Down at The Abbey with Todd Barnes
West Hollywood, California, USA

So you’re good at changing with the times?




We always have been. The great thing about David is that, if he sees something isn’t working, he changes it. And we get great feedback from our regulars. 

There’s a move towards extending the liquor licence to 4 am. Is that something you support?

Yes, definitely, though I understand there’s a for and against. I’m not a night person, but we have some great managers that could take care of it. Early evening is David’s favourite shift. He says, ‘Todd, have you got my station ready?’ I go, ‘yes, it’s all ready’. He loves getting involved, going up to tables and pouring the champagne, making sure everybody is okay; he’s very good at it. Customers love it, too. 

Across the world, gay bars are closing and gay areas are becoming less gay. How do you buck the trend? 

If you’re just a gay bar in an area that’s just a gay area, you’ve probably had it. But it’s not just The Abbey that’s becoming more straight, it’s all of West Hollywood. All the gay bars have more women in them. Bachelorette parties are huge. They come to see the go-go boys, then bring their friends. 

What makes Boystown so special?

I think it’s because it’s been a gayborhood for so long. Boystown is where the boys come to hang out and have fun. I think we have maybe eight or nine bars in just this five-block area and it is such a destination. West Hollywood also has the Sunset Strip, which is more straight and has kept its identity – as has Boystown. A lot of people come here and feel safe.

By ‘here’, do you mean West Hollywood in general?

Yes, West Hollywood in general. The Abbey is the big anchor for the city, but when people come to West Hollywood, they go to all the other places too. When they get in the Lyft, they say ‘let’s go to The Abbey’. It’s synonymous with Boystown. So many Lyft drivers know how to get here, the city actually recognised us recently. We are the first pick-up and drop-off location they’ve designated in the city. 

Have you always kept within this area?

Yes, I used to live right around the corner, on Palm Avenue. Thanks to my job, I’ve been able to buy my vacation home in Palm Springs, where I will eventually retire. It’s the up-and-coming place for gay men to retire. It’s definitely worth checking out. 

So will there be an Abbey in Palm Springs?

If I have any say in it, there will be. I’ve scouted a couple of locations and David is warming to the idea. 

Will you roll out the brand elsewhere?

That was the plan. They were going to open up Abbeys across the country, but it didn’t pan out. David has just partnered in Bottega Louie, the big restaurant that’s going to open around the corner. The first one’s in Downtown LA – it makes $20m a year. So it’s going to be an amazing addition to the area.

Is that typical of how things happen in WeHo?

There’s a lot going on. There’s another bar down on the corner, new beaches and Lisa Vanderpump is opening up nearby. The factory across the street is going to be redeveloped into the Robertson Lane project, a 280-room hotel with shops and nightclubs. It’s going to be huge. Everything is changing. 

Changing in a good or a bad way?

In a good way. West Hollywood is already a huge destination, but it is going to be even more so. The next thing is the factory. Who knows, we might take over the hotel there. That would be great.  

So, you start with a coffee shop, turn into a restaurant, then a bar, then a club…

A hotel’s a long way off. We’ll see what happens. I feel positive. West Hollywood is already a nightlife destination but, with all the other things that are happening, it can be a daytime destination too. Once the park is finished, it’s going to be amazing. The good thing is that David owns The Abbey, so it is his to do with as he wants. There have been people who’ve come along and wanted to buy it, but no way is he ever going to want to sell.

To learn more about The Abbey, visit www.theabbeyweho.com.

Photography by Ryan Forbes/Avablu, Martin Perry and courtesy of The Abbey