When West Hollywood’s Gold Coast bar shut down after 40 years last September, many speculated that the once-thriving gay scene on Santa Monica Boulevard was down for the count. The legendary dive bar was the third gay landmark on the thoroughfare to shut down during the pandemic, following the closure of Rage and Flaming Saddles a month before. All three establishments were owned or co-owned by controversial real-estate baron Monte Overstreet, the so-called “king of Boystown,” who came under fire for taking a hard line in rent negotiations with his COVID-strapped tenants. Overstreet and his business partner also owned Oil Can Harry’s, the landmark Country Western gay bar in Studio City that shuttered last December after 52 years. (Founded in 1968, it was the oldest gay bar in Los Angeles—and a launching pad for performers from k.d. Lang to RuPaul.)
But while WeHo’s bar owners were especially hard hit by the pandemic, the dire predictions of Boystown’s demise turned out to be premature. Rage is returning this fall under the ownership of former NSYNC star Lance Bass, who vows that his revamped Robertson Boulevard disco will reopen as the biggest gay nightclub in the world. (Bass is also a partner in Rocco’s, the wildly successful gay bar and restaurant across the street.) Now, Gold Coast is also poised for a comeback, albeit with new owners and with a new name: The Or Bar.
Whatever it’s called, the new bar, which is currently under construction, will be overseen by a trio of new owners with deep roots in L.A.’s gay and nightlife scene: West Hollywood entrepreneur Rob Novinger, who recently remade the dusty Circus of Books into a glossy porn emporium, began eyeing the dilapidated Gold Coast property soon after the For Sale sign went up. To jump-start the project, Novinger enlisted the help of Stephanie “Stevie” Schestag, a lawyer and former tv host who began her career as the owner of New York’s trendy V Bar. The third member of the triumvirate, celebrity stylist George Kotsiopoulos, is best known as Joan Rivers’s tart-tongued co-host on E!‘s now-defunct Fashion Police, though he’s lately been pursuing a lucrative sideline in real estate. And while Kotsiopolous has never actually owned a bar before, he admits he’s patronized more than a few of them.
“Rob and I have always talked about working together,” says Kotsipoulos. “And we’ve always complained about WeHo’s bar scene. So when we heard that Gold Coast was closing, everything suddenly clicked. We’ve both wanted to build a bar that would be an alternative to all the loud gay Weho places with the bad drinks and awful lighting. We want our place to have a neighborhood feel, good music. No TVs! None of this mixology nonsense! Back to basic drinks. Five ingredients in a cocktail are two too many, as far as I’m concerned!”
The old Gold Coast was a defiantly unfabulous haven for grizzled patrons who preferred to take their dinner at breakfast-time. Its new incarnation is aiming for a different clientele. “I think the whole notion of ‘gay bars’ seems a bit dated,” says Schestag. “Twenty years ago things were more stratified, but the LGBTQ community has really transformed since then. There’s no longer just gay or straight—everything is so much more fluid. We thought renaming it the Or Bar conveyed some of that ambiguity.”
Novinger and Kotsiopoulos will be overseeing the décor themselves, though Novinger says he’ll be deferring to his fashionable partner when it comes to questions of taste. But he says they are both determined to avoid WeHo design cliches. “For one thing, we will not be minimalist!” Novinger says. “It’s going to be very Michelle-Pfeiffer-in-Scarface-chic –cocaine chic,’ you could call it. I don’t mean literally—I mean ’70s, ’80s, ’90s glam. We’re aiming to people our age or over 30, at least. This isn’t going to be another nightclub. We want it to be a more sophisticated loungey place.”
They are hoping that their new space will help spruce up a neighborhood once famously known as an after-hours cruising ground in the ’90s. “We want to elevate Vaseline Alley!” says Kotsiopoulos. “We’re doing to have a deck outside and glam up the neighborhood. We’d like to put a big Gucci ad on that open wall on LaJolla, but the city won’t let us.”
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