The fight to save the only gay bar in Pasadena

·8 min read
PASADENA, CA - MAY 19, 2021: Owner Steve Terradot is photographed inside The Boulevard, the only gay bar in Pasadena. Customers Mark Lanza and his partner Mark Chou started a go fund me to save the bar. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Steve Terradot is the owner of the Boulevard, a gay bar in Pasadena. The bar has been closed since the March 2020 pandemic shutdown and is struggling to reopen. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Steve Terradot learned how to play pool in the back room at the Boulevard bar in Pasadena in 1981. He spent many nights there, relishing the feelings of safety and community the space provided.

“We used to sneak in the back door," he said, "because in those days you looked around to see who was watching you go into a gay bar."

In the late ’80s, he cared for six months for a friend who had AIDS. He lost 11 close friends to the disease and felt a sense of urgency to do something about it.

“I wanted to work in the gay community,” said Terradot, who moved to Los Angeles from Hacienda Heights in the late 1970s. In his hometown, he felt ashamed and struggled to acknowledge his identity. The move afforded him the opportunity.

“Being able to work with gay people and have a gay family, it meant everything."

In 1985, he started bartending at the Boulevard. In 1999, he bought the bar. “What once was my worst thing in life became my biggest gift," he said.

Over the years the Boulevard became a safe haven for the gay community in the area and an alternative to the West Hollywood bar scene. Business was good. There was karaoke six nights a week. Three nights a week drag queens from all over the state took to the small stage. The disco ball reflected dancing beads of light in celebration of a constant barrage of birthdays and post-work get-togethers.

Mark Lanza and Mark Chou became regulars at the Boulevard a decade ago. Here, unlike the many bars in West Hollywood they had visited, they felt a sense of belonging. The couple joined the panorama of people from Ontario, Temple City, Rosemead and Pasadena, finding common cause with their stool mates, who seemed content to sip beer and moderately priced cocktails in a welcoming environment.

About three years ago, Terradot needed a bartender, and Lanza offered to help. He would finish up the day’s construction projects (Lanza and Chou own a home repair business) and then step behind the bar to cut fruit and prep for the night staff. Terradot taught him how to bartend and the two became good friends.

Three men stand inside a dark, blue-lit bar.
Customers Mark Chou, left, and his partner Mark Lanza, right, flank owner Steve Terradot inside the Boulevard gay bar in Pasadena. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The pandemic upended the Boulevard community and employees. When the space closed for the first time in 40 years after the government-mandated shutdown in March 2020, the bills started to pile up. The bar was not set up to offer to-go cocktails and there was no food for takeout. The immediate future promised only uncertainty.

Terradot did not receive his first unemployment check until June 2020. This year, payments stopped in March, and he hasn't received a check since. Despite daily calls, he has been unable to get anyone from the state Employment Development Department on the phone. He'd been using his unemployment checks to pay the bills and considered taking out a mortgage on his home. The money he received from his single PPP loan in 2020 is long gone.

Lanza suggested launching a fundraiser campaign on the GoFundMe website, but Terradot pushed back.

“It was humbling for me,” he said. “My ethos is you get out, you work and you do things. It was also embarrassing for a guy my age to collect unemployment."

But Lanza and Chou insisted. This, they said, is what GoFundMe is for. On April 1, they launched a fundraiser. The goal was $50,000, enough to cover some of the bills that had accumulated during the shutdown and put the bar in a financially stable position to reopen. Anticipating another possible shutdown, the money also would allow Terradot to buy some kitchen equipment to eventually offer food.

Lanza, Chou, Terradot and a group of regulars shared the fundraiser on their social media accounts and waited for word to spread and for donations. Since it was posted, the GoFundMe page has been shared nearly 1,000 times.

Steve Terradot places rainbow flags in their holders above the front entrance to the Boulevard.
Steve Terradot places rainbow flags in their holders above the front entrance to his Pasadena gay bar, the Boulevard. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

“Some guy donated $5 and it touched me as much as the person who gave $1,000 because I know he probably didn’t have it to give and he did,” Terradot said.

Jeffi Archibald saw a social media post announcing the fundraising effort and quickly shared the page with his own friends. Archibald, a dean at Pasadena City College, has been a regular at the Boulevard since 2003. It’s where he celebrated his 40th birthday and where he and his husband invited guests after their wedding reception.

An avid karaoke singer, Archibald frequented the bar on Thursdays, also known as dress rehearsal Thursdays, when you could practice your songs for a smaller group before performing in front of a Saturday crowd.

“It’s really important that this place be here. It's our local hangout,” he said. “Just seeing and knowing so many bars didn’t survive the pandemic, it was important for me to tell my friends and my community that we can’t lose this bar.”

Teacher John Perreault has been coming to the bar for 20 years, and he even has a drink named after him: The Professor Peach is a combination of peach schnapps, Absolut Peach and raspberry liqueur.

Perreault considers the bar a home away from home. Terradot has relied on him two to three nights a week to inspire other karaoke singers with his renditions of “Daydream Believer,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” and “Just the Way You Are."

“If you’ve got something that is special to you, you really do want to put in your effort to save it,” Perreault said. “A lot of these small bars, particularly in the LGTBQ community, it’s not so crowded that you feel as though you’re lost.”

Two men work on door frames in a dark bar.
Mark Lanza, left, and his partner Mark Chou install new steel doors to the bathrooms inside the Boulevard in Pasadena. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

After two months, the GoFundMe has raised more than $19,000. While they wait to reach the $50,000 goal, Terradot, Lanza and Chou are doing all the physical labor at the bar themselves. For the past eight weeks, they've been at the Boulevard every night, working to build both a front and a back patio. They rewired the entire bar, fixed the plumbing, cleaned up the lighting, ripped out the carpeting, took out the booths to allow for more social distancing, put in drink rails and changed out the air vents. Terradot painted, repaired equipment, laid the flooring and made more trips to Home Depot than he can count.

Anticipating the return of drag performances, they kept the stage area but reduced the size to allow for more space between the singers, the audience and the tables.

Performer Borgia Bloom Façade is looking forward to being back on that stage. Pre-shutdown, Façade hosted a 10 p.m. "Bloom Bloom Room" variety show there every Thursday that included dancers, comedy queens and drag queens.

“We were packing it in,” Façade said. “It’s a very intimate space to see a drag show and to feel comfortable and accepted.”

Shortly after the shutdown, Façade and performer Hummingbird Meadows started hosting a virtual series called the "Bird Bloom Show" out of their bedrooms, hoping to keep their clientele engaged.

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“We were basically twirling around in our bedrooms trying to create backdrops and interesting things,” Façade said. She had to find other work and has since stopped doing the virtual shows.

‘It would mean everything to open,” Façade said. “It’s a part of our income. It employs other performers. It’s the one place where every single person is welcome.”

Even if the GoFundMe is successful, Terradot recognizes it will be a long road before the bar is out of the red again. He'll need the bar at full capacity and won't consider opening before the state's scheduled June 15 reopening date. Pre-pandemic, weekends kept the Boulevard in business. When the bar reopens, Terradot is expecting "a bunch of Wednesday nights," but he remains hopeful, and believes the need to reopen is greater than ever.

"Things have changed for gay bars, and maybe some younger people don't feel that need for them like my generation did, but for a lot of people this is their safe place to come in and not be judged," he said. "To me, that is a gift that we can give."

3199 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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