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Ventura Boulevard in San Fernando Valley has a secret history of gay bars

Beverly Shaw

Singer Beverly Shaw, a nightclub pioneer, identified as a lesbian, owned the upscale lesbian space Club Laurel in the 1950s. Club Laurel opened in 1957 and was one of the earliest lesbian nightclubs in the San Fernando Valley. It was located on Ventura Boulevard. Photo: ONE Archives at USC Libraries.

When Oil Can Harry’s had its last call, it was the end of an era.

The Studio City club was the last venue in a once thriving string of LGBTQ bars that dotted Ventura Boulevard.

Club Laurel was an upscale lesbian venue owned by singer Beverly Shaw, who was a nightclub pioneer and identified as a lesbian in the 1950s.

Club Laurel opened in 1957 and was one of the earliest lesbian nightclubs in the San Fernando Valley. During her performances at the post club, Shaw, who was well known in the lesbian community, wore a suit with a bow tie and sat on top of the piano, while looking into the audience and singing torch songs in her sultry voice.

Shaw also released an album titled “Songs Tailored to Your Taste.”

Club Laurel closed in 1971.

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When Oil Can Harry’s closed in January, the 52-year-old establishment was the oldest queer bar in Los Angeles County. A process is underway to have the site designated a cultural-historic monument.

San Fernando Valley LGBTQ bars were local watering holes where people from the neighborhood felt comfortable.

West Hollywood bar patrons, however, looked down on The Valley bars, says Richard Adkins, a board member with the historic preservation organization Hollywood Heritage.

“ ‘Over the hill’ was a common viewpoint of Valley gays,” Adkins says in an interview.

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Unlike some West Hollywood bars and clubs, Valley spaces didn’t enforce racist and sexist entry policies that required people of color and women to have multiple IDs. The Valley clubs attracted mixed crowds because there wasn’t the same racist or sexist attitude, Adkins says.

Here, Adkins shares his gay memories about eight spaces that were located on Venture Boulevard. Oil Can Harry’s address was 11502 Ventura Blvd.

The Odyssey

10842 Ventura Blvd., North Hollywood

1970s-1990s

“The Odyssey was a piano bar, but it’s not to be confused with the underage bar of the same name located off La Cienega Boulevard,” Adkins says. “ It was quite a nice little bar, albeit small, but with a friendly clientele.”

The Apache Studio City

Apache Territory, also know as The Apache, was a popular gay bar in Studio City on Ventura Boulevard. Photo: ONE Archives at USC Libraries.

The Apache

11608 Ventura Blvd., Studio City

1970s-mid 2000s

“The Apache, also known for a while as Apache Territory, was smaller and more intimate than Oil Can Harry’s. It provided a more likely place to actually meet and talk with someone,” Adkins says.

“At Oil Can Harry’s, you had to go outside to the front steps to talk to someone, or smoke if that was your vice. But at Apache, there was a small patio leading to the entrance,” he says. “It was fenced so it wasn’t exposed to the street. At Oil Can Harry’s, you could count on being verbally harassed from a passing car, or worse yet, have something thrown at you. In its last days, Apache installed T.V. monitors playing adult movies and had go-go boys dancing. The two brothers who owned Apache expanded and opened a second bar in Hollywood, but in time both bars closed. Later, the Ventura Boulevard location became another gay bar, Everybody’s.”

Keith’s Touch of Class

11801 Ventura Blvd., Studio City

1960s-mid 1980s

“Keith’s Touch of Class was a gay restaurant with a cocktail lounge and rotating musical performers like Wayne Moore and Brenda Silas Moore. Wayne was a singer-songwriter who played all the gay piano bars, and Brenda was his ex-wife and cabaret performer,” Adkins says. “The Streamline Modern building with its green neon sign and glass brick façade was a welcoming place.”

This flyer for The Hayloft was inspired by Grant Wood’s famous painting “American Gothic.” Photo: ONE Archives at US Libraries.

Hayloft

11818 Ventura Blvd., Studio City

Mid 1960s-mid 1980s

“The Hayloft was essentially a stand up bar with sawdust on the floor, but they did have rows of benches as they had a large movie screen and would show classic Hollywood movies,” Adkins says. “Its other advantage was that it was an after hours bar. If you didn’t meet anyone by 2 a.m. at any of the other places and didn’t go out for breakfast to DuPar’s, Charles’, or Tiny Naylor’s, but were still looking to meet someone, you found yourself after hours at the Hayloft.”

The Gallery Inn

11938 Ventura Blvd., Studio City

1970s-1980s

“The Gallery Inn was a restaurant and pub with great continental food, and it was very popular,” Adkins says. “The bar ran the length of the club on one side, while there were tables on the other side. A small, half-wall separated the two so that diners could see people at the bar and vice-versa. The waiters were always attractive, so I suspect the tips were generous.”

The Frat House Studio City

A vintage flyer advertises The Frat House in Studio City on Ventura Boulevard.. Photo: ONE Archives at USC Libraries.

The Frat House

12319 Ventura Blvd., Studio City

1970s

“The Frat House bar was celebrated for its Sunday beer busts. Also, The Frat House attracted a younger crowd. Collegiate pennants hung on the walls,” Adkins says. “It was not unusual for bars to have beer busts, often with hot dogs offered as an extra attraction. This building also was home to three other LGBTQ bars: Boots, The New World, and Beverly Shaw’s Club Laurel.”

Queen Mary Show Lounge

12449 Ventura Blvd., Studio City

1964-2003

“The Queen Mary was a show bar featuring drag performers. They wore feather boas and sequined gowns, vamping for the audience and lip-syncing musical hits,” Adkins says. “The club organizers employed the clever device of a sheer black curtain between the audience and the performers – a kind of in-person soft focus filter helping the illusionists who were channeling Liza Minelli, Mae West, Diana Ross, and others to create a more successful recreation. The bar had a separate entrance called the King’s Lounge for people reluctant to enter a bar with the Queen Mary name.”

The Office

13817 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks

1970s-1980s

“The Office provided reasonable cover for when someone asked, ‘Where were you?,’ you could legitimately claim you were in a place where something reasonable like work was conducted,” Adkins says. “The Office was quite large and had a generous dance floor at the end, which included a large, mirrored wall. A long bar next to the dance floor allowed bar patrons to ogle the dancers. The Office had a mixed crowd, and many older patrons frequented the bar. When the line-dance craze The Hustle was popular in 1975, I overheard a conversation at the bar between two older gentlemen. One asked the other, “Do you line dance?” The other man said, “Darling, I was never in the chorus.”

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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