wet further down the street. Women coming from small towns because we weren't allowed to be who we truly were there, excited but scared of the big city. The Palms was there for these people too.”
While White stated that the Palms will seek a new location, she also admitted that in some respects, contemporary culture had evolved past the necessity for purely lesbian bars.
“In today's nightlife culture, and I'm happy to say this, I'm not sure they need a place of their own,” she said. “The world is changing and you are just as likely to find your soul mate in line at Whole Foods than a bar…I don't think lesbians need a bar for themselves, but it's always nice to have that place where you know they'll be like persons there to accept you know matter what.”