The wait is over! It was two years in the making, but Chi Chi LaRue’s Circus finally had its grand opening celebration at the newly re-imagined Circus of Books location, at 8230 Santa Monica Blvd., on Saturday, January 11.
WeHo residents and gay erotica connoisseurs gathered on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and La Jolla Avenue to get a first look at the new renderings. It was a who’s who (and who does gay skin flicks) at a reception with an open bar to mark the official opening of the new adult retail and art gallery mixed space.
The exterior of the new Chi Chi LaRue’s Circus is a nod to the history of the Circus of Books adult book store. Rob Novinger and Chi Chi LaRue (Larry David Paciotti) did something rarely seen in West Hollywood; they insisted on bringing back the classic aesthetic to what was originally known as Book Circus when it opened back in the 60s. The big picture windows have been restored to reflect the building’s original facade, and they opened the main entrance on the corner of the building, instead of having patrons enter from the side. The classic Circus of Books neon signage will also remain intact and lit on the historical building.
“I love the look of the new space,” LaRue told WEHO TIMES. “It was two years in the making and we’re finally open! This building could not have gone anywhere else. It would have been horrible if this became a Starbucks, even though I love Starbucks. This place was built in the 1960s, so for it to stay gay and in the gay family, and still be around for the gay community to enjoy, I think that’s awesome. Hopefully we can bring back Vaseline Alley.”
The interior design of the LaRue’s Circus stays true to the Chi Chi LaRue’s retail space located one mile east, on Santa Monica Boulevard, in the heart of WeHo’s Boystown. The space is open with high ceilings and fuchsia lighting. The store offers naughty gift items, campy apparel, sex toys, lube, condoms, and an array of erotic coffee table books. There is also an art gallery on the west side of the store, and a Tom of Finland exhibit in a dark back room area.
The Galley@Circus is currently showing select works by artist Jeremy Kost. On display are some of Kost’s Seismic Dreams collection, featuring his signature polaroids of single nude males, as well as photographs of some familiar drag queens, like Alaska Thunderfuck and Raja, and nightlife queen Amanda LaPore. The art book Seismic Dreams, will have an official launch at the gallery on February 15.
Other points of interest are the display of adult entertainment trophies and shelves filled with a collection of vintage magazines, photographs and other collectible items from gay porn of yesteryear. These items are not for sale, but interesting to look at.
“The space is amazing,” said former Circus of Books book store owner Barry Mason. “I’m amazed they were able to pull it off. It’s way different than ours. They kept the old sign which reminds me of the store, but once you get in, it’s very different. It took ten months. The city of West Hollywood made it so difficult, but we finally got the OK to open it.”
Mason still owns the building with his wife Karen Mason.
Mason’s daughter, Rachel Mason, the director and producer of the Circus of Books Documentary, was at the event with her boyfriend Buck Angel (they’ve been dating since their first date during the premier of the documentary at Outfest in Los Angeles last July). She said she is pleased with the changes made to the store formerly owned by her parents and she is excited about the future art showings at the new gallery.
Co-owner Rob Novinger is also satisfied with the end results of his new Circus. He said he feels the outcome stayed true to his vision—for the most part, and that there is still work to be done.
“I’m very happy with outcome,” he said. “There is a whole plan with the city. This is a historic building, so Barry, got a lot of pushback from the City. He has to follow what they are recommending. The colors of the exterior are not going to be anything crazy. It’s going to be something that goes with the era. That’s the rule. It used to be striped when it was Book Circus, but they won’t let me stripe it. It’s too bad because I really like the stripes.”
Novinger says the wait was the most challenging part in the making Chi Chi LaRue’s Circus and that he really hopes all the work pays off.
“Retail is tough right now,” he said. “We’re opening another store. This is our second location. It’s a whole different clientele this side of Santa Monica Boulevard. I hope people come back to Circus. It’s re-imagined in 2020. We’ll see.”