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Club Ripples not closing, owner says

A large “For Lease” sign is posted on the roof of Club Ripples, but the historic gay club isn’t closing. Photo: Q Voice News.

LONG BEACH —  Club Ripples isn’t having it’s last call just yet.

A large “For Lease” sign is posted on the roof, but the business isn’t closed.

“We’re not closing. We’re open,” said John Garcia, who has co-owned the landmark, 5,000 square-foot gay dance bar with partner Larry Herbert since 1980. The pair also are celebrating their 42nd anniversary as a couple.

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“Look at our website. We have a lot of events,” Garcia said.

$4.2 MILLION PRICE TAG?

Garcia and Herbert announced earlier this year that Club Ripples is for sale for $4.2 million. Long Beach’s first and longest running gay dance bar opened in Belmont Shore at the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Granada Avenue in 1973.

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That price included Club Ripples, the 1,500 square-foot adjoining liquor store, the land for both spaces and all permits and licenses associated with both businesses.

Garcia wouldn’t confirm if the price tag is still $4.2 million or answer any other questions about the business.

“If anyone has questions about the business, they should call the number on the ‘For Lease’ sign, Garcia said.

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Q Voice News called the number; it’s a generic voice message asking the caller to leave a message.

“It’s only for people who are seriously interested in the business,” Garcia said. “It’s not for lookie lous.”

TIME TO RETIRE

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Garcia and Hebert said earlier this year that they are selling the business because they want to retire.

“We’re old,” Hebert said. “I’m 63, and John is 70. I don’t want to be as old as Methuselah. It’s time to pack it in.”

Garcia added: “We don’t want to die here.”

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Hebert said that selling the business wasn’t a difficult decision. “We’re too old to deal with babysitting these kids,” he said.

HISTORIC GAY BAR

The history of Club Ripples dates to the 1950s when it was a gay bar called Oceania that closed in 1968.

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Later, actor John Agar, who also was Shirley Temple’s first husband, bought Oceania and turned it into a heterosexual bar-restaurant called John Agar’s Celebrity House, which was sold to Mary Azar, who renamed it Mary’s Celebrity House.

Several other people owned the space before it was turned into the gay bar Ripples in early 1973. Eventually the word “Club” was added to the title.

THE HOTTEST CLUB

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For more than two decades, Club Ripples was Long Beach’s hottest gay club.  It was packed almost every night with lines out the door and around the block.

But as other gay bars opened in the city and competition increased, it didn’t help matters that Garcia and Hebert clung onto their antiquated business policies (for example, no drinks on the dance floor). As a result, gay customers spent their money at other watering holes, and the crowds evaporated.

TABATHA TAKES OVER

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By 2011, Club Ripples had lost so much money that Tabatha Coffey of the Bravo TV reality show “Tabatha Takes Over” stopped by and gave the bar a business make-over and Garcia and Hebert an attitude adjustment.

While Hebert and Garcia had tried to blame the competition and their staff for the club’s problems and financial woes, Coffey told them their problems were the result of Hebert’s crazy club rules and poor customer service and Garcia’s penny pinching.

Garcia and Hebert, who have said they were already thinking of selling the business in 2011,  said they would  like to see another gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender couple make the purchase and continue the bar’s legacy, instead of someone who wants to demolish it and build apartments, condominiums or any other structure.

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About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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