Every Monday night at Club Bahia on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park, you’re bound to see three things: cowboy boots, tight blue jeans, and a whole lot of fringe. Angelenos are strutting their best country western ensembles at Stud Country, a weekly queer-friendly dance party.
Step into the space and you see neon lighting, while bright green palm trees and hot pink trim line the bar. Disco balls hang from the ceiling above the sprawling dance floor, glittering in the spotlight.
The DJ spins hits like “Queen of Hearts” by Juice Newton and “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” for crowds of hundreds, hungry to get the party started.
Best friend duo Sean Monaghan and Bailey Salisbury started Stud Country in 2021. It was meant to replace a different everyone’s-invited dance party they loved at Oil Can Harry’s — a Studio City gay bar that closed during the pandemic after 50 years in business.
Monaghan grew up in the Bay Area, but line dancing was a fixture of his childhood. So when he got to Oil Can Harry’s, he says he’d found his people.
“It was a gay dive bar, honky tonk basically, which checked several boxes for me. When I walked in the door, I saw all these different people dancing together,” he tells KCRW. “It was so beautiful. It was so loving and everyone was so nice. .… I just felt like I was seen and cared for immediately.”
After Oil Can Harry’s closed, both Monaghan and Salisbury wanted to continue its line-dancing legacy. They first tried holding Zoom dance parties, which Monaghan says was weird. But then they had an idea for an in-person (and socially distanced) shindig.
“We set up this parking lot tailgate party. And we broke into the Fry's Electronics parking lot,” he remembers. “You know how there's that iconic Fry’s building with the flying saucer that’s crashing into the building? … We brought a sound system, and we just had a midday-to-sunset line dancing party and it was so much fun.”
From there, the duo started hosting pop-ups at small bars, dance studios, and wherever else they found a space.
Then, Monaghan says someone recommended Club Bahia, a traditionally Latino club that spins cumbias and salsas on weekends. It opened in 1974.
“One of the Stud Country regulars … took it upon themselves to go on Google and call them. And Michael, the owner, answered and said, ‘Yeah, sure, why not?’”
The Echo Park discotheque has been home to Stud Country since October. But their time there is limited — the property was purchased by a real estate firm last year. There’s no telling when word might come down that they’ve got to close their doors.
Until then, Monaghan and his Stud Country flock are determined to keep the dance party going for as long as possible.
For Oklahoma native Maddy Wager, Stud Country is a breath of fresh air as traditional line dancing spaces aren’t always a safe space for the LGBTQ community..
“There's a part of me that's like, ‘I should know how to line dance at this point.’ This is the culture that's in Oklahoma. But I think I really pushed it away because of the culture,” she says. “It's not super queer-friendly and it can be an intense environment if you’re not a straight person.”
But at Stud Country, Wager says, “I'm listening to the music. I'm hearing the stomps, I'm seeing the steps that I would see in Oklahoma [but] with a very different clientele. And now seeing a bunch of fabulous queer cuties out here doing the same steps, the same music – it's really filling me with joy.”
Amanda Montell sees Stud Country as an act of reclamation. “There's something fun about the irony of this being a type of dance that is owned by communities that aren't always super friendly to queer people. And we're all in our low-slung jeans and belt buckles and cowboy boots, and nobody can tell us to get out.”
For others, like Houston native Jasmine Smith, the line dancing party is a little taste of home.
“It's a nostalgic feeling of just hearing the music doing the line dances. We heard our aunt’s favorite song,” Smith says.
But Stud Country isn’t just for young Angelenos and transplants. It also brings out an older generation that remembers a time when LA wasn’t the liberal bastion of acceptance that it is today.
Anthony Ivancich has spent the better part of his life dancing — folk dancing, polka, waltz, you name it. During the 1980s, he saw line dancing take off. “We were coming out of the disco days,” he recalls. “I was burned out on disco. The AIDS epidemic came along, and here was a new form of dancing that wasn't disco – you could actually touch somebody and do some dancing.”
Today, the 81-year-old loves seeing new generations embrace line dancing and seeing both straight and queer folks come together.
It’s a far cry from what he saw decades ago. “When I was young, there was always a separation. If two men would dance with each other, they would go to a place [and] they were kicked out. There's a certain amount of freedom of choice that is happening [at Stud Country] that I am enjoying.”
He adds, “I've been arrested out of a bar before. Not a pleasant experience. And it's nice to see that society has come around and changed.”