Los Angeles loses its last gay piano bar

Longtime patrons mourn the closing on Sunday of The Other Side after more than 40 years of operation

Los Angeles loses its last gay piano bar
22 June 2012

The atmosphere has been bittersweet in recent weeks at The Other Side, the last remaining gay piano bar in Los Angeles.

After more than 40 years of operation in the city’s Silverlake neighborhood, the cozy bar and the adjacent Flying Leap Cafe will close their doors for good on Sunday (24 June).

They will be replaced by a new bar, Hyperion Public, whose owners plan to renovate extensively.

Many are calling the end of an era.

‘It’s very sad,’ said Craig O’Neal, a 47 year old North Hollywood resident who gathered for happy hour drinks with friends this week. ‘I don’t really identify with the piano bar as much as the community, small town camaraderie of the people getting together at the local watering hole. People come here because they want to be here, they want to be themselves, they don’t want to have to pretend that they’re something that they’re not. They can be themselves here. It’s kind of like a Cheers bar.’

Owner Paul Hargis put the establishment up for sale last year saying business was still steady, but he simply wanted to move on to other things. He’s a solo owner and has a full-time job in another state.

A note outside the bar and restaurant from Hargis reads: ‘It is with warm reflection that I pass along the bittersweet news of the closing of The Other Side and Flying Leap Cafe on June 24, 2012. Both have achieved landmark status in their own right, and each has had a real impact on the exciting Silver Lake food and entertainment scene over the past fifteen years. It also marks the end of an era for one of the longest continuously open piano bars in Los Angeles, with its original roots back to the late 1960s.’

O’Neal had been coming to the bar an average of twice a month in recent years.

“We always know people here, we always know the bartenders here, we feel very welcomed here, we don’t feel judged,’ he said. ‘We feel like we’re coming home just to have a drink and to talk with people. It’s not about being a West Hollywood kind of gay disco. It’s just a very comfortable atmosphere.’

Real estate agent Eric Toro, 66, of Eagle Rock, and his hairdresser husband Robin Amussen, 59, had dinner at Flying Leap Cafe for one last time Wednesday then went to the bar for a farewell drink.

‘We’re going to miss it a lot, that’s why we’re here tonight,’ Amussen said. ‘I started coming here 40 years ago and it was one of the first bars I ever went to. I was underage when I first started coming here.’

Said Toro: ‘I’m sad about it. I’ve been coming here for 45 years. I hate to see it close. It’s been a fun place to party, a fun place to be with friends. There’s almost no place to go in Silverlake, period. There’s a great deal more acceptance in straight bars but I still don’t feel comfortable reaching around and hugging my husband and kissing him in another bar. It causes too many eyebrows to be raised. So it’s the end of an era for me and it’s certainly a cultural place that’s going away.’

Glendale resident David Yerkes, 73, has been coming to the bar since the late 70s and doesn’t know where people will gather now that there is no other gay piano bar in town.

As he sat with a friend enjoying one last drink at The Other Side, he seemed to still be processing the fact that after Sunday, a lovely part of his and a lot of other people’s lives would be over.

‘It’s a very special place,’ he said. ‘It’s warm, it’s intimate. I enjoy the music in the evenings. It’s just a joyous place. When you come in, there’s always someone you know.’

The Other Side and its regulars of older gay men were featured in a 2006 documentary – “The Other Side: A Queer History” – made by Jane Cantillon.

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