‘Don’t Tell Mama’ Closes, Leaving WeHo (and LA) Without a Gay Piano Bar

"Don't Tell Mama" interior. (Photo courtesy of Don't Tell Mama)
“Don’t Tell Mama” interior. (Photo courtesy of Don’t Tell Mama)

Los Angeles once again is without a gay piano bar with the closing of West Hollywood’s “Don’t Tell Mama.”

DTM opened in February 2013 at 8279 Santa Monica Blvd. east of Sweetzer in a space that had been empty since the closing two years earlier of O-Bar.

It was the only West Coast iteration of the famous DTM in New York City, which for more than three decades has been the place where various performers started their careers and a gathering place for gay men and heterosexual friends who shared their love of Broadway music.

DTM in West Hollywood included both a bar, where a pianist played, and a restaurant. But it was unable to obtain a license from the City of West Hollywood for the cabaret shows for which the New York DTM is famous.

Before its opening, Jeffrey Steinberger, a partner in the venture, said “We’re gonna try out and see how the restaurant and bar go” before going back to the city for a cabaret license. “Then we’ll see if the neighborhood understands what we’re doing, see if they like us and let them get accustomed to what we’re doing.”

“When [residents and city officials] see that we follow the rules according to what we told them we were going to do, then we may accommodate a cabaret later on,” Steinberger said.

The city did allow DTM to have singing waiters, so long as there were no more than six of them performing at any time. Occasional guest singers, including people from the audience, also were allowed. DTM also was barred from having a cover charge or requiring the purchase of a minimum number of drinks, which are typical revenue sources for cabarets.

Mike Kalbo, another owner of DTM, who is based in New York City, said the venture wasn’t financially successful.

“The live entertainment was very good. But financially it didn’t work,” he said. “We expected more customers, more volume. It didn’t happen. We needed to move on.”

In 2012 the Other Side, a piano bar in Silver Lake, closed. It had been the last piano bar in Los Angeles. Originally known as the Toy Tiger when it opened in 1978, Other Side was a refuge for older gay men, many of whom had survived police raids and beatings in the homophobic 1960s and 1970s. Jane Cantillon chronicles it in a documentary titled “The Other Side: A Queer History.” She tells part of the story in this promotional video.

While DTM is closing, a few hundred feet west on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Sweetzer, workers are busily preparing for the opening of Beach Nation. Owned by Thomas Schoos, a leading hotel and restaurant designer, Beach Nation will be coffee bar with snack food and seating outdoors in an area covered with white sand and shaded by palm trees. Schoos was the previous owner of O-Bar, which occupied the DTM space. A “soft” opening for Beach Nation is planning for May 21 and a formal opening for May 28.

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Jim Delaney
Jim Delaney
8 years ago

I looked this up because we longtime DTM fans were in LA recently and saw the name on the frontage as we went past. FWIW the original DTM crew sold up the NYC operation (which remains open with the same name but new management) and relocated to downtown Las Vegas (517 Fremont), where they were doing very nicely last I saw, in October 2013.

dude
dude
8 years ago

I am a singer annd used DTM as a jumping off point and a place to try new material. I will have to say that a couple of accompanists were horrible and i swear they could not read music. They completely confused every singer that went up for the open mike. I am sad to see it go however because i think they were trying to do something quite cool. I dont really care for west hollywood i think the queens are quite bland and homogenized. The cabaret would not have worked as people are too self obsessed to care… Read more »

Jon Ponder
Jon Ponder
8 years ago

@Eric Dondero They shoot piano bars in Texas.

Eric Dondero (@ericdondero)

Might it just be a cause over over-regulations, license fees and such? Amazing not a single one of you blames government for the shut-down. Loosen up regulations in California, and watch businesses flourish.

Then again, stick with your strict regulations, and watch business flee to Texas.

Christopher
Christopher
8 years ago

This may be another reason for the fail, from a from a friend of mine: “I had been going every Thursday since Bryan started playing [piano] there and the mix was just not right. The configuration of the room, the balance of vocal to piano, the placement of the piano, the generation gap with no one in between and the uneasy melding of straight and gay: all made for a less that enjoyable experience. DTM was essentially a straight bar. The last Thursday I was in there, there were so many young straight couples that the bar looked gay friendly… Read more »

joetheplumber
joetheplumber
8 years ago

I tried to tell Mama to be kinder to the visitors, but she wouldn’t listen. “. . . [b]ut that’s what comes from too much ‘tude and liquor. But when I saw her acting like a Queen, she was the snappiest corpse I’d ever seen. I made my mind up back in February– come May, Mama’d be gone back to Chelsea . . . . ” (Song to the music of Cabaret).

wehogoer.
wehogoer.
8 years ago

Piano Bar-Thursday at Revolver. It’s packed every single week. There are 2 pianos. It’s fun. That’s enough.

JJ
JJ
8 years ago

Went for dinner once with friends. Walked out after one drink. The place was poorly designed. Service was horrible. Location of piano was horrible. Lighting was hideous. Look at the money Lisa Vanderpump is putting into PUMP. That place is going to be gorgeous! Maybe she’ll put in a piano. Miss having a good piano bar.

PaddyO
8 years ago

Interesting comments. I never knew this was supposed to be a gay piano bar. I *am* a talent, and I do bring my band to many gay bars (mostly LBC). I came a few times for Ryan Black’s events (some great talent), and the Monday jams. Obviously there were a lot of gay men there, but… it’s WeHo! Agree on the crappy lay-out. It was awful. I think I was spending $8 for a shot of Bushmills, which for LA, is not unreasonable. I don’t I ever met the owner/manager. The servers/bartenders I met were lovely, friendly people. I’ve seen… Read more »

Kevin Rhodes
8 years ago

I am sad to hear that DTM’s is closing but I remember signing up on their web page before they were even open to get news and information about their opening and events. Never got a thing. I am a big lover of piano bars and cabaret opportunities but there was something wrong here from the very beginning. When I did finally go with a large group, they did not have enough staff and were totally unprepared for a crowd, waited 45 minutes or more for order to even be taken and then another 45 for food (It never came… Read more »

SaveWeho
SaveWeho
8 years ago

Ridiculous place. Bring O-Bar back. At least that was a nice upscale, hotel-lobby-ish place that was fun and reasonably priced. Plus it had a horrible name. Who wants to say…oh lets go to “Dont Tell Momma”. Like we should be ashamed we’re going to a gay bar? Marketing means a lot. So does a name.

Romanoff
Romanoff
8 years ago

All the comments above are right, but add to it that 90% of potential customers had no idea the place even existed. Virtually no advertising or marketing. Highly arrogant for them to think this would work. It’s really a shame. Hopefully someone else can give it another try and do it right this time because the concept is potentially strong.

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