Drag queen Courtney Act performs on top of the bar at Revolver in West Hollywood. (Wally Skalij, Los Angeles…)
After being closed for nearly a decade, the well-loved gay video bar, Revolver, which originally debuted in the early '80s, has reopened under new management in West Hollywood. Times have changed, though, and the revolving entrance door and the expansive front windows are no longer blacked out. And with new transparency comes a new sensibility for the bar.
What was once dark and divey is now clean, bright and fresh, as is the roster of talented performers that Revolver's new owner, Alfredo Diaz, has been quietly amassing since the bar opened. Most notably Jai Rodriguez of the TV show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," who hosts Twisted Cabaret on the first and third Wednesdays of each month; and a stunning blond drag queen/comedian named Courtney Act, who was a finalist on "Australian Idol" and, having moved to L.A. three months ago, is already doing one-woman shows at the Comedy Store.
Act also hosts Monday-night karaoke at Revolver. During a recent performance she wore a tiny gold dress, impossibly high heels and a chunky belt and affected a wide-eyed Anna Faris vibe that commanded the room's attention.
"They're straight girls, they just wandered in off the street. They don't know what's going on," she said to two women who arrived in the bar, which was mostly populated with dapper gay men. "They're like, 'Look at her, she's got Mommy's features but Daddy's fixtures.'"
After singing a rousing duet of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" with a man in leather pants about a foot shorter than her, she explained her performance philosophy: "It's all about having a good time, and if I am, everybody else is." Then she added, "You can tell a lot about a gay bar — or any bar — by its toilets, and this bar has wonderful toilets."
But it's not just the bathrooms that are pleasant, says Randy Godin, a lawyer who lives in the neighborhood and has been several times since the bar opened in late October. "It's clean and crisp here, which is consistent with the style of crowd you see — it's 30- to 40-year-olds who are sophisticated and respectful, not trendy and over-the-top, which is a bit of a relief for this area."
The idea is to be an unpretentious neighborhood bar, agrees bartender Abe Shouse, after hypnotizing the crowd by singing "Purple Rain" with his shirt off. "We're trying to reconnect with its history and place in the community," says Shouse. "We want to bring that nostalgia, that feeling of camaraderie and ease. It's a home, not a place to come and be judged."
Part of celebrating Revolver's history is to return to the video bar concept. Godin says that video bars were important before the Internet because, at the time, the only place gays could really meet was in bars and it could get uncomfortable for those who came alone if there wasn't some form of entertainment. Hence music videos, which in turn proved to be great conversation starters.
Diaz remembers going to Revolver in its first incarnation and says that he has acquired the entire video library of the original bar. The only hitch is that it's going to take "months and years to transfer all the VHS to digital."
And the new Revolver is all digital, with flat-screen TVs and a state-of-the-art sound system. In fact, the whole bar can be run by an iPhone, says Diaz who grew up in Detroit and used to sneak into gay bars when he was 16.
"Ever since then I've wanted to own a gay bar," he says. "And now with Revolver we want to bring back a campy, fun gay bar where everyone is welcome and they get exposed to gay Americana."
The bar is indeed welcoming. The main room is long and rectangular, with high ceilings, a broad bar, slick-white counters, communal center tables and exposed brick walls. There is also a lovely street-facing patio.
Revolver doesn't serve food, but soon it will start hosting what Diaz calls "liquid brunch." There will be specials on mimosas and Bloody Marys and gourmet food trucks will park out front. Plus there will be no shortage of TV shows from the '80s and '90s.
Just take it slow, because well drinks are $7 and stiff, and you won't want to get wrecked on the weekend and miss karaoke with Act on Monday.