Oil Can Harry’s — historic 52-year-old gay club — has closed

Oil Can Harry’s — the oldest gay club in Los Angeles —will not re-open when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, joining a growing list of LGBTQ spaces in the Los Angeles area that have permanately shuttered.

John Fagan, the owner of the 52-year-old Studio City-based club, which is renowned for its gay country-line dancing, made the announcement on the Oil Can Harry’s website.

According to Fagan, the space will be turned into a jazz music venue.

“Happy New Year to all!

“2021 has not brought great news to Oil Can Harry’s: The property sold in December, thanks to Monty and Jon just needing to shut down another establishment. It was purchased on December 9th by a new buyer, who wants to have their own venue with jazz music.”

Oil Can Harry's

Oil Can Harry’s, seen here on Aug. 25, 2018, was the oldest gay club in Los Angeles. It opened in 1968. Photo: Q Voice News.

The “Monty” and “Jon” whom Fagan mentions are former building owner Monte Overstreet, who bought the Oil Can Harry’s property in 2007, and Overstreet’s partner, John L. Cole. Overstreet, who owns numerous properties in the area, also owns three of the buildings in West Hollywood that once housed queer bars or clubs that have closed.

The news of Oil Can Harry’s closing is a sudden change from an encouraging message Fagan posted on the Oil Can Harry’s Facebook page November 5.

“The only reason Oil Can Harry’s is closed at this time is strictly due to COVID-19 and will re-open when allowed,” Fagan said. “The sole owner of ONLY the property at 11502 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604 has placed the property up for sale. Once a sale of the property has been completed, the new owner shall work with OCH on new terms of our lease agreement.”

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Oil Can Harry’s had been closed since March.

Established in 1968 on Ventura Boulevard, Oil Can Harry is a historic space for the gay community. Over the years, the venue has hosted or partnered with numerous organizations: the Wranglers, LA Rodeo, LA Band of Brothers, Silverstreak Softball, Los Angeles Leather Coalition, Gay Men’s Choir, Christopher St. West/LA Pride, Valley Pride, among others.

For decades, the owners have hosted many fundraisers at Oil Can Harry’s to support various HIV/AIDS organizations.

Several celebrities, including Oscar winner Geena Davis and RuPaul, have been spotted taking country-line dancing classes.

The club also was known for its Saturday disco nights.

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Oil Can Harry’s is the latest LGBTQ space to close during the pandemic.

Here are six other COVID-19 casualties:

Overstreet owns the properties that once housed Gold Coast, Rage, and Flaming Saddles. The owners of those businesses have said that they tried to negotiate with Overstreet to stay open, but were not able to agree on rental terms.

Overstreet could not be reached for comment.

In December, the owners of Akbar launched a GoFundMe page that has raised more than $220,000.

The owners of The New Jalisco Bar, one of the longest running Latino gay bars in downtown Los Angeles, setup a GoFundMe in late December that has generated more than $26,000 in donations.

In his website post about the Oil Can Harry’s closure, Fagan asked patrons to avoid making negative comments on social media.

“So, at this time I have to vacate the property — nothing bad or ugly, just something I have to do,” the post said.

“I fought hard to keep it, but just had to give up…Not sure where it will lead down the road.

“Thank you all for this beautiful gift that we shared for 52 years.

“Please, no negative posts on social media! It only hurts. Only positive would help!

“Any help would be wonderful… 🌈🌈🌈😥😥😥

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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