In the Scene

Scrutinizing the gay space via LA’s ‘The Abbey’

In Los Angeles, Outrage Magazine visits one of the gay hotspots, The Abbey, and discovers that while the place may have its lures, it is also a good study of the changing LGBT party scene, and the (possible) implications of these changes to being LGBT.

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In West Hollywood, at the center of the LGBT (though more gay, really) scene in Los Angeles, Americanized former Filipino Caesar – who moved to the US over a quarter of a century ago – recalled being gay when it wasn’t okay being gay in the Philippines.

“Everything we did,” he said, “was in hiding.”

That included (in the context of this article), yes, partying, when gay people went where hetero-identifying went, not necessarily because they were part of the mainstream, but because: 1) they didn’t have anywhere else to go to call their own; and 2) blending in with the rest of the flock meant not calling attention to oneself, which – in turn – meant survival.

It was, therefore, a relief for him when he moved out of the country, eventually settling down in LA, where “I could be who I am openly.”

And in LA, Caesar is first to celebrate the likes of The Abbey, one of the best representations – for him – of a “space” that merged the need for “a place to call our own” and “a place that people – who may be like us, or not like us (i.e. heteros) – can get together without fear of reprisal”.

This makes one – particularly a non-local like me – wonder if The Abbey (let’s focus on this one LA bar for now) deserves the hype it gets…

WHAT’S THERE/ WHY GO THERE

The Abbey is a hotspot, if you may, in gay LA – that is, people (no matter their SOGIE) flock here to party (e.g. Taylor Lautner was seen here one time). And this isn’t surprising because of what the place has to offer…

First off, the place is actually divided into two “major” parts – when you’re facing the venue, the right side is the “covered” area (that is, there’s roof), and the left side is the “open” area. But the two sections have sub-sections. For instance, when you go inside the right side, there are VIP lounges, a dance area, the long bar, a stage at the very far end (with a giant screen on the wall), and the “dividers” where the gogo dancers do their things. The left side of the venue, meanwhile, has a courtyard with numerous tables, mini-ledges for the gogo dancers, and “covered” areas with more seating.

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Suffice it to say, this place may not be a mega-venue (e.g. the warehouses-turned-dance-venues of Shanghai), but this is not a small place either.

Secondly, the drinks here are… normal – i.e. what they offer, you’d expect to see in other gay bars in the area.

Thirdly, this is one of the few gay venues that offer something you can chew on – this is what those tables in the courtyard are for. Beyond the pulutan (in the Philippines, something to eat while drinking), they have a quite extensive menu that includes “real” meals (e.g. pasta, not just nachos). Though methinks that if you wanna eat, you may as well check out the “real” dining venues around the area (e.g. one right across The Abbey)…

Fourthly, here, the music is actually dance-able (and the sound system good). We have the go-go boys to prove this, as they sway and gyrate and twist and hang on poles…

And then there’s the crowd, of course, which would represent a big, BIG slice of the stereotypical gay Los Angeleno. So when here, expect gym-toned, Andrew Christian-wearing, organic-liking/loving, clean-shaven (complete with threaded eyebrows) Ken dolls. Yes, yes, there are bearded guys here (e.g. lumbersexuals), but even their body hair look well-manicured – that is (and for comparison), unlike the more natural-looking facial hair of New Yorkers, those in LA are well-pruned and all…

WHY AVOID THE PLACE

Now, since oh-so-many of the hot gay guys of LA drop by The Abbey, it’s a given for you to – at least – drop by the place even if only once in your life (and even if only to prove/disprove your liking/hating of it). After all, while this place is indeed a hotspot, it is in no way perfect.

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For one, for an Asian, there’s the glaring lack of representation of people of color, particularly those in positions where they are “desired”. This is interesting for me because, compared to New York for example, Asians are more “integrated” in LA – walking on the streets of the gay area, you’d see them in groups or with their White BFs or traversing the scene on their own (in New York, there were times I’d be the ONLY “gaysian” in a bar!).

Yes, now and then you’d see Black and Latino guys as gogo dancers/bouncers/waiters, but they are rare; instead, here, we look up to everything White. You know one of the issues raised against Hollywood – that non-White and non-cisgender people are under-represented, especially in notable positions/roles where they are seen? Well, The Abbey gives a glimpse of this criticism of Hollywood…

And so, if you can’t (even for a while) stop pondering on issues of representation in the LGBT community, you won’t necessarily find joy here…

Related to the above point is the place’s (intentional or not) promotion of apparent age-ism in the LGBT community. We celebrate youth and beauty; but the aged are left at the outskirts, there to admire what they supposedly do not have anymore…

Then there’s the abundance of hets.

On the one hand, so many of the go-go boys are hetero-identifying – not surprising since this is where Hollywood is, with a LOT of beautiful people who want to make it big needing to find ways to survive (including working as gogo dancers or waiters or whatever) before (or if at all) they make it big. And so there’s a lot of hetero-idolatry happening here – the gays (who watch) desiring the hets (the one being watched) who we want to bed, or want to be more like (i.e. the desirability of the “straight-acting/looking” in the community).

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On the other hand, so many of the club-goers are non-LGBT-identifying (e.g. Lautner, as mentioned earlier). This can be good because their presence highlights how we are just “one of them ‘normal’ folks”. But for those who believe that they (non-LGBT people) have more than enough spaces, and we should have our own spaces, too, this merging may not be ideal…

And then there’s the drug use…

IN THE END

You may have noticed that the anti-The Abbey issues raised touch on being LGBT (e.g. representation of people of color, White dominance, age-ism, et cetera). So – if you can’t put aside your sentiments on these, then The Abbey won’t be to your liking.

But for those who see no harm in just focusing on partying for partying’s sake (while ogling at eye candies), The Abbey definitely won’t disappoint. Come over here, then, and party (weekends are best, including Sundays when they have “Funday Sunday”).

Already, Americanized former Filipino Caesar is planning for his trip to the Philippines early next year after more than two decades since he left it, and he’s worried how he will be taken in now as an openly out gay guy (e.g. he’s already married). Asking about the gay scene in Metro Manila nowadays, he can’t help but recall how horrifying it was for him to be gay there ages ago. This time around, he hopes he can be “as out as I want, as when I’m at The Abbey,” he said, adding that: “You can be you here.”

But really, on what kind of “you” you are going to be (e.g. political, apolitical, party-head, et cetera) while considering a place like The Abbey is a different thing altogether…

The Abbey is located at 692 North Robertson Boulevard, West Hollywood, California. For more information, visit www.theabbeyweho.com.

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