LA’s trademark industries — entertainment, fashion, art, design and cuisine, among others — have been magnets for creative gay and lesbian trendsetters for more than a century. And by their sheer numbers and substantial influence, these pioneering men and women have left a permanent, positive and gay-friendly legacy on LA’s culture, political climate and sense of community.
LA’s gay scene goes back to before Christopher Isherwood wrote about it in A Single Man (reborn as the 2009 Tom Ford movie). That story was set in the 1960s, when there was a Stonewall-style riot in LA, two years before Stonewall. The Advocate magazine was born here, as were America’s first gay church and synagogue (Metropolitan Community Church and Beth Chayim Chadashim). If you know PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) moms or dads, you can thank LA for them, too.
Outfest, the LGBT film festival that takes place each July, is the City’s largest and longest-running film festival of any kind, celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2012. Theater companies citywide stage productions of gay interest (the Celebration Theater in Hollywood specializes in gay-themed productions), and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles has set national standards since 1979. There’s even a gay bus tour offered by Out & About Tours for those wishing to learn more about LA’s gay history.But it’s not just history. LGBT life in this county of 10 million people continues to be as diverse and dynamic as the City itself, with sights, sounds, tastes, languages, nightlife and adventures for every visitor. In fact, there is not just one gay neighborhood in this glittering metropolis. They dot the region. You could spend an entire week just exploring unique and engaging gay and lesbian enclaves throughout the City.
LA’s original gay neighborhood is Silver Lake, along and around Sunset Boulevard, northwest of Downtown and east of Hollywood. Amid Silver Lake’s rolling hills, trendsetters mix with one of America’s most ethnically diverse populations in pillbox-sized homes, hip clubs and friendly bars.
At the center of Silver Lake is the cluster of low-key chic boutiques called Sunset Junction. Browse for star-worthy leather messenger bags, handbags and duffel bags at Dean or museum-quality barware at Bar Keeper; or try out restaurants like the hyper-locavore Forage, the Kitchen for comfort food done right, German sausages at Berlin Currywurst, brunch at Dusty’s, or LA’s favorite Cuban guava-cream cheese pastry at Café Tropical. You can also visit the site of that pivotal, pre-Stonewall riot, which took place in 1967 at 3909 West Sunset Boulevard. The building now houses a laundromat, but a Black Cat logo marks the spot.
After dark, Akbar is a den of alt-cool, gay but straight-friendly, with Moroccan-inspired décor, a jukebox filled with hip-again oldies, theme nights from craft-making to “Bears in Space,” and a dance floor. Up Hyperion Avenue, rock with the go-go boys at busy MJ’s, or listen to talented pianists and singers at The Other Side piano bar. Drag acts from Chico’s Angels to Jackie Beat camp it up at the Cavern Club Theater, inside Casita del Campo Mexican restaurant.
And, of course, there’s West Hollywood, also known as WeHo — the gay and lesbian capital of the world, where fully 50 percent of the resident population identify as gay or lesbian. “Boys Town” along Santa Monica Boulevard is the disco-beating heart of gay Southern California. Here, LA’s Gay Pride Parade and festival takes place each June, and half a million costumed revelers gather for the annual Halloween Costume Carnaval along Santa Monica Boulevard. The rest of the year, it’s busy day and night with cafés, gyms, restaurants, bars and dance clubs.
An evening in WeHo might start over margaritas and mingling at Marix Tex-Mex restaurant — barely more than a covered patio but always a big gay party — or power-lunch with power-lifters from the nearby gyms at the local chicken chain Koo Koo Roo. For something more upscale, ramble down the Boulevard to chichi Eleven or Revolver video bar, or dance to the thumpa-thumpa-thumpa of Rage or Micky’s. Not your scene? How about bingo hosted by drag queens at Hamburger Mary’s?
Then there’s The Abbey, a world unto itself. What started as a simple coffee shop has grown into practically an empire of flavored martinis served by eye-candy staff in an indoor-outdoor setting with Goth-gone-wild décor.
Nearby, Hollywood’s gay scene reflects its diversity. Arena Night Club and Circus Disco are favorites among LA’s large Latino community. The Faultline attracts scruffy men, especially at Sunday Beer Bust on its patio.
Between Hollywood and West Hollywood lies the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the most extensive and encyclopedic collection of art west of Chicago. In seven buildings on extensive lush grounds, right next door to the “only-in-LA” La Brea Tar Pits, visitors can experience the works of groundbreaking gay and lesbian artists, including William Burroughs, Marcel Duchamp, David Hockney, Jasper Johns, Annie Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, Catherine Opie, Robert Rauschenberg and of course, the inimitable Andy Warhol.
From LACMA, it’s just a short jaunt over the hill to Studio City, gay hub of the San Fernando Valley. Oil Can Harry’s is an institution (since 1968) for country line dancing and retro disco nights. And new this year to the Valley is the upscale Rain nightclub. Rain gives bar-goers fresh entertainment seven nights per week from some of Southern California’s top promoters and tastemakers. Patrons enjoy everything from drag shows, musicals and acoustic sets to ‘80s, ‘90s and Top-40 hits and electronic dance music. Rain features a custom, state-of-the-art video and sound system. In addition to gay-themed entertainment, Rain features a world-class, Cuban-inspired tasting menu born from a collaboration between two renowned celebrity chefs.
Finally, what’s a trip to LA without the beach? Will Rogers State Beach (affectionately known as “Ginger Rogers”) in Santa Monica has been a gay hangout since Isherwood and his kind lived just up the nearby canyon. A few miles down the coast in Venice Beach, Roosterfish has been serving honest drinks at honest prices to the men of the beach since 1979. (It’s on the downtown chic Abbot Kinney Boulevard.)
And on LA County’s southern shore, Long Beach is a lesbian and gay hub in its own right: Classic nightspots include Ripples (recently featured on Bravo TV’s Tabatha Takes Over) and the Silver Fox.
LA offers many hotels that are TAG-Approved, which means they meet six LGBT welcoming qualifications, including enforcing policies that are non-discriminatory due to sexual orientation, fair treatment of homosexual employees and their domestic partners, and giving back to their communities.