Say goodbye (this time for real) to “the gayest store on earth.”
Larry Block, owner of The Block Party, confirmed today that he will be closing the store after Chris Miller, owner of the adjacent Revolver bar, obtains the permits and approvals he needs to expand into The Block Party space.
The Block Party, located at 8853 Santa Monica Blvd., has become somewhat of an icon in West Hollywood’s Boystown gay nightlife district. Open until 2 a.m., the store attracts both gay men and heterosexual customers with its wide variety of apparel, including somewhat risqué men’s underwear, as well as cigarettes and “poppers,” which are small vials of alkyl nitrite used by gay men to enhance sexual pleasure.
Block opened The Block Party in October 2009, replacing A Different Light, the famous LGBT bookstore, which opened its West Hollywood location in 1990 and closed in January 2009. Block announced in 2015 that his lease had expired and would not be renewed, which spurred another in a continuing series of debates about changes in the Boystown area and whether it will survive as a gay-centric nightlife and shopping district. However in January 2016, Block announced that his landlord had renewed his lease.
This time Block said he negotiated with his landlord in an effort to stay in the current location. But Miller, he said, has a right of first refusal to lease the space when Block’s contract expired, which it will do at the end of this month.
Block said his store has become very successful recently, generating revenue of over $1 million a year, up substantially from only $500,000 a year a few years ago.
Block said he is not in a hurry to leave. “I will stay as long as Chris allows us to stay there,” he said. “I’m mitigating his expenses while he spends time getting his permits.” Block said he expects that will be in June of next year.
While Block told WEHOville that he fantasizes about retiring to the desert as he approached the age of 59, he also conceded that he has his eye on the Circus of Books. Circus of Books, another gay community icon, is at the southwest corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and La Jolla. The store sells books and magazines and adult videos aimed at gay men and became famous decades ago as a place where gay men could cruise one another. In March 2016, Karen and Barry Mason, its owners for more than 30 years, said they were considering closing the store.
Block said he also is looking at retail space in Palm Springs and also at a space near the former Aaardvarks vintage clothing store at 7579 Melrose Ave.
Block said his first choice Circus of Books, which he envisions turning into a version of his Block Party clothing store and adding a coffee bar. Block said the Masons have talked with him but haven’t reached a deal.
Block said that if The Block Party is replaced he’s “really glad it’s Revolver. The last thing I would want is to have to close the store and have some Melrose boutique move into the space.”
Chris Miller said that moving into The Block Party space would not greatly expand the area for Revolver’s customers because he will have to move the existing downstairs bathrooms at Revolver to the main floor to make them ADA compliant. However, Miller said, it will allow him to nearly double the outdoor patio space. Miller said that is fine with him because he doesn’t want “to lose the great allure of this atmosphere” of Revolver.
Miller said that neither he nor Block need to own their businesses or expand them to have “a financially or mentally healthy life. We’re doing it because it’s what we love.”
Revolver, which takes its name from its revolving door, initially opened in 1982, embracing the video bar craze fostered by MTV, which had launched two years earlier. It featured a large video screen above the bar and a small back bar. And it usually was packed.
But Revolver’s then owners encountered financial difficulties and went out of business in 2004. Trip Wilmot, a former Wall Street investment official, opened East/West bar in the space in 2005. An initial success, business slumped in 2011 because of the recession. Faced with landlord Golden West’s plan to almost double the monthly rent to $16,000, Wilmot closed East/West. West Hollywood was left without an iconic video bar like Side Tracks in Chicago or The Midnight Sun in San Francisco.
The current Revolver was opened in October 2011 by Miller and his then business partner, Alfredo Diaz. By all accounts it has been a success, with the size of the crowds one reason Miller said he feels the need to expand the space to accommodate the larger crowds.