Every year, the Nightclub & Bar association recognizes the top people and venues that are driving the nightlife industry to the next level. NightPro is proud to congratulate these leaders as part of our Behind the Velvet Rope: Nightclub & Bar Awards 2017 series. Next up is The Abbey, LGBTQ venue of the year. We spoke with David Cooley, owner of The Abbey to hear about his story & what makes his business so successful.
David Cooley | The Abbey, Los Angeles
2017 LGBTQ Venue of the Year
Hometown: Los Angeles, LA
What to Know: Originally from Ohio, Cooley made his way to LA after receiving a degree in Hotel Management from UNLV. From there he pursued a career in finance but In 1991, Cooley and invested in a small space in West Hollywood that became The Abbey, and after 25 years and 5 expansions, The Abbey is now known as the Best Gay Bar in the World.
I would be halfway around the world and mention to someone that I lived in Los Angeles and they would ask, “Have you been to The Abbey?” I couldn’t believe people knew who we were.
While all of this was happening, Gay Marriage came to the forefront of our nation’s political consciousness. Not that long ago, we saw President Barack Obama elected for his first term at the same time Prop 8 passed, banning gay marriage. We were happy and devastated at the same time. We saw more groups step forward, like The American Foundation for Equal Rights and Freedom to Marry. Through their leadership and your support, we saw a Supreme Court Ruling granting the freedom to marry nationwide.
Along that journey, people would go to The Abbey when there was news. When we were happy, angry, defeated or triumphant, we commiserated and celebrated at The Abbey, together. I was always proud that I could be part of the community in those moments and that we had a place like The Abbey where we could be ourselves and share our experiences with our friends.
Today, we are reminded that we have even more work to do. The Abbey will be there for the next 25 years to support our community as we continue to fight for our rights.
We are one of the busiest nightclubs in Los Angeles and yet everybody feels like a regular.
What tech trends do you see happening in the nightlife space that you think will change the way our industry works?
Technology is only as good as the people who use it. Some of our customers like to book tables online while some of customers like to make reservations in person. No matter what technology we use, we can never forget that humans are on the other end of it. The more we can make a person feel welcomed, the better time they will have.
Nobody ever leaves The Abbey! We opened The Chapel in October and it was the most hiring we’ve had to do in a long time. I have some employees who have been with me over 25 years. What make it a great place to work is the people. Our managers, our hosts, our servers, everyone is hired because they understand hospitality. We are a family and take care of each other and our guests.
Let’s talk drinks. What cocktails are the most popular on your menu?
Our 3 most popular cocktails are: The Wild Berry Martini with Absolut Acai Berry, The Abbey Original Mojito with Bacardi Limon and The Abbey’s Masc Mule with Stoli Vodka.
LA is a hot spot for film, culture and music. Which local events or holidays are you most excited for this year?
Gay Pride and Halloween are two of our biggest holidays at The Abbey but we do so many fun events. We are probably most excited for our new reality show on E!, which will start airing this summer. It profiles the people who work at The Abbey and everything that goes on behind the scenes.
What's your favorite event that The Abbey hosts?
We host an annual toy drive for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles called Christmas in September. The event has been happening for over 10 years and started because I was having a conversation with a patron at the bar. He worked with CHLA and he said that in September their toy inventory is at their lowest point of the year. People give toys during the holidays but by September they would run out of toys for the children at the hospital. I started Christmas in September as a way to fill the toy chest at CHLA when they needed it most.
It has grown over the year and now it brings in thousands of toys for children in need every year. We transform The Abbey into a winter wonderland in September, when it’s still 80 degrees outside in Los Angeles. It snows on the red carpet and everybody has a great time.
What’s a secret or fun fact about The Abbey that you can share?
We were Elizabeth Taylor’s favorite pub. She would come in often and became a great friend.
So, The Abbey has officially been hailed LGBTQ venue of the year by Nightclub & Bar. How do you plan to celebrate?
I am looking forward to the show in Vegas. I came out last year with several of my managers and because of that trip, we upgraded our lighting and sound systems as well as met a few new spirit brands that we now carry. Hopefully, this year’s show will be just as a exciting.