The sign went up last week: after 15 years, the owner of The Other Side was selling the business. As one patron says, "it's a landmark the city doesn't even know existed."
The Other Side, on Hyperion in Silverlake, is LA's last gay piano bar. There used to be many, but after June 24, there won't be any. Over 40 years, it was a refuge from homophobia, a last preserve for pro-am show tunes, and just a reasonably quiet neighborhood bar where the bartenders made the world's best well drinks.
Bryan Miller plays piano and encourages shy singers on Wednesday nights. He started playing at The Other Side in 1978, when it was called The Toy Tiger, and has played, on and off, for twenty years in this long, rectangular room, which nowadays is filled mostly with men on "the other side" of 50. Many are in their 70s and 80s and survived police raids and beatings in the 1960s and 1970s, and after that, the AIDS epidemic. Now, he says, "whole community is going to disperse."
Jane Cantillon is just wrapping up production of her documentary, "The Other Side, a Queer History," and now is shooting an ending she wishes she didn't have to. The bar's demise mirrors Silverlake's waning status as a gay community. "The gay population slowly, quietly migrated to the West Side, to unincorporated West Hollywood, where the Sheriff's department wasn't as cruel or harsh," she says. Her film features many men recounting LAPD raids, where a stray look or a hand on the shoulder would be willfully misinterpreted as a lewd and lascivious act by vice cops looking to shut down an undesirable gathering place.
Times have changed and now The Other Side may not be strictly necessary, unless you want a bar where everyone remembers your name, and you can hear them say it.
As one 84-year old (straight) patron put it, "It's like a death in the family."
The Other Side's name doesn't just refer to the average age of the patrons. It's also about gays being on the other side of society, and the fact that it's on the other side of The Flying Leap Cafe, also set to close June 24.
There's one happy update: the Showroom at The French Market in West Hollywood will be hosting many of The Other Side's piano players on the days they used to play at The Other Side.