Artist memorializes closed WeHo nightspots

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By Juliet Bennett Rylah

Contributing Writer

WEST HOLLYWOOD — An artist is raising funds to memorialize several closed West Hollywood establishments and the memories that were made there. The installation would combine neon and sound to tell the stories of each spot.

British-born artist Carl Hopgood is seeking $100,000 for the project, titled “Lost Hollywood,” via Kickstarter. Hopgood was inspired as he watched many of his favorite places close, some temporarily and other permanently, during the pandemic.

A rendering of “Lost Hollywood” depicts the names of several former night spots in colorful cursive neon, each one hung from a custom metal frame. The style riffs on two other neon pieces Hopgood has already completed: “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places” and “My Heart is Open,” which appeared at West Hollywood’s Maddox Gallery as part of its spring contemporary show.

“Lost Hollywood” will initially appear on the exterior of Circus Books, the iconic adult bookstore that reopened as an adult novelty store and art gallery Chi Chi LaRue’s Circus in January 2020. It will remain there for six months, then Hopgood will donate the piece to its permanent home, the LGBT Center in Hollywood.

While “Lost Hollywood” may initially be eye-catching, it offers more when visitors point their smartphone at the signs. An augmented reality component will allow people to hear audio snippets of past guests sharing their favorite memories from the bygone clubs and restaurants.

These were the places where we came out, made friends, went on dates, celebrated life and laughed in the face of adversity,” Hopgood said via Kickstarter. “‘Lost Hollywood’ will be a memorial to the LGBTQ+ community. A clear message about preserving the legacy of these gay institutions and keep their spirit alive for future generations.” 

Many of the spots Hopgood highlights have closed fairly recently. French restaurant Cafe D’Etoile shut down in late 2019 after 36 years in business. According to Eater, rising food, drink and labor costs led to the closure.

The Standard Hotel announced its permanent closure in January. Since the 90s, the Standard and its bright blue pool deck and dance clubs had served as gathering spots for celebrities and WeHo residents, but financial difficulties due to COVID-19 ended its run.

Gay club Oil Can Harry’s — located in Studio City, not West Hollywood — closed in early 2021, blaming its landlord, Monte Overstreet. Ownership said Overstreet sold the building to a buyer who intends to open a jazz venue in its place.

Overstreet also owns the buildings that housed another three bars on Hopgood’s list: country-western nightclub Flaming Saddles, neighborhood bar Gold Coast, and nightclub Rage. According to WEHOVille, all three closed amid the pandemic and listed their lease terms as a reason for closure.

Rage will at least take on a new life in the future, as former NSYNC member Lance Bass has already signed the lease on the space. A website for the future venue claims it will be the biggest gay nightclub in the U.S.

Other spots on Hopgood’s list include restaurants Basix and Marix, and gay nightclub Micky’s.

Though some turnover in restaurants and nightclubs is to be expected, the number of LGBTQ+ venues that have closed in recent years has some troubled. In 2019, the Guardian used a mapping tool to show how queer establishments had opened and closed in L.A. over the past 150 years, pointing out that the city’s last lesbian bar shut down in 2017.

COVID-19 only made things worse, and not just in West Hollywood. Faced with unpaid rent that’s piling up and other costs, many establishments have turned to GoFundMe, relying on their fans to weather the pandemic.

Silver Lake’s Akbar managed to raise more than $230,000 to cover operating costs while closed. Meanwhile, drag bar The New Jalisco has reached its goal of $80,000, while nightclub Precinct has raised nearly $80,000 of a desired $250,000. Both of those bars are located in downtown Los Angeles.

Juliet Bennett Rylah is a freelance reporter who covers Hollywood and West Hollywood. She can be reached at jbrylah@gmail.com.