Let’s Discuss: The Unending Evolution of WeHo’s Boystown

WeHo’s Boystown gay nightlife and shopping district on Santa Monica Boulevard

If you deny the theory of evolution, you clearly haven’t been paying attention to what’s happening in West Hollywood’s Boystown.

Chris Miller, owner of the gay video bar Revolver, is exploring the possibility of expanding by taking over The Block Party, the adjacent gay-themed clothing store, when its lease expires next month. (Larry Block, The Block Party’s owner, says he hopes to stay.)

The building that once housed Citibank on the southwest corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and San Vicente soon will house Rocco’s Tavern, a sports bar whose other locations get Yelp praise for their inexpensive pizzas and welcoming atmosphere for guys and gals on a date. By contrast, the now-closed Skynny Kitchen restaurant (which briefly replaced PhoCiti) soon will be replaced by the very gay Beaches Bar & Grill.

It’s still unclear whether Lisa Vanderpump will open her Tom Tom bar and restaurant in the space between the yet-to-open Bottega Louie and Emerson’s Locksmith once occupied by Chi Chi La Rue (the announcement of a liquor license request has been on the wall there since October, but TMZ says it will be on Robertson Boulevard.) Everyone in Boystown is waiting for the construction wall to come down and offer a look inside Bottega Louie, the restaurant that will replace the never-opened Cooley’s, which replaced Raffi’s Jewelers, Balliamos dance studio and Unicorn Alley, an “adult” store. What those living in the adjacent neighborhood are waiting for is whether Bottega Louie will be held to the same rules intended to have kept light and sound from Cooley’s from intruding on West Hollywood Park.

That construction wall across the façade of Motherlode, one of WeHo’s last gay dive bars? When it comes down you can expect to see a shiny new façade. Motherlode staffers say that will have no impact on the bar’s dark and gritty vibe, which is what attracts a crowd that wouldn’t be caught dead at P.U.M.P. next door, the gathering spot for reality TV fans.

It isn’t yet clear what is coming when Andrew Christian vacates its flagship clothing store at 8943 Santa Monica Blvd. The store is full of signs proclaiming its move to downtown Los Angeles, which it touts as the new gay mecca (although the staff admits no one knows where it will end up). If Andrew Christian doesn’t open a DTLA shop, the online retailer’s only brick and mortar location would be its Glendale factory shop. That would put Andrew Christian on pace with other retailers who are abandoning street stores for the internet.

By contrast there is Rounderbum, which lists Amazon as one of its prime vendors and has had no branded physical location. However, that gay underwear store (known for its marketing of briefs with padded butts and crotches) now is opening its flagship on the northeast corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and San Vicente, replacing the now-bankrupt American Apparel.

When (and if) all is said and done, WeHo’s Boystown will have continued its evolution into a bar / nightlife district, adding what could be a total of four new bars and liquor-serving restaurants to the 12 currently on Santa Monica Boulevard between Robertson Boulevard on the west and Palm Avenue on the east. It will have lost a bank and six other neighborhood businesses. That’s likely to help West Hollywood  keep its ranking as the city with the most restaurant/bar liquor licenses per capita in all of Los Angeles County. Based on the number of restaurant/bar liquor licenses in 2015, WeHo by the Numbers reports that West Hollywood also ranks No. 1 in all of California in licenses per square mile, with 116.

So, what’s to discuss? At least two things are being debated on the streets:

1) Are all these changes — a straight sports bar, another high-end restaurant, the possible expansion of reality-TV start Lisa Vanderpump’s rule over WeHo — eroding the gay character of what has come to be known as Boystown? Does that really matter? And if it does, what can be done about it?

2) What will be the impact of the replacement of retailers, whether or not their products are gay-oriented, by alcohol-serving bars and restaurants? Will the city’s residents find themselves dealing with more drinking-related crime? Will the new gay-oriented bars like Beach’s and the expanded Revolver give WeHo an edge over increasingly gay-popular DTLA and its bars like Precinct and Redline and Mattachine and its DTLA Proud events?  Will all of that generate more revenue for a city that’s highly dependent on tourism?

Let’s discuss! And remember, this is a platform for sharing thoughts and suggestions by WEHOville readers about local issues (City Hall and the City Council members will be reading, albeit they are too shy to comment). So please keep comments focused on the issues and not criticism of particular individuals.

  1. @saveweho But we don’t have a “women’s town” nor anything inviting the rest of GBTQ Community. I’m 50yrs old and nobody calls me a boy. Look at the current climate. Roy Moore was a pedophile, with a fine line between sexual assault and sex with minors. We shouldn’t give any haters any fodder to equate gay with pedophilia … Boys has an underage interpretation. Living in WeHo, we know what it is. The huge number of visitors can get the wrong message about what WeHo nightlife offers for ALL. LGBTQ et al

  2. It might be nice if the city tried to court other businesses besides bars into the area. Also, the thought of Lisa Vanderpump opening another place is scary. B/c her restaurants/bars are on reality TV, she attracts car loads of screaming 20-something girls from West Covina who want to go there and meet their fave reality stars from the show. I found it disturbing when I would wait on Robertson before an AA meeting w/ a group of gay gays and have these large groups of 20-something straight women on their way to Sur or Pump start making cat calls at us.

    I really think bringing in this kind of crowd is driving gay people out of WEHO. It’s really no longer “A gay village” as it once was w/ independent coffee shops or bookstores or places like Raffi Jewelers.

    I still think there is a place for a gay neighborhood. Travel to any city in the U.S. and there are black neighborhoods, Asian neighborhoods, Jewish neighborhoods etc.Minority groups like to stick together for common bonds and safety in numbers. The city of W. Hollywood is destroying it – quickly.

  3. @J Simmons. Boys, Girls, etc is a general reference. Has nothing to do with the age of someone. Now if you want argue the term because it only refers to gay men instead of the entire LGBT community, ok. But the term BOYSTOWN is used all over. We’re not the only area that has one. LGBT film festivals often have a “Boys Centerpiece” and “Girls Centerpiece” film. You’re being ridiculous.

  4. I don’t accept the use of “Boys town” to reference the busy mostly gay nightlife. GLTQ et all. Most of the establishments sell alcohol, so “boys” aren’t allowed. ADULTS (men, women and the whole community of NOT JUST BOYS provide the majority money spent to support these businesses.

    WITH THE GLUT OF SEXUAL CHARGES BEING MADE EVERYWHERE (and of course the City of West Hollywood has paid out more than most per capita, to settle sexual improprieties against those in power in weho) We need to work harder to dispel the common belief gay equates to pedophilia, and calling a portion of weho BOYSTOWN gives rise to implicating false assumptions once the number and details of the allegations over many years in city hall.

    We are adults, engaging in legal adult nightlife activities. BOYS are not apart of that. Anyone old enough to drink, IS NO BOY.

  5. I cant say I’m thrilled about the change from a smaller gay area to a more expensive gay enclave…but times change and so will Weho. Most parts of the city have changed. Mortar stores are dying everywhere and they were always going in and out of business back in the 90s too. I dont mind the new restaurants and bars…I just wish they catered more to the gay community. I’ll be happy when that place next to the Factory is gone which brings in a non-gay element which in turns creates more violence and issues. We’ve opened our doors to many and are now paying the price. Not only with more crime and hate crimes…but with real estate. I’ve always said gay up the area more and that will keep more of the straight clientele away.

  6. Tom, WeHo Boy’s comment about Block Party being a “necessity” might not be true, but it does make me a little sad that it might go out of business because of the change in culture, and cost of doing business. I agree with his sentiments. I came here as a young adult, and it was nice to hang out in a place that didn’t just cater to people of drinking age (hence, my earlier comment about the youth coffee shop). That part of West Hollywood felt like a safe, inviting place for gay people of all ages. There was more of a sense of community to it.

    We asked for acceptance, and we got it, in most major cities. So the need for gay enclaves is fading.

    And even after being of legal drinking age, I appreciated having the retail stores such as Block Party, GayMart, and the swimsuit store next to Fubar. Places that cater to apparel for gay men are disappearing, and I’m not the kind of person who likes to shop online for these things.

    I know, I know. Times have changed. But it still depresses me a little to see that strip change to a place mostly focused only on drinking, and higher end food establishments.

  7. Businesses survive and fail because customers are the ones who vote with their feet and their money. Life changes and evolves as people’s needs and desires shift with the times. This has been going on in every city around the world since the dawn of commercialization. Of course the city of West Hollywood is not the same as it was 40 years ago. Why on earth would it be? Yes it’s sad to lose some of our past, but it happens naturally. Let’s embrace all futures, whatever they may be!

  8. WeHoBoy: Block Party is a “necessity” and “sells things all the gays need”—–thanks for huge belly laughs!!!!!!

  9. I don’t agree when people say WeHo is only about the ”NightLife” … being a closeted Gay for a long time, this small ”Gay Bubble” located in Santa Monica Blvd has been an Amazing paradise to me, helping me come in terms with myself and also meet new people. Even during the day is refreshing to see all the gays walking around together, holding hands, and being themselves… i’m from another country, originally, and you don’t normally see that, and I think, after being here for too long, people forget that in other cities and countries people will treat and look at you differently.

    Before being 21 the only places i could go in WeHo were the 24 h fitness , the Frozen Yogurt place, the restaurants, and the clothing stores, and just walking on the streets i would see all the hot guys passing by. It’s sad to know that more and more Bars seem to be coming in….there are enough bars as it is and there is no need for a bigger Revolver witch is a great bar the way it is. Honestly Block Party seem to be much more of a necessity right now, they are open until 2 and they sell things all the gays need. Also, this entire DTLA being the new ”Gay Area” is just ridiculous, even if it’s more affordable to live there i would never, the West Side of LA is just better in my opinion.

    Changes happen, i know, But hopefully WeHo will stay WeHo.

  10. Nothing to whine about here. For years now, the only reason to live in WeHo due to how expensive it continued to become, is to be close to the nightlife element. Brick and mortar retail is dying, there’s nothing you can do about that. There are other walkable neighborhoods in L.A. if you aren’t into nightlife. I fully support all the new restaurant and drinking establishments, alternatives there are always great and force the bars, at least, to be more competitive for customers.

  11. If all these bars gone wild then how many more police officers are being assigned to handle the area? It is sad that there are so many bar permits being issued that other stores lose out and the landlords win. Follow the money Developers win. Landlords win. Community loses.

  12. This is one of the Reasons I moved to the Eastside of West Hollywood. Boystown is too loud, too busy .It took years and years and too many deaths for the City to do anything about crosswalks. On the Eastside we have everything I need, a couple nice parks, a Target, a Smart -n- Final, Trader Joes, Wells Fargo (in my building) and lots of very nice Apartment buildings going up. I’m 52 years old, I don’t need to sit a in a bar paying $12 for a martini to feel “gay” . Boystown has a loud and ugly car wash, a loud Metro bus Depot, Helicopters landing on the copshop, gridlock traffic. I like Boystwon. It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there anymore.

  13. Boystown has always been about the bars, not to sure where some of you where during the 80’s and 90’s when every night was a indeed a Carnival. Larry, did you forget about those days. Its rather funny when folks say there are to many bars and such when Weho Inclusive has been about Night Life!!!

    The real issue here, is Boystown has lost the boys over the years, it has lost the gay mecca element. Weho is lost the gay community. When we became mainstream we lost the need for a gay ghetto.

    Now bigger straight business are moving in, you can not blame city for that. The bars have been owned by the same greedy absentee owners for years, out of touch with the community at large. Shame on them, and shame on the community that let it happen.

    We are only at the early stage of seeing the gay mecca transforming to mainstream. Todd, when Rage dose close, there will not be any new Big gay club going in…It will ether be straight or converted to something else.

  14. The breeders will be turning the corner at pump and working their way east. The village is not a village if there is all bars. This is not a college town. The statistics that we have more per capita bars that any other California city is not something to be proud of. The Rage expansion was the kiss of death for them. Revolver would just dissolve into the middle of Mickys and Flaming Saddles and lose its appeal. All for money. Soon there will be no gay bars, they will breed across the street and bar owners will follow the money. Its greed by the landlords too –. Westwood used to be a hotspot and then the murders. We need to preserve as much of the changing village as possible. We need to preserve as many of these neighborhood serving businesses as possible. Im against all these bars because every one of those businesses is a rip off and does nothing for the majority of us.

  15. I don’t know if we can blame local politicians for the failure in retail. I understand that commercial rents are going up to an unsustainable rate, and when a business’s lease is up, it becomes difficult to continue. Imagine how much Micky’s, Trunks or Motherlode sells in alcohol from open to close, as compared to what American Apparel, Andrew Christian or Block Party sell throughout the entire day. I’d love to see this part of town maintain its mix of use, but the culture has changed, and as far as I can tell, people go there, mostly at night, to eat and drink. I go to West Hollywood in the middle of the day, and it is often quite dead, even including new restaurants, such as Halal Guys (this is just what I have witnessed). I’m not sure that I welcome these new businesses, or a culture so focused on drinking, but I’m not sure what else can survive in that part of town in this day and age.

    I do miss the days of when I moved here, like when we had the youth coffee shop next to Micky’s (run by the LAGLC, I think), for example. The Abbey was a coffee shop. This was the 90’s. But times change, unfortunately.

  16. With respect and admiration for Larry, retail on Santa Monica Blvd has been on life support since 2000. And many restaurants have had a hard time catching on as well. Bottega Louie has the ability to transform the street for restaurants. I would hope that Bosa Nova moves into the new Factory development so the southwestern corner of Robertson and SMB could be reimagined.

    I’m glad that Motherlode is redoing their entrance. I applaud Revolver for considering expansion. They’re keeping up with the times, without losing their identity. Evolution on Santa Monica Blvd is cyclical. If you compared today’s version, to the days of railroad tracks down the center, you’d be amazed.

  17. In the past you could not convert a retail space to a restaurant or bar so easily. There was restrictions that helped to promote a variety of businesses. But then we build a new garage, sell off those parking credits many times over and local businesses cant compete against the big money bar and restaurants.

    The city council has voted to protect things they deem important. A moritorium on big box houses was put in place when the rise in big box development was approaching just 2% of all homes in West Hollywood West. A similar moritorium was placed to protect craftsman homes on the eastside despite an abundance of craftsman homes throughout the city. Historic Preservation and Protection of many sites in the community seems like a goal. Licenses are granted to limit cannibus, recreational or medical. Yet with a rising substance abuse rate it seems like liquor permits are being issued with little or no concern for the neighborhood in this area. Our most valuable cultural resource is being destroyed. The city, and the community, forever changed. This is not the Vision 20/20 plan for our city. There should be a careful review before the issuance of any new liquor permits or conversions.

    If your a 18-19-20 year old gay kid you cant get into any of these bars or nightclubs. If your part of the sober community it seem like your part of a larger minority. West Hollywood is getting less inclusive, not more inclusive.

    When the crowds are up, the crime is up… yet we have absolutely no public safety initiative to meet this crisis. If every venue is able to convert to a bar or nightclub how can we digest the crowds at night? Every weekend will be Carnival…..And now council voted to allow the bars to be open till 4am- — its a public safety nightmare most every night when most of the city council is sleeping. Just walk out of my store on any given night past the crowd and hear the whispers of ‘meth’, ‘coke’, and drug dealing, see the rise in homelessness, increases in car buglaries and assaults and ask yourself… “who is in charge of the direction of this city?’

    With regards to Block Party I just want to add. This is not the case of a greedy landlord. I’m lucky to have a landlord who lives in West Hollywood and cares about the community. And with regards to Revolver’s expansion its all new to me. Chris and I have had one discussion and he is considering his options. So to my employees there is no need to worry and to our customers spring arrivals are on the way. And If things change you will be the first to know.

  18. I have lived in WeHo for over 35 years and find “the evolution into a bar and restaurant
    nightlife district” (as quoted in the article) quite distressing. West Hollywood already enjoys
    the somewhat dubious distinction of being the #1 City in California with the most bars
    per person ! The fact that we are looking at another 4 new bars and liquor serving restaurants
    opening does not serve the community well. The small retailers,such as Andrew Christian and
    Block Party, keep the “Village” flavor of the community intact. The fact that City Counsel
    capitulates to large chain businesses taking over the Santa Monica strip underserves
    the local population and further dilutes the the messaging of a city that “cares”.

  19. I work in downtown LA, its definitely somewhere I do NOT want to be if I dont have to. I won’t go to AC downtown, or any other ‘gay bar’ down here among the crack pipes & discarded needles. As for Weho’s changes, I’m excited for Roccos, if it has a D&B vibe with good and cheap food i’ll be happy, something weho has been lacking is quick and easy food options, recently made better by the opening of Shake Shack & Poki. My only hope is that Rage can go bye bye and make room for a cool and modern large sized gay club that isnt so dingy, outdated, horribly themed, and overpriced.

  20. It’s hard to stop the social and economic forces in play here. As the gay community gained rights and became more mainstream. The internet killed much of the brick-and-mortar retail. Giant drug stores like CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens all merged with even bigger pharmacy benefits managers and colluded with Big Pharma and the insurance companies to get rid of local pharmacies and force people into mail order or mandatory big chain for prescriptions. Commercial rents have escalated to the point that most small businesses can’t afford to stay. The profits from alcohol sales is necessary for most bars and restaurants to stay open.

    Long live Koontz Hardware, Block Party, Cafe d’Etoile, Bossa Nova, LA Buns and Trunks.

  21. Im approaching 70 and have lived in West Hollywood since inception of city hood. What we call Boystown used to have a good balance of businesses. We would eat at the Greenery , or Hilldale Cafe and shop the street. You could find your local pharmacy, bath and body shop and back the day one of the very first Champs were located next to the citibank. There used to be balance and community Now the whole area only serves the drinking age group bringing lots of crime and outsiders to the area. The city council has failed us. Greed took over where community used to live. I’m very sad about the changes and hate to see the neighborhood turn into a sea of bar after bar with almost nothing else to see.

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