David Cooley Gets Pushback After Cutting Pay for The Abbey’s Go Go Dancers


David Cooley’s decision several weeks ago to cut the pay of the go go dancers at The Abbey by 25% has gotten pushback on social media from some of those dancers and their supporters, at least one of whom has called for a boycott of the popular gay bar and restaurant. That pushback led Cooley recently to restore the dancers’ pay to its previous level, and also to fire at least one of those who complained.

The dancers, freelancers who work roughly four hours a night, were being paid $100 a night until Cooley asked them to dance one of four sets for free, effectively reducing their pay to $75 a night. In an email to the dancers, he criticized them for not working hard enough or being in good enough shape. He also told them to stop socializing with the bar customers who traditionally tip them and pose for photos with them.

Go go dancer ‘Teddy Bear.’ (Facebook)

The Abbey, West Hollywood’s most heavily trafficked bar, is known for the talent of its go go dancers, who actually are screened for their skills and perform complicated acts such as flipping over elevated bars and dancing high on poles.  By comparison, most other gay bars feature only men in jockstraps who shuffle their feet.

A post on Facebook by one dancer, Michael Benjamin Volkar, whose professional name is Teddy Bear, sounded the alarm over the pay cuts. That post, shared on Instagram and Twitter, has since been removed. It read, in part:

“David Cooley is one of the richest men in Los Angeles, his bar The Abbey is the most profitable bar in West Hollywood (known around the world) but that doesn’t stop his greed. Recently minimum wage was increased in Los Angeles, to counter this he thought of a (evil) genius idea to cut THE DANCERS pay by the equivalent of asking us to dance one set for FREE now!

“Oh … but it doesn’t stop there, the pay cut also came with a long message reminding every dance that they are replaceable and that they should be danc(ing) even harder and can be fired at any moment (on top of the pay cut)

“Also we are no longer allowed to talk to customers when we are on the box, so if a dancer won’t take a pic or say hi to you…don’t get mad at them, the dancers were all told we are no longer allowed to interact with customers unless on our break (though we’ve also been told not to hang out on the floor on our break too..)”

WEHOville reached out to Cooley and to his publicist, who said they had no comment on the matter.

“$25 may not sound like much to some, but to MANY of his employees that is make or break for if they get to eat this week,” Teddy Bear said in his Facebook post. “Many of the dancers a(re) struggling to survive with multiple jobs and work their asses off to give the community the best experience every single weekend. And with this pay cut and threats from David it is a low blow to the Community, it is a disgusting power trip from a rich rich RICH man.

“So if you care about the community, if you care about fair pay and honestly human decency … please join with me, and #BOYCOTTTheAbbey

“I am well aware after he gets wind of this I will be fired. But I care more about the lives of the other dancers that it’s worth standing up for what’s right.”

Volkar posted on Twitter later today that he had been fired and banned from returning to The Abbey and The Chapel, its adjacent bar.

Cooley also was subject of criticism (and also some support) when he called on LGBT people in July to boycott Alaska Airlines, a major supporter of the LGBT community, after his traveling companion on a trip  from New York City to Los Angeles was asked to move from a “premium” seat to a seat in the economy section of the plane. The flight attendant apparently said that the seat already had been reserved by another couple, who were heterosexual.

  1. This whole talk about Go-Go Boys being employees and getting paid and following rules and being whistleblowers and taking breaks and having shifts is really ruining it for me.

  2. If you don’t like your employer, go find another employer. If you don’t like the conditions of your employment, go find another employer. Finding another employer is the quickest, expedient remedy.

  3. The dancers are less and less an attraction as time goes by because of increasing limitations on how they can perform. I stopped going to Mickey’s when the dancers were forced to perform almost in restraints (thanks to the straight bartenders who were “offended”), Here Lounge (before it became the Chapel) was THE place to be on a Wednesday night until straight women got their panties in a bunch, and now even FUBAR has been tamed so much that there’s no point in going (FUBAR’s Saturday night striptease is a big disappointment). I’m saving money on drinks, and a couple hundred dollars a month on tips to dancers, but I’m not having nearly as much fun.

  4. Teddy, Whistleblowers are protected by Law. Thank you for speaking up. Dancers should make at least 200.00 a night + tips.

  5. Unfortunately, California just passed a law which effectively bans gig workers like this. Go Go’s will soon be considered employees which comes with a host of new overhead costs for employers. That $25 might mean the difference between being employed or unemployed very soon.

    1. Scott, you may have a point there! I know other business owners who have employees who they are going to have to start changing the status of those employees, and it’s going to cost them a lot. And it doesn’t necessarily make it that much better for the employee! These are new laws coming out of Sacramento. California is the worst state for business, and much of it is senseless!

      1. @Scott and @blueeyedboy:

        Are you referencing a state law passed by the Legislature (if so, which one?) or are you possibly thinking of the recent CA Supreme Court decision that has businesses and independent contractors alike, up in arms? I believe it is the “Dynamex” decision – not something “California just passed” or “new laws coming out of Sacramento”.
        Am curious to know from either of you if this is what you are referring to:

        1. Josh Kurpies, I know only what my business owning friends have said. They have complained about the State imposing regulations that change the relationship with employees, or that they are now going to have to treat freelancers as employees.

          I wonder if this has anything to do with what Cooley is doing with the dancers? Maybe he doesn’t have as many options as we think. I don’t understand it, but I’m not a business owner with employees. Maybe an interview with Cooley to ask him about this is in order.

          1. A friend who owns several apartment buildings can no longer have an on-site manager in exchange for reduced rent. She has to treat those managers as employees which requires quite a few changes, none of which benefit her or those resident managers.

  6. I find it interesting that David owns a place in Montreal where the dancers are hot and naked. (4 naked gay strip clubs in their Boystown.)
    I see him there every summer and he doesn’t seem to have a problem paying those guys. VIP room dances included!

  7. I thought there was 2 other dudes in charge of the dancers. Anthony and some other bald dude with wings on his back They don’t do a good job its craigs list for gogo’s at the Abbey. Evidently Different Hiring requirements for the Chappel lol …Remember back when it was Steven Dehler, Colby Melvin David Radcliff all the super hot ripped yummie dudes that you actually wanted to tip and watch dance and were the signature Abbey Boys. Now its just a mess guess the people from the 909 and over the hill have different taste the abbey has gone down hill. And what about those custom granny panties they make the gogos wear WTF is up who designed those a 90 year old lady in china lol

  8. Cutting pay while expecting more from employees is the exact opposite of progress. In any town. In any business. In any social group. In any ethics.

  9. Mr Culo”ey thinks that cutting people’s paycheck will santify his need to show power. He needs to remember that a click on social media can destroy that attitude or his business as quickly as his needs for undereye correction. The Homoland at San Vicente can’t funtion without the muscled characters socializing with the patrons who clearly go there to feel special (or get in credit card debt). Let’s just remind him that no matter how important he thinks he is, he is powerless to the sweet and bitter homo masses’ opinions. We will be waiting for the day the #metooLulu movement gets him on his knees (to cry) forgiveness.

  10. not a good year for him..

    FAILED: Bravo “Abbey” reality show….
    FAILED: Boycott of Alaska Airlines
    FAILED: Cutting Wages of the staff
    FAILED: prediction of his new restaurant Bottega Louie around the corner

    1. Hmm he’s one of he most successful business men in Los angels both in real estate and business. Lol FAIL ! He’s given more to charity than probably 98% of you. You all sound SO Jealous it’s quite sad. But he’ll keep on donating and building 🙂

        1. Agreed…..Some are to quick to throw money at strangers or far away ideas. Why not support the people right in front of you.

  11. Oh, David, queen puh-leeze! This is a man who has profited handsomely by creating an atmosphere which exploits substance abuse and objectifies bodies. Is $25 a head a few times a night really going to help with yet another plastic surgery? Or, will he now actually have to pay for that premium class seat rather than get a free upgrade for his “cough cough” companion? I’m of a generation that has paid many thousands of dollars in tips to the increasingly brusque barmaids. I’m no longer interested in subjecting myself to a pretentious excuse for nightlife (think bottle service…oh Mary!) In my mind, The Abbey has become the equivalent of a Carnival cruise ship–full of transients drinking overly sugared mixed drinks from plastic glasses and going back to their homes in the provinces in their rented Hummer stretches. It was once a good thing…your time is up, dear.

  12. Thanks so much for speaking up Teddy! I am also a former dancer at the Abbey/Chapel who quit. I am extremely disappointed in this attack on the very community he makes his millions off of. Especially with the current political climate and the damage it is doing to so many communities, you would think an LGBT member with a platform such as Cooley would use it to be a part of the #resistance, but instead he is choosing to be a part of the #assistance.

    I read the email myself which ordered the dancers pay be cut from $100 to $75 (6hrs before their shift), while also telling them they are to work less nights per week (because they want more in rotation), and then having the audacity to demand harder work while threatening them as “replaceable.” This is the definition of exploitation. These dancers have been paid $100 per shift for over 10 years and now they want to cut pay without discussion? A decade of inflation on top of a pay cut when our country is struggling and pushing for higher wages nationwide is unacceptable.

    I would have let this go after they raised the rates back up, but the fact that they have fired and banned Teddy shows they only have concern for how they look and zero concern or respect for their own performers and communitt. Shame on them.

  13. I mean really David what are you saving a combined 500 dollars a night at most by cutting their pay. You can make that by selling a little over 20 drinks. Also, why would you want the dancers not to talk and take pictures with the guests? A lot of people come to the Abbey for just that reason.

  14. Wow, Cooley sounds like a greedy douche. I won’t be going back to The Abbey anytime soon and will be sure to tell everyone I know about what kind of man Cooley is.

  15. After reading this article, I am beginning to wonder if David Cooley is getting full of himself and is going off the rails.Cutting a dancer’s pay by $25 per night and not allowing them to talk with their customers sound desperate.A little back and forth between a customer and dancer is not going to stop Mr. Cooley from making money.Customers getting bad vibes from dancers who are dissatisfied with their work setup will definitely drive people away.If that happens,nobody will be earning money at the Abbey.

    I am sorry to hear this is going on.I always had a good time at that location as the staff there are friendly .With that, I will be cautious visiting the Abbey and spending my money there in the near future.

  16. Wow. Good action, guys. Glad you got your pay back.
    Not good to hear about Mr Cooley. Not a particularly nice boss.

  17. With the prices they charge for drinks, they should be giving the dancers raises!
    I guess he is trying to save money so he can actually pay for that premium class seat next time.

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