Laguna Art Museum looks back on town’s gay bar scene

A crowd dances inside the Boom Boom Room in 2006.
The Laguna Beach Art Museum is holding a special event Saturday “LAM goes BOOM: A Pride Celebration,” to honor the history of the Boom Boom Room, pictured in 2006.
(Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times)

The beats of the old Boom Boom Room once dropped it right into the hearts of the gay community in Laguna Beach.

Those who can remember the old ways will look to relive their glory days through an event Saturday evening at Laguna Art Museum.

“LAM goes BOOM: A Pride Celebration,” will honor the history of the Boom Boom Room, including its place as a haven for the LGBTQ+ community stretching back to the 1970s and the unsuccessful but impassioned fight to save the bar some 15 years ago.


The event will feature a screening of “Saving the Boom,” a documentary film by local activist Fred Karger focusing on the community’s efforts to keep the Boom Boom Room as it was.

Boom Boom Room
The Boom Boom Room, an historic LGBTQ+ bar in Laguna Beach, has sat shuttered on Mountain Road since 2007.

Stories told in the documentary include those of gathering signatures exclusively in the city for a petition brought before the Laguna Beach City Council. Those signatures were delivered in a wheelbarrow for dramatic effect. There was also an open casting call for a spicy calendar shoot of the hottest men in town.

Mike Johnson, a trustee for the museum, said the Boom Boom Room was the first LGBTQ+ establishment that he worked up the courage to walk into as he was coming out. He had parked outside the bar a couple of times, but when he finally went in, it made him “comfortable.”

“Definitely, I found as I frequented the bar more that it wasn’t just a place for men and women to cruise and pick up,” Johnson reminisced. “It was a place for socializing. It was a place that, I think, was pretty cathartic for a lot of people as a gathering place, and I think that’s evidenced by the memory garden that’s on the bluff just below.”

Johnson was making reference to the Garden of Peace and Love, a spot that largely came to memorialize those who fell victim to AIDS among the coastal city’s LGBTQ+ community.

Following the film, the museum will come to life, as attendees will be welcomed to dance the night away to the tunes spun by DJ SoulFire. Admission to the event, which runs from 6 to 9 p.m., is $20 for museum members and $35 for the general public.

Laguna Art Museum will also be hosting a Pride Month Storytime event on June 17. In recognition of Pride Month, the storytime will be led by drag queen storyteller Pickle.

“The museum has been here for over 100 years now, and it’s always kind of been a place that the gay community can come to,” Daniel Stachowski, public programs coordinator for the museum, said. “In the 1980s, we had a fundraiser for the AIDS crisis, and we’re continuing that legacy of being supportive for the LGBTQ+ community by having these pride events here in Laguna, which was for the longest time a safe haven for the gay community to come and be who they are.

“Now, all those bars that were so famous are all gone, and there’s no real place for the community to gather, especially during Pride Month. By having these kinds of celebrations, it’s paying homage to Laguna’s past, but also offering a safe place for LGBTQ+ members and the allies that support them.”