Early Gay Clubs in LA

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The end of an era: Catch One closes its doors.

Back in the mid-1980s, I used to go with friends to a happening gay disco spot in LA, a place called Catch One. I would go with my then-girlfriend and some of her friends. We’d often stay until 4 o’clock in the morning, and even at that late hour—or early for some—things were still in full swing.

Security would greet you at the top of the stairs with a metal detector, whereupon you’d enter into a sea of pulsing bodies in all manner of dress adorned with the glitter of revolving disco balls overhead. Handsome young men of all races and colors dancing to the throbbing beat of house music. At the time, I didn’t even know quite what house music was. The women in my group would swoon and fret over the men, complaining that there were so many good-looking but unavailable men. It was exhilarating, to say the least, and the vibe was infectious. We’d dance until 2 A.M., when the lights would come on and all the alcohol was cleared off the tables. Then, they’d turn the lights off, the music would resume, and everyone would keep dancing till dawn.

Sammy & Gregory
Sammy Davis, Jr. & Gregory Hines at Catch One. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

I’m not gay nor were the friends I’d go with, but Catch One was always such a fun, friendly place. We loved it. Many a celebrity has danced among the Catch One crowd, including Madonna, Sandra Bernhard, Chaka Khan, Sammy Davis, Jr., Gregory Hines, and others. Moreover, it’s always been a place where gay men and women of all colors have felt free to dance and just be themselves. This was especially important for black and latino gay people, back in the 1970s and 1980s, who didn’t feel as welcome at the time in West Hollywood.

House music started in Chicago in the late 1970s, offering gay, black, hispanic men, women, and other minorities a place where they could feel free and safe and hang loose on the dance floors. I wrote a piece last year on Frankie Knuckles, the godfather of house music.

Catch One first opened its doors in 1973 as an early mecca for gay blacks and latinos in LA. Now, sadly, after 42 years of being on the scene, Catch One is closing its doors. According to the Los Angeles Times, the woman who ran it, Jewel Thais-Williams, is looking for a buyer.  I will always have fond memories of the place.

During Catch One’s heyday, there were other clubs open to LGBT couples who preferred the latin rhythms of Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, mambo, salsa, merengue, and other styles of tropical latin music as an alternative to the house music played at Catch One. One such hot spot was Rudolpho’s in the San Fernando Valley. I visited Rudolpho’s only once during my salsa dancing days, but it was on a Monday night—a straight night. I wouldn’t have even known there was a gay night there if not for my Cafe LA interpreter for latin interviewees and LA-based architect/author/producer and man around town, Humberto Capiro. You can check out his personal blog for Living Out Loud Los Angeles.

<!-- missing image http://blogs.kcrw.com/music/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/SALSA-CON-CLASE-POSTER-223x300.jpg -->As Capiro recounts it, there were three lesbian Latina DJs: Salvadorean Ana Barrera and her Mexican-American partner Gloria De Leon, as well their Puerto Rican friend Eileen Pagan—all of whom produced various salsa events around LA. They gained such a dedicated following among gay women who liked latin music that they eventually helped to start a LGBT salsa night twice a month at an old, established night club called Rudolpho’s in Silverlake, at the corner of Fletcher and Riverside Drive. Johnny Polanco’s Conjunto Amistad headed opening night on March 26, 1994.

Later, they started “Salsa Con Clasé” on every first and third Saturday of the month, which ran from 1994–1999 and catered to both gay men and women. Alma del Barrio, the long-running weekend salsa show on KXLU, 88.9, used to promote the club on their daily calendar. According to Humberto, the Salsa Con Clasé nights became so popular that they could book top tropical latin acts like: Costa Azul, Johnny Polanco’s Conjunto Amistad, Susie Hansen’s charanga band, and others.

Rudolpho’s was eventually shut down by the fire department for overcrowding, but like Catch One, it was once a place where everyone was welcome, whether gay, straight, bisexual, or transgender—the only thing that mattered was that you had a good time.

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