The stars of E!'s new reality series, What Happens At The Abbey, work at a watering hole known as the "World's Most Famous Gay Bar." The trailers promote it as a high-status club with a constant stream of celebrites walking through the door. After watching the May 14 premiere, discerning drinkers and stargazers might want to know more about historic Los Angeles LGBT bar The Abbey.
The Abbey has been a strong presence in West Hollywood for 25 years prior to the series premiere. Its owner David Cooley opened the Abbey originally as a coffeehouse. Nicknamed the "Gay Cheers" by The Hollywood Reporter, the purpose of The Abbey was to provide a welcoming safe space for gay patrons in the early 1990s. In its early years, simplicity was necessary to its financial survival. As the local legend goes, Cooley had some stained glass windows at his disposal, so he used them to decorate the building, hence naming it The Abbey.
In an interview with the Discover Los Angeles blog, Cooley said he had two goals: "I really wanted to cater to the gay community. I knew I wanted it to be outside." Between its humble beginnings as a coffeehouse to being a reality series subject, The Abbey has expanded five times and now features a bar with a full menu and themed nights for its patrons.
What Happens At The Abbey will follow the bar's employees as they navigate their work and personal relationships in front of the cameras. Judging by the trailer, the show is aiming for lots of drama set against the backdrop of a famous Los Angeles institution.
According to the same Discover Los Angeles blog history of the bar, outside the series, owner David Cooley plays an important role in the L.A. LGBT community. His annual Academy Awards viewing party benefits AIDS Project Los Angeles and he voiced his political support for gay marriage by banning bachelorette parties at The Abbey until gay marriage was legalized. He sold The Abbey in 2007 to SBE Nightlife Group, which did not sit well with patrons, as some believed The Abbey would become too commercial. Cooley bought back The Abbey in 2015 and expanded the bar to include The Chapel, which is an extension similar to The Abbey in appearance, minus the extensive food menu.
Time Out Los Angeles proclaimed The Abbey the "granddaddy of gay bars in Los Angeles." And it also boasts a celebrity clientele. This, coupled with Cooley's mission statement to make everyone welcome, is a big factor of The Abbey's decades of success in the Los Angeles scene.
Elizabeth Taylor, a dear friend to David Cooley, was known to visit The Abbey at least once a week. According to The New York Times, when she died, the "Elizabeth Taylor Room" at The Abbey mourned her loss. Another frequent presence is Lady Gaga whether it is in person or via her 2016 Super Bowl Halftime performance.
Even with celebrities in the next booth, Cooley wishes to treat every patron as a VIP. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Cooley said, "Anyone who walks through my gate is a VIP. Everyone is gonna be treated the same. I think that's really part of my success." With the premiere of What Happens At The Abby, Cooley's list of VIPs may grow exponentially.
WHATA has the makings of addictive reality TV, but viewers may be left wondering if the show will contributes in any way to The Abbey's already important presence in LA's LGBT community.