photo credit: The Abbey Food & Bar-David Cooley
The Abbey Food and Bar is one of the most iconic gay bars in the world. This week The Abbey celebrates 25 years of being the heart of gay Los Angeles. I caught up with the owner (David Cooley) to discuss the anniversary, another expansion (The Chapel), and an up and coming reality show!
1. Congrats on 25 years of The Abbey! What year has been the most exciting so far and why?
This year has been very exciting. I was able to buy back The Abbey. I am in the middle of demolition on the space next door to expand The Abbey. We have a reality show on E! that starts filming this summer. I will have some very exciting news to announce on Cooley's soon. It seems like 25 is the most exciting year yet.
2. What were your goals when you first opened up the Abbey 25 years ago? Did you envision The Abbey the way it is today?
When I opened The Abbey, I only had one espresso machine, a few cakes and dream of owning a business in West Hollywood. I just wanted to live my life and run my business as a proud gay man, which wasn't as accepted then. I am so grateful every day for the support from the community. They made my dreams come true. I never imagined that The Abbey would impact so many people in such a meaningful way.
photo credit: The Abbey Food & Bar
3. Who are some of your mentors that have inspired you in business ?
There are two people in particular who have really helped The Abbey grow. Robert Kass was one of my clients when I was a banker at Wells Fargo. He opened the very first coffee shop in Los Angeles, The Living Room on La Brea. This was before the days of chain coffee. His success inspired me to open the very first coffee shop in West Hollywood. The Abbey could not exist in its current form with out the amazing support from my previous landlord Denny Edwards. Every time I was looking to expand, Denny allowed me to. He was so supportive and let me do what I needed to grow my business. He's mostly retired out in Palm Springs now and we're still good friends.
4. What was the scene like when you came out of the closet compared to now?
Coming out was not a thing you did where I was from in Ohio. When I went to my first gay bar, which was in Las Vegas, I had to drive around the block for over an hour to get up the courage to walk inside. When I opened The Abbey, things were still very secretive. None of the bars were open to the street. Everything was behind smoked out glass or glass blocks so you could not see inside. The entrances were in back alley's so you were not visible to the street. One of the things I am proudest of about The Abbey is that it is a place anyone feels comfortable. You can bring your Mom or your Grandmother and they will feel welcomed. We are open to the street and have been for along time, as if to say, "come on in and join the fun, everyone is welcome here."
5. What are your favorite gay clubs in the world and why?
I love the gay scene in places like Madrid, Rio, Montreal and Tel Aviv but my favorite gay club will always be Stonewall. I was just recently there and it is still inspiring. If all the rumors are true, it sounds like President Obama will actually declare Stonewall as the first-ever National Park Service monument to LGBT rights in June. It is a well earned monument.
photo credit: The Abbey Food & Bar
6. Who are some of your favorite celebrities that have visited The Abbey?
For me, there is only one celebrity, Elizabeth Taylor. As a boy growing up in Ohio, I never thought I would be friends with the biggest movie star in the world. She came in one afternoon because her nurse was a regular at The Abbey. We struck up a conversation and became friends over many cocktails. In life, she did so much for the LGBT community and brought the AIDS Epidemic to the national spotlight and even co-founded amfAR Even today, she continues to work for the LGBT community. Her estate has fully funded the operating costs of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. Her foundation is the official charity of The Abbey. We're honored to help continue her legacy in any way we can.
photo credit: The Abbey Food & Bar-Elizabeth Taylor visits The Abbey
7. What do you normally order at The Abbey ? Your favorite drink, favorite app, favorite dish , favorite drink?
It depends on my mood. In the afternoon, I drink Sauvignon Blanc. I love white wine on the patio. When it's party time, I'm a Ketel One Vodka drinker. Our most popular cocktails are the Wild Berry Martini with Absolut Acai Berry, The Abbey's Original Mojito with Bacardi Limon and The Abbey's Masc Mule with Stoli. To eat, I really enjoy our new shared plates, like the charcuterie board, barbecue ribs and classic meatballs.
8. What could you see yourself doing if you were not nightlife and restaurant entrepreneur?
I think I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing.
9. What venues do you see yourself opening in the next two years and where?
Right now, I'm focused on The Abbey. We are opening The Chapel at The Abbey later this summer. We'll have some news about Cooley's soon. After that, who knows?
photo credit: The Abbey Food & Bar
10. What advice would you give to young gay entrepreneurs?
Don't listen to the naysayers. People always tell you why you will fail. Ignore them all.
11. Tell us about the latest addition to The Abbey , The Chapel. What can we expect?
The Chapel is going to add about 5,000 square feet to The Abbey. The Chapel will be an extension of The Abbey and feel a little more luxurious. We're updating the look and feel but it will be connected. We're adding more patio space, more bars and a dance floor.
12. Are you excited about the up and coming reality show? How are you choosing who to feature on the show?
The reality show is a whole new chapter. I had been approached several times over the years but I finally felt like I had the right partners to make the show. E! approached us about the show because some of the executive team overseeing the show are regular customers. Our production company, Banijay Studios is the same. One of our executive producers has been a regular at The Abbey for decades. It's a good group of people behind the scenes and I hope we're going to make a show that reflects peoples' experiences at The Abbey. For the cast, we're starting with our employees.
13. What is going to the narrative and focus of the reality show?
The show will showcase what it takes to make your dreams a reality. My dream is The Abbey and that takes a lot of hard work. We have so many interesting people that work at The Abbey with their own dreams and aspirations. We have event planners, actors, models, musicians, writers, mixologists, makeup artists and more.
14. Describe The Abbey in 3 words?
Welcoming. Fun. Community.
15. I always end my interviews with a fun little game! Describe the following people in one word:
Jeffrey Sanker - Energetic
David And Elton - Generous
Christina Aguliera - Inspiring
Elizabeth Taylor - Iconic
Candis Cayne - Wild
Hillary Clinton - Presidential
Calvin Klein - Chic
Kevin Huvane - Sharp
Roland Emmerich - Blockbuster