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.