It remains one of the most perplexing things when a local business closes up shop: a sudden outpour of WHY!? and We’re losing our culture! and This is so sad!, all not-so-thinly painted with an anti-change sentiment.
So when the Paradise Bar & Grill—long lacking a stable set of patrons over the years, its space only filled to the brim when Pride weekend comes—shuttered its windows, I knew the onslaught of suddenly concerned queers and allies would pop up and decry the loss of an LGBTQ space.
“Unfortunately, this is just the start of what the Gay Community is going to lose in Long Beach. Ironic that it’s happening when we have our first gay mayor,” read one comment.
“This place won’t last a year. Not in this neighborhood with no parking. The gay community will not support this place. Bad location for a place like this. Good luck!” read another.
“I hope it FAILS and quickly,” another said.
“This is BS! They should make it closer to the park rather than the bars. I’m already over it,” read one more.
One man even suggested I should write something about “the drug culture the skate park has attracted to this neighborhood.”
And then, once it was announced that the bar which replaced it, BLACK, had opened, more came.
“Meanwhile Long Beach loses its iconic Gay Restaurant/Bar Paradise,” read a reply.
Don’t get it twisted, folks.
We didn’t lose anything.
We chose to let it close and, in part, they brought it unto themselves with sub-par service paired with sub-par food.
In this sense, it’s our own collective fault because—bluntly put—we all stopped going to it with any sense of regularity, constantly favoring the sweaty tavern that is the Mineshaft or the mini-dance haven that is the Falcon or the dyke-centric Sweetwater or the dive goldmine that is The Broadway Bar or, hell, even favored the trip Downtown to Mary’s rather than heading toward Cherry. We favored these spaces 10 times over the eastern-most queer watering hole that was an essential cog in Broadway’s history. Add onto this a business refusing to better itself and you are set for closure—and it’s not because of some cultural eradication occurring at a higher level but mediocrity melded with a lack of support.
That’s the reality.
But perhaps most baffling—and disappointing—is the outright vitriol from our own community toward a new small business owner that kept a space alive rather than adding yet another empty storefront along the Broadway corridor.
Surely, maybe some straight folk don’t understand the importance of The Gay Bar in terms of our community; there’s a learning curve there, letting someone who isn’t part of your culture understand that, first and foremost, The Gay Bar was (and for some, still is) our church. Long before society came to accept us, it was the only safe space we could be ourselves in; it became The Gay Event Venue, The Gay Park, The Gay Patio, The Gay Backyard… It was the epicenter of our culture.
Hell, Broadway Bar was the first bar in which I’d experienced a wake.
There stood older men and women—beautiful rejects who lived through a time I can’t imagine, plagued by a lack of understanding and a survival-based need to hide—and they celebrated the life of someone who passed at the bar because the queer bars were their churches. They covered the pool tables to make way for a ton of food, encouraged everyone and anyone to come in, eat, and even if they were strangers, take a glance at someone that was important to them.
Coming into a space that has the full weight of history attached to it—so heavy that it is the only place for friends to gather to mourn the loss of a close one because it is the only safe haven they know of—is not something to be taken likely.
The Gay Bar was and is a place of worship and protection for an entire generation of humans who saw more struggle, frustration, misunderstanding, stereotypes, and challenges than any queer nowadays could comprehend.
This isn’t to be dismissed. And with times, should we see the closure of a space that was our own doing, perhaps we should harness the spirit these bars exuded in the first place: an open door policy with nothing but a big hug and some catty wit awaiting them.
Welcome to the Gayborhood, BLACK. I wish you nothing but success, love, and hope you understand the pride that comes with being a Long Beach business.
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