UPDATE: DECEMBER 18, 2020— Scott Craig and Peter Alexander, owners of beloved Silver Lake gay bar Akbar, can rest a little easier this holiday season. A GoFundMe page they set up to help the bar weather the prolonged COVID-19 shutdown exceeded its $150,000 goal in a matter of days.
“We’re as high as kites over here,” Alexander told Eater L.A. earlier this week. “L.A. magazine just went ahead and published their story and things started happening. We’re so humbled and awed by the response.”
As COVID-19 conditions worsen and it remains unclear when drinking holes will be able to reopen, the bar’s fundraising goal has since been raised to $250k.
DECEMBER 14, 2020 — Scott Craig and Peter Alexander opened their Silver Lake bar Akbar decades ago, as a reaction to the AIDS epidemic–but now, they say, the pandemic of 2020 could destroy what they’ve built.
“In the 1980s and 1990s Scott Craig and Peter Alexander were witnesses to the AIDS-related destruction of their community of friends and loved ones,” the owners write on a GoFundMe page asking for financial support. “That health crisis led to the loss of safe spaces and the gutting of the L.A. queer community.”
Silver Lake had been a hotbed of LGBTQ+ activism and nightlife since the 1960s, but by the mid-’90s, the neighborhood was changing. The last remaining gay bar was set to close and came up for sale. Even though Craig and Alexander had no previous hospitality industry experience, they scraped together money from friends and supporters to buy the business and reopen as Akbar on New Years Eve 1996.
Since then, the spot has been a local landmark, drawing a diverse and upbeat crowd for drinks, dancing, karaoke nights, drag shows, and community gatherings.
“It is hailed as a politically aware hub and revered as a friendly and accessible neighborhood watering hole where Angelenos can hang, commiserate, celebrate, mingle, meet new friends and make families,” they write. “It has been a labor of love born from grief and need of community.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated queer nightlife in Los Angeles, with multiple longtime gathering places permanently shuttered amid the prolonged closures of bars and nightclubs. And now Akbar, too, teeters on the brink of closure, and the owners are asking for supporters to donate funds to help the business survive until the bar is able to reopen.
According to the GoFundMe, Craig and Alexander are hoping to raise $150,000 in donations from friends and patrons by January. That money, they say, will be used to pay back a small business loan they took out to cover basic operations, and help them be on better financial footing for what they predict will be “a lean 2021.” The pair own the building in which the bar is located but, they note, they have not been able to receive any form of mortgage payment relief, even while fully shut down.
Already in 2020, L.A.’s queer scene has lost Rage Nightclub, Flaming Saddles, Gym Sportsbar, and East Hollywood coffee shop Cuties. Fubar in West Hollywood and Frat House in Garden Grove have, like Akbar, turned to GoFundMe asking for support for their businesses and staffs.
“Hundreds of queer businesses are closing. How many of those queer business will be reborn as queer when the pandemic is over?” Craig and Alexander write. “Community matters, safe space matters.”