The Boom Boom Room, a renowned Laguna Beach bar that drew members of the LGBTQ community for decades before closing in 2007, is on track to see new life as Newport Beach-based restaurant Bear Flag Fish Co., according to the real estate agent for the space at 1401 S. Coast Hwy.
Plans are in the conceptual phase, but the lease is signed, said Realtor Connor Stevens of Retail Insite, representing property owner Chris Dornin.
The fast-casual, order-at-the-counter restaurant and adjoining fish market will be the most recognizable attraction, Stevens said, but Bear Flag also plans to incorporate a cocktail lounge where the dance floor is now, as well as a sushi bar.
Thomas Carson, owner of Bear Flag — which currently has two locations in Newport Beach and one in Huntington Beach — also is opening Wild Taco in Laguna Beach at 188 S. Coast Hwy., where Johnny Rockets formerly stood. The two restaurant chains are known for their seafood, much of it caught from Carson’s boat.
“I feel Orange County is really my kind of home, and I want to do my best around here,” said Carson, whose mother grew up in Laguna Beach. “To bring the freshest, local-caught seafood that I can to my community is my goal.”
Stevens said plans for a coffee shop also are in the works to replace a liquor store across from the shuttered Coast Inn, which housed the Boom Boom Room. Dornin also owns those sites.
Better Buzz Coffee, a San Diego-based chain, signed a lease for the space and is working out an elaborate architectural design, Stevens said.
Better Buzz Coffee declined to comment.
“It’s going to be the most active intersection in Laguna Beach,” Stevens said.
The timeline for Bear Flag’s opening is unclear, Stevens said, as the company still needs to submit its plans to the city for approval. The new vision for the Boom Boom Room coincides with Dornin’s plans to reinvigorate the Coast Inn., which he acquired in late 2013.
Except for the occasional LGBTQ Pride celebration, the Boom Boom Room has sat vacant and nearly untouched since it closed 12 years ago.
The “Boom’s” storied past reaches into the 1970s, when it became a hub for LGBTQ people to meet one another in an open, welcoming environment. Every week, the bar was crowded with a medley of folks — from drag queens dancing through crowds of newbies to regulars returning for a night of fun.
In the 1980s, the Boom Boom Room became a community hub for a city rocked by AIDS. Mourners who lost friends to the disease spread ashes in the green space behind the bar, dubbing it the “Garden of Peace and Love.”
The bar continued to attract people for two more decades until it closed, despite a fierce battle by local activist Fred Karger to “Save the Boom.”
“A lot of residents feel very strongly,” Stevens said. “There’s a lot of nostalgia with that space, so everyone’s really excited to see it get activated.”
Karger said he’s still holding out hope for another gay bar to take the place of the Boom Boom Room.
“It’s a lot harder to save a gay bar when it’s been closed for 12 years, but I’m also pretty tenacious — I didn’t put all that into it to just give up; it’s not in my nature,” Karger said. “But I’m open to discussion. I’m not saying I’m opposed to [Bear Flag], I just want to find out more about it.”
Stevens said his client’s “first thought” was to reach out to several LGBTQ bars about reinhabiting the space.
“We came to realize very quickly … look, it’s 2019 now, there’s not really any gay or straight bars or gay or straight restaurants exclusively,” Stevens said. “It’s 2019, everything’s all inclusive. … It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, you’re welcome.”
Before it became a hub for the LGBTQ community, the Boom — then called the South Seas — was a go-to spot for Marines. Carson said the name “Bear Flag” was inspired by the historic Bear Flag in Monterey, “where all the Marines went back in the day.”
He added that when he first dreamed up Bear Flag Fish Co., he wanted to open it in South Laguna, but those plans never materialized.
“I’m glad that it came full circle,” Carson said. “It almost feels like the way it happened is the way it was meant to be.”