Owner’s Plan B Is Restaurant : Neighbors Opposed Liquor License for Gay Disco
Larry Loyd took what he called a calculated risk in his plan to open a fancy disco catering to the upwardly mobile “gay male yuppies” of Silver Lake.
The gamble, however, did not pay off.
He was denied a liquor license after neighborhood residents protested that the disco would generate too much noise and traffic on a stretch of Hyperion Avenue that had problems in the past with a now-closed, purportedly rowdy gay bar.
Loyd, who is gay, claims to be a victim of anti-homosexual prejudice at the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control--a claim strenuously denied by state officials.
Plan for Restaurant
But, he is not giving up totally. He is making a very expensive switch to a new plan--literally Plan B, the self-explanatory name of the restaurant he hopes to open in a month or so at the same spot where the disco was to have been.
“It was heartbreaking to realize I couldn’t continue anymore on the road I wanted. But I knew I could either continue to fight in the courts and go broke or change plans and open a restaurant,” said Loyd, 36, who used to own eateries at Lake Tahoe. And with gay-bar business dropping because of the scare over acquired immune deficiency syndrome, Loyd said: “Maybe this is a blessing in disguise.”
The switch, he said, will cost $50,000 on top of the $150,000 he already spent on converting a dilapidated recording studio at 1836 Hyperion Ave. into what he had hoped would be a plush disco rivaling the most popular West Hollywood gay dance halls.
So much electrical work--Loyd says about $35,000 worth--had been installed for a disco light and sound system that one contractor joked that the place should be named The Outlet. Almost all of those wires and plugs are wasted in a restaurant. Windows cemented over for the disco will now have to be broken through. A disc jockey booth will become an office.
“I thought I might as well start working before I got my liquor license. I never anticipated that I wouldn’t get it,” said Loyd, who last summer signed a 10-year lease on the property.
Alcoholic Beverage Control officials, however, said businessmen rarely sink large amounts of money into a nightclub before a liquor license is approved.
“It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while, it does happen. And, when it does, I have no compassion,” said Graham Archer, ABC district administrator. “It’s their responsibility.”
As for Loyd’s claim of discrimination, Archer said, “Whether this place is gay or not has no bearing; it’s not a plus or a minus. If a place is gay and quiet, it will get in. If it’s gay and noisy, it won’t.”
Loyd said he thought he would overcome neighborhood objections to possible noise and traffic. After all, his disco was to be for “the upwardly mobile,” not for the wilder crowd that used to attend Pure Trash, a bar that went out of business three years ago after many neighborhood complaints.
Nevertheless, he had extra soundproofing installed, had arranged to rent extra parking spaces and had promised to hire security guards. Loyd managed to round up a slew of endorsements from city and state representatives who said they welcomed new investment on a part of Hyperion Avenue dominated by auto body shops.
Backing of Police Captain
Even the captain of the Northeast Division of the Los Angeles Police Department promised not to automatically oppose a liquor license as he almost always does. “I think it would have worked out well. I still think so,” Capt. Robert Taylor said. “I don’t see him as a menace to the community. I see him as trying to do something positive there. That particular part of Hyperion needs a little help, a little redevelopment.”
The disco received the necessary conditional-use permit from the city after an environmental review that, among other things, looked into possible neighborhood disruptions. The only remaining hurdle was the ABC. Because homes were within 100 feet of the proposed disco, the burden of proof was on Loyd and his partner, attorney Robert Totten.
Loyd met with homeowners from nearby streets in hopes of getting them to drop their protests. He agreed that Hyperion Avenue near the proposed disco takes a dangerous curve and he promised to lobby the city for a traffic light. But that was not enough.
“He seemed like a nice enough fellow,” recalled Dorye Roettger, a neighborhood activist. “But my position was that he couldn’t keep his clients under control even with the best intentions in the world. He can have security guards, and people will still get drunk. And a drunk is a drunk. I don’t care how upwardly mobile he is.”
Area residents testified against the disco at a May hearing before an ABC administrative law judge, where an incident occurred that Loyd claims cost him the possibility of a license.
During that hearing, ABC staff attorney David Wainstein asked Loyd what kind of establishment the place would be. Loyd replied that it would cater to upwardly mobile, male homosexuals.
In an interview, Wainstein said he had known all along that the disco was to be gay and that he was asking Loyd to describe the layout and facilities, not the clientele.
“I was flabbergasted when he came back with that answer,” Wainstein said. “As far as we’re concerned, who his customers are is none of our business, as long as they don’t break the law.”
Wainstein said he is certain that Administrative Law Judge Richard Lopez disregarded the answer when he made his negative recommendation to the ABC. If anything hurt Loyd’s application, Wainstein said, it was the bad memory of the Pure Trash bar. “I know that was not his doing and doesn’t seem fair to the new guy,” Wainstein said. “But it does happen.”
Loyd, however, recalls Wainstein’s question as purposefully baiting him. In a blistering, 14-page letter in June asking the ABC to reconsider the ruling, Loyd and Totten described the query as “a direct and obviously tainted question.” The license was denied, the letter claimed, “because of the fact that this establishment was to cater to the gay male community, the natural inference being that Mr. Loyd, the operator of the establishment, was also gay.”
That letter upset Aslan Brooke-Nelson, a lesbian activist who lives near the site and who opposed the license. “When people cry homophobia when it’s not real, it totally wipes out real claims of discrimination and does a disservice to the entire community,” she said.
Routes of Appeal
The ABC again denied the license. Loyd and Totten, who is not gay, can now go to an ABC appeals board, then to court. But, with rent to pay and bills mounting, Loyd toyed with the idea of opening a non-alcoholic “juice” bar--an idea that further angered neighbors fearful of youth gangs that frequent such bars.
He finally decided to open a restaurant serving American-style food aimed at attracting a heterosexual and gay clientele. He will open without a liquor license, but he plans to apply for a beer and wine license.