Following numerous attempts over the past decade to either lease or sell the building, gay dance club Ripples’ owners, life partners Larry Hebert and John Garcia, have hopefully inked a deal to bring Beer & Burger Joint, a Florida-based franchise.
This Pride will mark their last before closing this summer.
“You cannot have too much entertainment for Pride, it’s our busiest weekend of the year. We have entertainment Thursday through Sunday, and it’ll be packed,” Hebert told the Grunion Gazette.
That cultural context is important when viewing contemporary LGBTQ culture, where exclusive, fortress-like spaces and hidden bars, once necessary, have given way to more all-inclusive spots like the Abbey in West Hollywood—where female and male go-go dancers, straight, gay, bi and everything in between, mingle with an equally mixed crowd—while drag queens visit libraries and clubs.
Ripples has long been fighting for relevance in a city where the gay scene is largely focused on the Broadway Corridor while Hamburger Mary’s in Downtown is the largest space where queers and their allies dance the night away. In all frankness, Ripples had to face a reality where spaces that harken to a gay culture of the past—like the piano-tune-belting gay joint that was the Paradise on Broadway—have closed and a younger, louder, more digital generation has taken control. In other words, the idea of an aging dance club on the beach became increasingly difficult to uphold and survive in an era where inclusivity is sought more than exclusivity.
Even more, it shouldn’t be lost that this year’s Pride theme is one that is an homage to the events of Stonewall, which marked a major turning point in LGBTQ rights. After all, when Ripples opened in 1972, it was a space that moved away from the far more common just-a-bar and toward a full-on dance mecca; it was a specific point that acknowledged advances made and battles won. It sparked the creation of other queer dance spaces, including the North Long Beach drag bar last known as Club Sylvia.
In what would become a mirror for its future, Ripples hit a sudden rollercoaster ride when, in the very next year of 1973, a fire would destroy over half the building. That’s when Hebert would become attached to the building and, meeting future lover and partner Garcia, eventually owning the space. By 1980, the pair had ousted all 12 of its previous owners but were unprepared for a silent, deadly disease that would, yet again, prompt business to plummet.
The AIDS crisis, however, did not entirely deter Ripples’ success.
With the Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell cruising spot that was the beach parking area across the street and the chill, relaxed vibe of the neighborhood itself, Ripples sewed itself into Long Beach gay history.
But that rollercoaster, brought on initially by the fire and later by AIDS, would then reappear with bigotry, rioting, attacks by the Aryan Nation… The rollercoaster might’ve slowed down but it never truly disappeared. Garcia and Hebert weathered a lot.
And that led to even more public ups and downs, particularly after the millennium, when attendance began to slowly drop yet again. This time, it would thrust the pair and club into the spotlight of power-lesbian Tabatha Coffey and her reality show Tabatha Takes Over in 2012. (Bee-tee-dub: Tab came back with a re-launch of the popular series and, yup, she’s returned to Long Beach in an attempt to fix the disaster known as Popeyesgate.)
That led to another renovation that very same year post-Tabitha. Then the attempted sale of the building in early 2016. Then a switch to leasing the building instead of selling in late 2016. Then another attempted sale in 2017. Then another potential buyer last year.
In other words: Garcia and Hebert just want to retire—and to be honest, Long Beach, they deserve that.
They’ve expressed their discontent with the disconnection between their era—one wrought with social, political, religious, and community battles—and the current generation. It has led to outright bitterness, including shady business practices—”No cover—just kidding!” nights—and a distasteful dismissal of its patrons.
Here is one of Hebert’s most harsh quotes, taken from a now-defunct, short-lived paper in Long Beach: “I’m going to be blunt: these young kids nowadays don’t know what we’ve gone through to get to this point for them. We’re talking bulletproof windows, attacks by the Aryan Nation, police not going along with our program. We fought the battle for these kids today.”
This type of frustration can’t continue to go unnoticed.
Perhaps, then, what is due Garcia and Hebert is not another public event, not another makeover, not another attempt to revive Ripples, but a thank you. Without them having fought that battle, this step forward for a new kind of space could not have been achieved. Even more blunt: if we wanted, as a queer community, for this space to continue to exist, we would have patronized it. It’s that simple, even outside shady business practices.
Happy Pride, Ripples—may your memory move on in both history and spirit.
Editor’s note: This piece originally stated that Ripples will close after Pride; it is likely closing this summer. Also, Larry Hebert did not handle the books; John Garcia did.
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