“I am very aware that we are one of the few, if not the only, queer spaces in this neighborhood,” says Erin Detroit Vesey, the chef, owner, and chief community-maker of Detroit Vesey’s, a new multi-purpose all-day space in the former House of Machines at 2028 E. 7th Street. “I don’t think it was intentional to be the only queer space in the Arts District, it was just how things ended up.”
Throughout a sprawling conversation with Vesey at her new restaurant, event location, and community-centered gathering space in the Arts District, topics wind from Vesey’s work with the cycling non-profit event Aids LifeCycle (a multi-day charity ride that rolls from San Francisco to Los Angeles) to mocktails, drag shows, and Valley pizza parlors. One theme runs through it all: this is just how things ended up. Vesey has spent a lifetime in the restaurant industry, working at spots from Lincoln in Pasadena to Dune to Silver Lake’s Mixto, and feels a deep and personal connection to several different core LA communities, including cycling. Vesey is also queer, and sober, two groups underserved by the hospitality community at large in Los Angeles. “I thought it might be cool to mash all of those things I love into one space,” says Vesey, adding with a laugh: “And it seems like there is a need for it outside of my own personal gain.”
“Both [cycling and queer] cultures have specific times where you often go and do things,” says Vesey, who had spent loads of time at the former House of Machines before the pandemic, ending cycling rides with friends and taking in evening shows. “I wanted to figure out how to make that work for an all-day, sober situation.” On November 28, the first-time owner/operator formally kicked open the doors, offering a mostly breakfast and lunch menu filled with staple LA options like a breakfast burrito (available vegan), a burger, and a fried chicken sandwich. There are nods to Detroit as a dining town too, like Sanders chocolate, cheese curds, and Faygo sodas, and plans to install a new alcohol license to serve cocktails next year — alongside quality mocktails and other non-alcoholic drinks for the sober crowd, of course.
But ultimately, Vesey knows, her restaurant is less about the food and more about the people who will inhabit it. “Opening a restaurant like this ... anybody can make this menu. I want to offer space for people to feel comfortable, and not like they’re being judged for not being queer enough, or sober enough, or too sober, or they don’t ride the right kind of bike.”
To that end, Detroit Vesey’s large space will offer a variety of programming options in the coming months, from indoor bike parking and cafe tables for laptoppers to down espresso while answering emails to live music events, art exhibitions, and drag shows. Daily bike rides and weekend drag brunches are also planned for 2022, as is a supper club for unhoused youth in Downtown. “It’ll be a private, sliding-scale meal,” says Vesey, “and we’ll work with a nonprofit to provide [unhoused youth] with an outfit and a meal for the night.” Pre-pandemic, Vesey never planned to have — or to be leading — any of this. It’s just how things ended up.
Detroit Vesey’s has already been open a month or so, though it’s garnered almost none of the attention of big-name projects like the incoming Yangban Society around the corner or Guerrilla Tacos at the end of the block. Vesey says she’s fine with that; the slower roll-out has allowed her to meet people individually, to grow with her customers while finding her footing as an owner, an overseer, and a gatherer of people and ideas. “Most people aren’t from those communities,” says Vesey, “they’re just from the neighborhood or whatever. But I think that just being welcoming to people is helpful. Maybe it’s giving them an experience that they haven’t had, whether it's a sober experience or a queer experience.” A colorful mural on the side of the building, painted by friend Nathan Rapport, may offer some sense of the business’s queer connection from the outside, says Vesey, but it’s not about being any one singular thing, or having any one cultural focus.
“The proof is in the pudding,” says Vesey. “I can talk about community all I want, but until you show up and experience it you’re not going to know. I just have to show people that we really are for anyone who walks through the door.”
Detroit Vesey’s is now open at 2028 E. 7th Street in the Arts District, keeping daily hours from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Monday-Tuesday) or 9 p.m. (Wednesday through Sunday).