Iconic LA Gay Bar Oil Can Harry's Shutters After Half a Century

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday January 6, 2021

Iconic LA Gay Bar Oil Can Harry's Shutters After Half a Century
  (Source:Screencap/Oil Can Harry's/ YouTube)

Iconic gay bar Oil Can Harry's, located in the Los Angeles neighborhood Studio City, has shuttered after more than half a century in business, reports local CBS affiliate KCAL 9.

Oil Can Harry's was a country-western themed bar, but its line dancing and live performances from country western artists like Ty Herndon are now giving way to a different aesthetic as the space - which has been sold to a new owner - will become a jazz bar.

A message from the owner John Fagan at the bar's website broke the news that the venue had been sold by landlord Monte Overstreet.

"2021 has not brought great news to OIL CAN HARRY'S," the message, dated Jan. 4, read. "The property sold in December.... It was purchased on December 9th by a new buyer, who wants to have their own venue with jazz music."

"So, at this time I have to vacate the property—nothing bad or ugly, just something I have to do," the notice continued. "I fought hard to keep it, but just had to give up...

"Thank you all for this beautiful gift that we shared for 52 years."

News of the sale had initially been announced in November, but the owners had hoped to keep the business going.

An interview with bartender and manager Tommy Young, posted when the bar hit the 50-year mark, recalled what it was like for LGBTQ establishments and their clientele when the bar was newly opened. Back then, Tommy reminisced, a lookout relied on "a spy hole in the door where patrons would be looked at before entering."

Recalling that it was once illegal for couples of the same sex to dance together, Tommy said recounted how the bar would use a siren to signal a police raid. When the siren went off, he said, "The couples would just switch partners from man to man, or woman to woman, to woman to man, and woman to man."

"Oil Can Harry's has been featured in movies like "Happy Texas" and has hosted parties for celebrities like Lady Gaga," recalled KCAL 9.

Gay establishments around Los Angeles have been hard hit by the COVID-19 epidemic, as have LGBTQ establishments elsewhere in the country. In West Hollywood alone, at least five gay bars have shuttered in the past few months, including Latinx bar Club Cobra, which went out of business in May; Gym Sportsbar, which turned out the lights in July; Flaming Saddles, which closed in August; and Rage and Gold Coast Bar, both of which closed for good in September. The last three all shared the same landlord as Oil Can Harry's, Monte Overstreet, and had been unable to complete deals to continue on in their spaces.

Akbar, located in Silverlake, turned to GoFundMe last month in a bid to raise funds that would allow them to avoid closing. In San Francisco, another iconic gay nightspot, Twin Peaks, has also sought community help with a GoFundMe campaign.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.