Love it or hate it, Barney’s Beanery is a part of West Hollywood history. The famous eatery has been occupying the same spot on Route 66 before West Hollywood officially became West Hollywood for nearly a century but for much of that time was infamous for an offensive sign that hung behind the bar.
If it seems like Barney’s Beanery has been around forever that’s because it’s almost 100 years old. The original location in Berkeley, California, was founded by John “Barney” Anthony in 1920 before moving to the current building on State Route 2, also known as Route 66, in 1927 after the first diner burned down. At the time, the area was an unincorporated part of L.A. county not under the jurisdiction of the LAPD. This led to the opening of speakeasies and other illegal businesses during the roaring twenties. After Prohibition was repealed, Anthony added a bar that made Barney’s even more friendly to denizens of the burgeoning movie industry.
Barney’s location between the film studios to the east and Beverly Hills to the west made the restaurant/bar a popular hangout for luminaries like Clara Bow, Rita Hayworth and Clark Gable in the golden age of Hollywood. Times changed over the decades and unlike other, more glamorous establishments, Barney’s managed to change along with them and in the 1950s became a magnet for a more Bohemian crowd that included Dennis Hopper, Marlon Brando, and Jack Nicholson.
More changes were in store in the 1960s as the area now known as West Hollywood became a mecca for rock stars like Janis Joplin, who is said to have enjoyed the last drink of her short life at Barney’s before heading back to the motel where she met her end. Hard-drinking regular Jim Morrison christened the bar by urinating on it, an act that was commemorated with a plaque.
As popular as the funky diner may have been with fans of hot chili and cold beer, there was one group that was not happy with the bar and its decor. Back in the day when gays were targeted by frequent raids from law enforcement, an owner posted a large, bold sign saying “Fagots Stay Out” over the bar. While the sign was intended to convince the authorities that no gentlemen of the homosexual persuasion would be found inside, Barney’s did not take any special steps to keep them out.
The sign may have been ignored for years but over time a thriving and active gay community grew up around Barney’s Santa Monica Boulevard location. In the 1970s, activists including Rev. Troy Perry and Morris Kight staged protests to have the offending sign removed. Owners would periodically placate them by taking down the sign, only to sneak it back up later.
The infamous sign finally came down for good after West Hollywood became a city in 1984. The new city’s anti-discrimination law allowed the threat of a $500-a-day fine until the sign was removed permanently. After a period of holding out, owner Irwin Held finally gave in and allowed the city’s first mayor, Valerie Terrigno, to rip down the sign. He also agreed to cease selling matchbooks with the same offensive slogan. Mayor Terrigno stated at the time that although the sign and matchbooks may have been considered “a touch of nostalgic history,” that was no reason for them to continue.”For the people of West Hollywood, there has been nothing nostalgic about it. The words have been discriminatory and have reduced a large part of our population to the status of second-class citizens.”
After that, Barney’s Beanery pretty much stayed out of the news until 2016 when the restaurant was threatened by the wave of development that has swept over West Hollywood. A project application was submitted to the city for yet another mixed-use development with the usual mix of hotel rooms and music space that would incorporate Barneys, which would be dismantled and stored until it could be rebuilt into the new structure. In 2018, a new plan was submitted that included fewer hotel rooms, apartments, and other restaurants. The updated structure would keep Barney’s intact while erecting the new development around it. Since then there has been no more news about the future of Barney’s Beanery.
Barney’s now bills itself as a “gastropub” and is part of a small chain where customers can choose from breakfast, lunch or dinner from morning until midnight and partake of more than 40 beers (hopefully not all on the same visit). While the future of this long-standing roadhouse seems uncertain, it remains what former WeHoMayor Lauren Meister has called, “part of our history, the good, the bad and the ugly.”
I have never heard the story of that sign told that way. The owner put it up so gays would not frequent the place, as they were starting to hang out there. He was not protecting them. He did not want it to be a gay hang out.
A bit of a clarification regarding this line:
“The famous eatery has been occupying the same spot on Route 66 before West Hollywood officially became West Hollywood for nearly a century”
We were officially West Hollywood in 1925 (so before Barneys opened here) but we didn’t become the “City” of West Hollywood until 1984.
Sloans, which was at Huntley and Melrose opened in 1919, on the eve of Prohibition and it served the workers at the rail yards at what is now the PDC and was continuously in business until about 2000. Without Prohibition, West Hollywood would have remained fields of poinsettias. Prohibition was the defining moment in creating the character of West Hollywood.
I totally agree. WeHo was an unincorporated area outside LAPD jurisdiction so it was perfect for establishments that offered illegal activities, like speakeasies and bordellos.
I’ll drink to that!
I haven’t been there since 2019 but I’ve always liked it, it’s completely non-pretentious and it’s a great draw for beer fans especially, along with the Surly Goat, further east on Santa Monica Blvd. At least going back to the late 1990s when I first went there I never sensed there was anything for gay people to feel uncomfortable about hanging out there. If it was closer to the main strip of bars on Santa Monica I would definitely go there more often.
I have lived in West Hollywood for 25 years (yikes) & never been there. I might have to check it out soon.
Barney’s beanery is awesome and iconic. You can go in there and still feel the vibe of all that rock and roll history. I’ve been going there for many more moons because it’s a nice spot just to get away from everything while enjoying a burger and listening to some classic Guns N’ Roses.
Agreed! And I have never once experienced any homophobia there and enjoy the mixed crowd vibe.
The homophobia was in the past.