IT’S BAAACK! Gay Bar Roosterfish is Re-Opening in Venice

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Roosterfish - photo by Paulo Murillo

The LGBTQ community gets another big win in the city of Venice with the recent announcement that the dearly departed gay bar Roosterfish, has gotten a second chance at life and is slated for a revival before the end of this year. The good news comes shortly after L.A. County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved to preserve the Venice Pride Rainbow Flag Lifeguard Tower as a permanent LGBT art installation at Venice Beach.

The Venice gay bar located at Abbot Kinney, closed last May after being open for 37 years. Former Roosterfish patrons will now get a taste of what was thought to be lost forever at a pop-up party called “Roosterfish Revived” happening at the original location, 1302 Abbot Kinney Blvd., this Saturday, September 23, from 12pm to 12am. The event is a fundraiser to benefit Venice Pride.

WEHO TIMES sat with Venice Pride founder and president, Grant Turck, to discuss his part in not only resurrecting the bar, but also making sure that it stayed true to its LGBTQ historic roots and that it always remain a gay bar. According to Turck, Venice Pride only came to exit because of the closing of Roosterfish. The man, not only started a pride event in Venice, but he is also helping bring Roosterfish back to life.

Venice Pride founder and president Grant Turck – photo courtesy of Venice Pride

Is it True? Is Roosterfish really re-opening?
It is true. Roosterfish should be opening later this year.

Is it going to be the same Roosterfish that we know and love?
I think for the most part, it’s going to be the venue that you’ve always known with some modifications to bring it up to the present day. That said, the new lease owners are contractually obligated–in order to retain the name, they have to remain a bar or a venue that is welcoming to the gay community, the LGBTQ community and its allies. They are also contractually obligated to keeping the ceiling in the men’s restroom intact. To me, that ceiling was one of the iconic things about that place. Everyone talked about, ‘oh you have to go see the ceiling.’ At one point I was talking about having that ceiling donated to the One Archives. Ultimately, if it was going to re-open, then it would make much more sense in terms of the storyline if they’re going to remain true to its roots and maintain it as a space that is welcoming to LGBTQ community, that it would remain and keep it in its place as apposed to donating it.

Famous Roosterfish neon light that hung over the bar – photo Paulo Murillo
Roosterfish – April 2016 -by Paulo Murillo

What does the space look like now after being closed for over a year? 
I’ve been in there a couple of times. We were actually just in there on Friday. For the most part, all the barstools are gone. The tables are gone. The iconic Roosterfish neon sign is no longer there. In terms of the bar and the bathrooms—the basic infrastructure—all that is still there. The pool table is gone, although the pool rack is still there, so it still very much feels like Roosterfish.

Just so we’re clear, you’re saying the iconic ceiling in the men’s restroom is still there, completely intact?
That’s correct. When I found out the bar was closing, I tried to see if we could preserve it as a historical landmark through the LA Conservancy. That wasn’t possible, so I thought, what’s iconic about this place that perhaps I could preserve? I approached Gary who operated the place about this idea to preserve that ceiling so it wouldn’t be lost. He said they were selling everything off on the last day, so he told me to come that day. I went there, but they had already closed, so I feared for eight or nine months that it was gone or lost forever. But then I met with Mario for the first time back in August and he told me, ‘oh yeah, the ceiling in the men’s restroom is still there.’ I had to see it and that day he took me to the space and sure enough it’s still intact and it’s still there. I was totally surprised. I thought it would have been gone. It’s not.

Roosterfish men’s restroom – photo taken April 2016 by Paulo Murillo

Some people think Roorsterfish closed because of lack of interest. Others say it was because of rent issues? What’s your take?
I think it was a combination of factors. The lease was one thing. It was an expensive lease for most of the time that it was open. Then there were some improvements that happened within the space that triggered the lease to go up 30 or 40 percent higher than it was. I think there were also issues of mismanagement. I don’t have specifics on that, but I think they just did the very basic in terms of operating that place. There were a number of times when I approached them with ideas and friends of mine approached them with ideas like let’s do a Halloween party, or some kind of event, and they weren’t really interested.

LA Weekly reports that you bought the copyright to the name Roosterfish, can you elaborate on that?
There were no filings for Roosterfish ever, so I decided to trademark the name in hopes of using the name as part of Venice Pride, or maybe it would play a role protecting and preserving the Roosterfish. I honestly don’t know why I did it. I hoped that it would work out this way and it did.

Tell us something you didn’t tell LA Weekly.
Here’s something that hasn’t been reported yet. They [Roosterfish leaseholders] agreed to pay a licensing fee to Venice Pride for the use of the Roosterfish trademark. They are contractually obligated every year for the next decade to pay Venice Pride $40,000 as a licensing fee. It means the Venice Pride event in June is guaranteed to exist for the next decade, underwritten–not by a huge corporation like other prides like LA Pride or other Prides across the country, but by a local community business, which I think is a really cool thing. It also guarantees that Venice Pride as it relates to the Pride celebration in June, will always be free and open to the public.

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Paulo Murillo
Paulo Murillo is Editor in Chief and Publisher of WEHO TIMES. He brings close to 20 years of experience in LGBT media and more than two decades as a West Hollywood resident. Murillo began his professional writing career as the author of “Love Ya, Mean It,” an irreverent and sometimes controversial West Hollywood lifestyle column for FAB! newspaper. Murillo’s work has appeared in numerous print and online publications. He was a contributor to LGBT magazine IN Los Angeles. He is known for the “Hot Topic” column in Frontiers magazine, in which he covered breaking news and local events in the City of West Hollywood. His recent work has been published in the Los Angeles Blade and his articles, essays and photographs can also be seen on the pages of THE FIGHT Magazine. He started “The Share” feature for THE FIGHT, which spotlights members of the Los Angeles recovery community who share about their sober journey. He can be reached at editor@wehotimes.com

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