In LA, Gay Bars, Restaurants Look to Crowdfunding to Survive

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday January 26, 2021

LGBTQ bars and restaurants in greater Los Angeles are struggling to survive the second, and latest, COVID lockdown. Crowdfunding has proven to be a lifeline for many, local food and drink site Los Angeles Eater reports.

Eater cites the example of the Kitchen, which, the outlet notes, "sits on a prominent corner that helped shape LA queer life," being situated at 4348 Fountain Ave.

Owner Fred Schleicher said that despite pandemic restrictions - and a previous shutdown - the restaurant had been "doing okay," but the latest lockdown threatens to be too much. Schliecher put it plainly, saying that the Kitchen is "treading water and sinking."

It doesn't brighten the outlook that "There are so many unknowns," Schleicher went on. "We're going to be locked down for more than two months I'm sure."

COVID relief funds have helped businesses across the country, but far from adequately. (Indeed, there have been questions already posed about whether LGBTA businesses are getting a fair shake at obtaining grants and loans intended to help small businesses weather the crisis.)

Schleicher, taking note of how another LGBTQ business - the nightspot Akbar - had turned to crowdfunding, decided that where government wasn't helping, maybe patrons, fans, neighbors, and the community at large might. As so many owners of LGBTQ businesses have done, he launched a GoFundMe page.

Eater noted the minimal ask - and comparatively scant requirements - around the effort. "Reaching a $75,000 goal could make a difference for the 20-year-old restaurant, where comfort foods like roasted chicken soup, Belgian beef stew, and chicken pot pie rule the menu," the site reported. "The Kitchen used to employ 17 people but now keeps just six or seven on staff."

It's not just a matter of businesses trying to keep their doors open until better times return to help them balance their ledgers and get back into the black. Apart from the bottom line there's a sense of service - of providing communal spaces for LGBTQ people looking to gather, and to belong.

"I can't emphasize enough how much these places are needed," Schleicher told Eater. "They are so vital to us. We have to nurture and get them through this time until we can get back to socializing and hug each other again."

Crowdfunding is a strategy that has caught on. Noted Eater, "LA's queer restaurants, bars, and cafes are almost all crowdfunding for community support in 2021, which feels like a more realistic endeavor to stay in business than locating assistance from the city, state, or federal government."

Eater cited crowdfunding efforts initiated recently by New Jalisco Bar, located in downtown Los Angeles, which is seeking to raise $80,000; similarly, Redline, also located in DTLA, has launched an appeal for $100,000. Meantime, Crest bar in Long Beach, which had received a little money (but only "very small amounts") in governmental assistance, and has set its fundraising goal at $40,000, and iconic Silver Lake gay bar Eagle is striving to achieve a somewhat loftier goal, looking to reach $240,000 in contributions.

The efforts come in the shadow of a slew of closures that have already taken place, with at least six establishments in West Hollywood having shuttered since the first lockdown last March, and half-century-old gay bar Oilcan Harry's in Studio City recently pulled the plug.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.