Ten months into the coronavirus pandemic and almost two months into LA’s second shutdown, the Kitchen co-owner Fred Schleicher is worried. His Silver Lake restaurant sits on a prominent corner that helped shape LA queer life, but the business downturn keeps Schleicher’s fear of permanent closure looming regularly. For him, the only option was to launch a GoFundMe.
“Things can slide really fast,” says Schleicher. “We were doing okay [with outdoor seating and reduced indoor capacity], but now we’re treading water and sinking. There are so many unknowns. We’re going to be locked down for more than two months I’m sure.”
Inspired by neighboring Akbar — both reside steps away from one another — Schleicher created a GoFundMe page in December. Reaching a $75,000 goal could make a difference for the 20-year-old restaurant, where comfort foods like roasted chicken soup, Belgian beef stew, and chicken pot pie rule the menu. The Kitchen used to employ 17 people but now keeps just six or seven on staff. Inspired by Akbar’s viral GoFundMe success, with the bar raising over $200,000 in less than a month — Schleicher hopes the community will support one of Silver Lake’s longstanding queer spaces with a financial donation.
Schleicher’s effort is not alone. LA’s queer restaurants, bars, and cafes are almost all crowdfunding for community support in 2021, which feels like a more realistic endeavor to stay in business than locating assistance from the city, state, or federal government. As a new Administration is one day away from being sworn in, potentially bringing with it a new round of assistance, LA County remains the nation’s coronavirus hotspot with one million cases reported over the weekend — and businesses continue to fail at an alarming rate.
Schleicher and business partner Mark Motonaga applied for a state grant and will apply for the next round of Paycheck Protection Program funds. But based on the Kitchen’s last experience, Schleiche is unsure if they will receive it. The Kitchen is still open for takeout and delivery, but LA’s queer bars and clubs have been mostly closed since last March. Grants and last year’s PPP yielded a little help, but the ongoing lockdowns have ultimately pushed businesses further into debt and deeper into crowdfunding mode.
DTLA’s Latin and decades-old New Jalisco Bar owes its landlord 10 months of rent with interest and seeking $80,000 on GoFundMe. On its GoFundMe page, Long Beach’s 25-year-old Crest bar says it received “very small amounts” of PPP loans and needs help with past rent, utilities, licenses, and first-round PPP loans. As of today, the Eagle has raised $78,910, a large amount but far from its $240,000 GoFundMe goal. That Silver Lake bar opened in 2007 in a historic queer space that has formerly housed the well-known Gauntlet II, the Shed, and the Outcast, and soon it may not hold any business at all.
In Downtown, owner Oliver Alpuche opened Redline seven years ago, expanding DTLA’s queer nightlife blocks away from the popular and now closed Bar Mattachine. Alpuche took out large loans to cover everything except for rent for the business, and founded DTLA Proud, a 501c3 non-profit he founded to grow and appreciate LA’s queer community. Redline has been a central spot for drag performers, comedians, and actors since opening, as well as a place to form community forums and action groups. His GoFundMe launched last week.
“It was a hard decision to make,” says Alpuche. “It’s hard to ask for help from a community that’s already struggling. We’re a queer venue and hosted so many shows and so many independent contractors that don’t have an income anymore. I’ve been trying to take care of all the thousands and thousands in bills each month, even though we’re closed.”
Schleicher remembers Silver Lake, East Hollywood, and Echo Park’s thriving queer bars and what they contributed to Los Angeles, though (even without the pandemic) he says he has witnessed many of his favorite queer places vanish over the years — a loss he says is incalculable. In short, these spaces are more than just bars or clubs.
For those in need of safe spaces, the pandemic threatens what few are left. “I used to go to places that went away like Little Joy’s or Detours. It felt like home, which is why these spaces are so important. I can’t emphasize enough how much these places are needed. They are so vital to us. We have to nurture and get them through this time until we can get back to socializing and hug each other again.”
Even though Alpuche is close to $250,000 in debt and paying full rent, he is focused on what the entire city will miss if queer spaces go away. “As liberal as LA is, without these queer spaces like Jalisco, Redline, Akbar, and Precinct outside of WeHo, it’s important we are not siloed to one area of the city. There are multiple variations and expressions in the queer community. When these places go away, where do we belong? We should be visible everywhere, because we’re part of your community. If all these places close up, people will be shocked that gays live in their community. Queer spaces and bars are bigger than just a bar. [They are] a new beginning for so many people, and places where we go to just breathe. And we’re gonna lose that.”