The Abbey, under the ownership of Sam Nazarian’s SBE, is becoming known as a place where guys meet girls rather than other guys. At the corner of Robertson and Santa Monica boulevards, Lisa Vanderpump of the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” has opened P.U.M.P., which she bills as a gay bar. But its clientele so far seems to consist largely of reality TV star wannabes and the men who love them (along with a smattering of gay celebutantes such as Bobby Trendy).
In what some see as the “degayification” of WeHo’s Boystown, Thomas Michel sees an opportunity. The new owner of Rage is proudly proclaiming that his is a bar that is gay owned and operated.
Rage, at 8911 Santa Monica Blvd. near San Vicente, is what some consider a historic venue in gay West Hollywood. Older men post online about it being the first gay bar they ever entered. Michel says most gay men in West Hollywood at one time or another have been ejected for being underage.
It was opened in 1983 by Robert B. Maghame and Saeed Sattari, two heterosexual men who saw a business opportunity in a nightspot that would cater to gay men. Michel worked for them as a promoter for 11 years before buying Rage himself.
Michel acknowledges that there’s a “stigma” attached to Rage that stems from the difficulties gay nightlife promoters had working with Maghame and Sattari.
“It’s going to take a while,” he said. “The previous owners burned bridges. We want to rebuild those bridges.”
The good news, Michel said, is that nightlife promoters are now approaching him. As important as a venue is in the gay nightlife world, it’s those promoters who are key. They are the ones who use social media and their email lists to get customers in the door for themed nights like Brandon Anthony’s “Socialite Sundays,” an “urban” event, which means it’s aimed at an African-American crowd.
Rage already has nights that are aimed at attracting young gay Asian men (“Game Boy”) and Latinos (“Noche Latina”). The first Saturday of the month is “Juicy Club,” its night for lesbians.
Michel said he wants to expand Rage’s audience. “My version of the new Rage is not only to cater to the gay community, but I feel there’s a need to embrace the diversity of the community,” he said. With that in mind, he’s considering introducing “bear” nights, to attract hirsute gay men and those who love them and “leather” nights for those with that fetish.
But above all, he wants his customers to know that they are patronizing an establishment owned by someone of their sexual orientation. “I have a problem with a straight establishment trying to make money off of gay people,” he said.
Thomas, a native of Nice, came to the United States to satisfy his passion for flying helicopters and planes. He also spent time in the restaurant business and in real estate. But now his goal is once again to fly high, this time by reinvigorating West Hollywood’s 31-year-old Rage.