Plans to open a West Hollywood location of downtown Los Angeles’s Bottega Louie in the spot once planned for Cooley’s have stirred a debate about the future of the Boystown nightlife district.
That debate is evident on the Facebook page of Larry Block, owner of The Block Party, branded as the “gayest store on earth,” which is on Santa Monica Boulevard in the heart of the gay nightlife area.
“This business appears to be a ‘Connie and Teds’ version of dining in the heart of Boystown,” Block said on Facebook, referring to the upscale seafood restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard at Havenhurst that replaced the old Silver Spoon diner. “Soon the heart of Boystown that is gay-owned and operated will shrink a little bit more.”
Block’s post drew opposition from a number of people. Keith Kaplan, a real estate broker who is chair of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, welcomed Bottega Louie. “From its early days it was embraced by the gay community, many who traveled there from WeHo to be a part of the excitement,” Kaplan said. “It is exactly the type of inventive, unique business that belongs in ‘The Creative City’.”
Jake Mason, CEO of WeHo Dodgeball, the sports league, said “Bottega Louie is amazing. Great food. Great welcoming atmosphere. I don’t understand how a restaurant is inherently a ‘straight’ one, but for some reason this one is and everyone is more upset about it being there than having a giant black, boarded-up building for years in its place.”
The opposition came from a variety of people including Ken Howard, a local psychotherapist, and Gary Yamaguchi, a real estate broker. “We need to stop the infiltration of the straight people taking over our gay districts!!!!!! We all need to show them what gays are really like!” Yamaguchi said on Facebook. Howard, in an online debate with Owen Ward, a consultant and Chamber director who supports the restaurant, said: “There’s room for everyone in Pasadena and Santa Monica and Westwood and Torrance and frigging everywhere. West Hollywood was and still needs to (be) specifically a GAY oasis and haven. Look at North Carolina. We take our rights for granted, we lose them. The Weimar Republic in 20’s Berlin was really gay. We know what happened next.”
WEHOville has been unable to reach the owner of Bottega Louie or the publicist for Cooley’s to confirm whether a branch of the restaurant is going to take over the Cooley’s space. However the move has been confirmed by a City Council member and a member of the Planning Commission.
David Cooley, owner of The Abbey, engaged in a long and arduous process to get the city’s approval for his plan to combine three commercial spaces adjacent to the Motherlode bar just east of the intersection of Robertson and Santa Monica boulevards. The combined space has 5,632 square feet and includes front and rear patios. In his petition to the city for zoning modifications, which including permitting a large outdoor patio facing West Hollywood Park, Cooley had to fight with Alfredo Diaz, then an owner of Revolver. Diaz, apparently concerned that Cooley’s would be a tough competitor for his nearby bar, pressured both the Planning Commission and the City Council to deny the special permits. He lost and construction began, with Cooley announcing the so-called “gastro-pub” would open in 2014.
Since then David Cooley has reacquired the stake that SBE Entertainment had purchased in The Abbey, which he founded 25 years ago, and has purchased Here Lounge, adjacent to The Abbey. He is combining the Here space with The Abbey and calling it “the Chapel.”
Opponents of the Bottega Louie move have questioned whether special zoning variances granted to Cooley that permit liquor sales and the large outdoor front and back patios will be automatically conveyed to the Italian restaurant.
The original Bottega Louie is in the Brockman Building at 700 S. Grand Ave. in downtown Los Angeles. It is a 255-seat restaurant and cafe/bakery that is known for its macaroons and Italian food. Readers of Yelp, the online rating service, ranked it as the most popular restaurant in the country in 2011. A story about its opening in the Los Angeles Times in 2009 noted the risk taken by its CEO, John Herman (and investors Keat Bollenbach and Daniel Flores). The 11 floors of condos above the restaurant were empty at the time, the story noted, and their developer had declared bankruptcy. But the restaurant now is cited as one of the early movers in the evolution of downtown Los Angeles into a hip and increasingly expensive neighborhood. However, one concern raised by some West Hollywood residents — the possibility of noise — is mentioned in coverage of the restaurant in its early years. In a 2009 review in L.A. Weekly, Jonathan Gold praised the food but also said “Bottega Louie is the loudest place in Los Angeles on a summer evening, happy racket bouncing off the triple-height ceilings, caroming off the bare white walls and glancing off the moldings, pinging off the acres of marble and miles of brass, the roaring wood oven, the market up front, the gleaming open kitchen where military ranks of cooks sweat in their crisp whites.”