Ohio native David Cooley opened the Abbey in 1991 as a gay coffee and pastry shop. The West Hollywood landmark has evolved into an iconic gay bar that Cooley has no qualms about using as a platform to support his beliefs. His security guards for a while carried head shots of the anti-gay politicians Cooley has banned. The California section's Hailey Branson-Potts loitered at the Abbey recently, grilling Cooley on such topics as why, for a while, he shut down the straight bachelorette parties that used to come and ogle the Abbey's go-go dancers. We later emailed him questions and crunched the conversation into this:
They say your gay bar's gone too straight.
We fight to be accepted, but when there are straight people dancing next to us at the Abbey, accepting us for who we are, that's a problem for some people. I just don't get it. The Abbey is also a place that people feel comfortable bringing their parents or their friends who might not be gay. Our clientele is mostly gay but we're part of a broader community. I don't know who gets to decide our level of gayness but I know that I get to decide the door policy. Everybody is welcome.
Did your "Chick-for-Gay" come with pickles?
The Chick-for-Gay sandwich did come with pickles. They were sliced, not spears. It was before the Supreme Court had struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 (which would have banned gay marriage). If Chick-fil-A can sell a chicken sandwich that promotes a cycle of hate, the Abbey could sell a chicken sandwich that helps to further equality.
Coffee versus martinis.
I got my start selling coffee even though I don't drink it. I definitely enjoy a good 10-ounce martini.
Your friend Elizabeth Taylor. What did she drink?
She loved her martinis.
What would people yell if you hopped on stage and danced with your go-go dancers?
Come watch any weekend.
West Hollywood or San Francisco's Castro?
West Hollywood. People in Los Angeles love visiting San Francisco. San Franciscans don't always like West Hollywood. I think it's because we're prettier.
What do you have against bachelorette parties?
Bachelorette parties are loud, obnoxious and messy, but they are also a lot of fun with the right group of people. At the time we banned them, it was really upsetting our regulars. There was so much tumult in the community with Prop. 8 that I wanted to do something to protect our regulars. So, we kicked out the bachelorette parties until gay marriage was legal. After Prop. 8 was struck down, we started letting them back in. They are still loud, obnoxious, messy and fun.
Those lawmakers on the "deny entry" list? You don't think they're good dancers?
You don't have to be a good dancer to come to the Abbey, you just have to be a decent human. Everybody on that list publicly voted to limit the rights of gays and lesbians.
If your life were an action movie, what would its title be?
"Play Hard With a Vengeance."