Like most cities in the U.S., Los Angeles once had a hidden side — a network of bars, tearooms and other meeting places where LGBT people could meet safely. Today, following advances in LGBT rights and changing societal attitudes, these places no longer need to operate under the radar — and some of them are just historical footnotes.
Here’s a look at some of the spots, present and past, that are near (or a short drive) from the Hotel Indigo Los Angeles Downtown:
Starting in the 1920s, Downtown’s Pershing Square was the location of “The Run,” a place of gay-friendly businesses and a favorite meeting spot. Gays and lesbians could socialize in a circuit that included the Central Library and the Biltmore Hotel bar. The square remains a site for protests in today’s political climate.
Named after the pioneering gay-rights group called the Mattachine Society, Downtown LA’s Bar Mattachine features a main area downstairs for partying and live music and a quieter upstairs lounge for sipping and conversation, with a balcony overlooking it all. The bar is known for its take on classic cocktails, including the old-fashioned, Manhattan and Monte Carlo.
Located on Main Street, in the heart of the Los Angeles “gay ghetto” of the 1950s and ’60s, this was the site of an uprising in 1959, a decade before the landmark Stonewall Riots in New York City. The spark ignited when two police officers asked for ID cards from some customers at the shop. In response, the customers took to the streets, throwing coffee cups, trash and whatever they could grab. The incident was captured in John Rechy’s 1963 novel, City of Night.
Black Cat Tavern
Silver Lake, a Spanish bungalow-pocked enclave east of Hollywood near Downtown, is another historical epicenter of LBT Los Angeles. The Black Cat Tavern witnessed one of America’s first gay riots on New Year’s Day in 1967. A police raid — and arrest of two men kissing — sparked a melee that spilled out into the streets and led to violence. The two men were arrested and later convicted under California law as sex offenders. The tavern is still in business, catering these days to an eclectic clientele with weekend brunch menus and dinner seven days a week.
The Harry Hay House
Harry Hay is credited with founding the Mattachine Society in 1950 as one of the nation’s first gay rights organization. He lived and organized the group’s actions at his home in Silver Lake at 2328 Cove Ave. Many consider the house to be the birthplace of the gay rights movement. Today, a historical marker by a set of stairs next to the home chronicles its role.
Well known to most for its famous observatory — immortalized in movies like Rebel Without a Cause and more recently La La Land — Griffith Park in the late 1960s was the site of “Gay-Ins” at the picnic grounds. With more than 4,210 acres of chaparral in the middle of L.A. it remains a popular spot for picnics and exploration for people of all orientations today.
The story of West Hollywood as a gay-focused city begins in the 1930s at the Garden of Allah hotel, once a magnet for artists and writers (think F. Scott Fitgerald and actress Alla Nazimova); the site at 8150 Sunset Blvd. is now a McDonald’s. Wisecracking writer Dorothy Parker based herself there, surrounded by a large coterie of gay men in her legendary social circle.
Soon, the phrase “friend of Dorothy” became the code for gay identity and the password for parties held at the celebrity villas at this address. Although the Garden of Allah closed in 1959, the area continued to thrive as an epicenter for LGBT life in Los Angeles.
The Lavender Effect
Looking to immerse yourself in LGBT history? Out & About Tours offers The Lavender Effect, which promises to “dig up the dirt on decades of closeted stars, underground pansy bars and gay rights battle scars.”
A Sunday brunch tour starts out at Redline for mimosas and appetizers before hitting the streets. Sites range from LA’s first gay porn theater, which opened in the 1880’s, to grand hotels, such as the Hollywood Roosevelt, and also include bathhouses and other haunts reportedly frequented by the Hollywood elite.