Slouching Towards Sodom
For years, downtowners who simply wished to drink with other homosexuals had to rely on Mustache Mondays, Jalisco or a trip to West Hollywood. Mustache Mondays is a party dominated by the fashion forward, hetero-normative averse, drug fiendish set, a pale imitation of Michael Alig’s “Party Monsters.” Jalisco is a Latin dive with limited appeal and an even more limited drink repertoire of beer. Happily, In the last year, downtown Los Angeles has gone from a one gay bar town to a four gay bar town; Mustache can now be left to the party monsters.
Now that there are four bars, one hopes that they may bring variety. Just as surely as you have different restaurants for different occasions, you would hope each bar would be different enough to provide for any occasion: one bar for drinks with friends, one bar for dancing, perhaps another for the meat market, and one in which to enjoy conversation. How does the nouveau downtown gay scene do when judged against this rubric?
Mediocre at best. For dancing and the meat market, there is Precinct, sitting atop an uninspiring building on the corner of 4th and Broadway. This self-proclaimed “rock-and-roll gay bar” is a cavern with the occasional person. Precinct depends on weekly parties like “Queen Kong,” hosted James Cerne, to fill in its erstwhile empty cave. That one of the more popular nights is a simple twist of phrase should serve as warning to those looking for anything beyond shallow waters. The only thing that should be deep here are your pockets: cover and one drink will likely set you back twenty bucks to start.
Of the new bars, Redline is the most baffling. Despite the presence of a deafening DJ, it is not large enough to be a dance hall. The presence of a couch would fool you into thinking it is a lounge, but conversation above the ear-splitting roar is impossible. There are installations of televisions displaying carelessly produced video montages tinted in red (how droll). A Bud Light will set you back a maddening five dollars, though their top dollar liquor is in line with just about any bar in town. If you are looking for a deal, you can enjoy three-dollar Corona during Redline’s one redeeming value: Tuesday night “Loteria,” which benefits a different charity every week. If you’re not sure where to go, join the ambiguity at Sixth and Los Angeles, where you can pay top-dollar for low-dollar beer in sight of the tents of Skid Row.
If there’s a bar that sets up expectations and delivers upon them almost completely, it is Bar Mattachine, nestled on Seventh Street between Spring and Broadway. To those familiar with the pre-Stonewall gay rights society founded by Harry Hay, after whom a cocktail is named, Mattachine creates an expectation of intellectual fraternity. The dimly lit intimate space is graced with wooden tables, all of which lends the place a cozy, comfortable atmosphere. Behind the bar you will find skilled practitioners of an expertly designed Craft Cocktail program who also deliver their delicious craftsmanship with a friendly smile. If budget precludes you from enjoying the more than fairly priced seven-dollar happy hour cocktail, you can wet your whistle with a three-dollar PBR. In the unlikely event you find yourself without a conversation partner, do yourself the favor of exploring the art that graces the walls downstairs, as well as upstairs, where you will also find New Orleans styled liquor slushies.
For new residents, the downtown gay bar scene experienced nothing short of a Big Bang in 2015; for those with a memory that may stretch to the days of the Mattachine Society, it is more of a renaissance. The weekly Mustache Mondays lives on; the weekly party genre thrives in general, though now they are losing their exclusivity as they begin to compete with the new brick and mortar gay bars. The new bars attract a steady stream of local residents and even a trickle of adventurous WeHo-ites. Some of their success rests upon being the only games in town, while only one may survive real competition. Unless others enter this scene with more creativity, the current mediocrity will cause it to wilt, and we will reluctantly make return trips to West Hollywood.