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LA’s Historic and Vital Queer Nightlife Community Is Disappearing Due to Coronavirus

Studio City’s iconic 52-year-old Oil Can Harry’s is just the latest loss in a season of shutters, and there’s one landlord behind many of the biggest closures

The side of a closed queer bar during daytime, with a fading sign.
Oil Can Harry’s
Mona Holmes
Mona Holmes is a reporter for Eater Los Angeles and a regular contributor to KCRW radio. She has covered restaurants, dining, and food culture since 2016. In 2022, the James Beard Foundation nominated her for a Jonathan Gold Local Voice Award.

Since the first Los Angeles wave of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic began in earnest back in March of last year, the city’s queer restaurants, bars, cafes, and clubs have faced an uphill battle. Extended shutdowns, few federal avenues for financial assistance, and ongoing lease issues have each dealt heavy blows to the close-knit community in the past 10 months, and now LA is down one more: Studio City’s 52-year-old Oil Can Harry’s is closing permanently.

Owner John Fagan posted the news on his website days ago, noting that the property “was purchased on December 9th by a new buyer, who wants to have their own venue with jazz music.” The address was put up for sale in November, and at first it seemed that a new deal could be put in place to allow Oil Can Harry’s to stick around under new ownership. A November 15 post on the bar’s Facebook page said “the new owner shall work with OCH on new terms of our lease agreement,” insinuating a continuation of the business — but now it’s all over for the Ventura Boulevard bar.

It’s worth noting that Oil Can Harry’s now former landlord is one Monte Overstreet, the same man who owns the building that formerly housed key West Hollywood queer spaces like Flaming Saddles, Gold Coast, and the 37-year-old club Rage. In August, Flaming Saddles owners Jacqui Squatriglia and Chris Barnes stated on social media that they could not come to a lease agreement with Overstreet to remain in that space, and thus would have to close forever. A month later, Rage owners Robert Maghame and Saeed Sattari were also unable to negotiate a renewal with Overstreet due to unpaid rent, leaving them with a shuttered business as well.

Oil Can Harry’s owner John Fagan also blames Overstreet for the loss of his half-century-old business, saying sarcastically on the bar’s website that Overstreet and his partner were eager to “shut down another establishment,” so they decided to sell the building. Overstreet, who purchased the Studio City property in 2007, recently spoke with WEHOville about the slate of closures and the Oil Can Harry’s deal, saying the building had been a “losing venture” for him and that he lost money on the sale of the property. Eater was unable to contact Overstreet directly.

Coronavirus has put a spotlight on the tricky relationship between landlords and tenants, especially within the nightlife world. Clubs and bars have been unable to fully reopen since March, operating under strict rules from city, county, and state public health officials to remain closed, albeit with little to no financial assistance. Places like Oil Can Harry’s have, as a result, been left at a massive disadvantage, and there’s little hope of bars being allowed to return to ‘normal’ any time soon. Landlords have also been eager for a federal stimulus to help with unpaid mortgages.

Somewhere in between the business closures and landlord losses is the decimation of a key part of Los Angeles culture. Oil Can Harry’s run in the queer community is unique simply because of its length and importance, though other popular spots like 20-year-old restaurant the Kitchen in Silver Lake and longstanding Latino queer bar New Jalisco Bar have also struggled to stay in place. Both the Kitchen and New Jalisco have started GoFundMe pages to ask for assistance from the community, while Silver Lake’s iconic Akbar managed to secure more than $200,000 to pay bills during the pandemic. Akbar does have one key advantage, though: Founders Peter Alexander and Scott Craig own the building.