Hollywood’s (Very, Very Wild) “Gay Cheers” Turns 25: An Oral History of The Abbey

The iconic gay hotspot located near the corner of Robertson and Santa Monica boulevards in West Hollywood has hosted Oscar winners (Elizabeth Taylor watched from her wheelchair as trans star Candis Cayne high-kicked during her weekly one-woman show), pop superstars (Lady Gaga showed up in a bra and panties to give fans an exclusive listen to her third album, Artpop, before its official release) and gay glitterati (Elton John! Bryan Singer! CAA power agent Kevin Huvane!).

But the Abbey story is bigger than its big-name clientele. Owner David Cooley has seamlessly mixed nightlife innovations — the appletini was invented there; male and female go-go dancers perform side by side — with social activism during its 25-year run, a milestone toasted in May.

Opened in 1991 as a cozy coffee shop offering espresso and cakes, The Abbey, which was financed by Cooley on credit cards in order to serve an almost exclusively gay clientele (many of whom he handpicked from nearby Alcoholics Anonymous groups), quickly became a meeting place for local branches of AIDS advocacy groups like ACT UP. This marked the beginning of the Abbey’s branding as an unofficial headquarters for gay rights advocates that would continue through Prop 8 marches and subsequent celebrations in 2008, when same-sex marriage was legalized in California.

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