Abbot Kinney rents have gotten too high for Michelin-star restaurant and the Westside’s last gay bar

By Joe Piasecki

 Roosterfish opened in 1979 Photo by Isabel Rojas-Williams / Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles

Roosterfish opened in 1979
Photo by Isabel Rojas-Williams / Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles

Abbot Kinney Boulevard may have become too trendy for its own good.

Joe’s Restaurant and Roosterfish — two of the last-remaining independent local businesses that helped to shepherd the boulevard from a patchwork of empty storefronts to an international shopping and dining destination — are shutting down in the face of rising rents.

The Westside’s only gay bar, Roosterfish has been a cultural landmark on Abbot Kinney since 1979. The owners have decided to shut the bar down in May rather than take on a significant rent increase.

“Abbot Kinney is a very fashionable street and rents are going through the roof. Last week we got the offer from our landlord. We weren’t accepting the terms,” said Gary Mick, a member of the trust that owns and operates Roosterfish. He declined to discuss specifics of the offer.

Joe’s Restaurant, a Michelin-star restaurant founded by chef-owner Joseph Miller 24 years ago, will close on Feb. 14.

Miller said changes to Abbot Kinney’s economic and cultural landscape were a major factor in his decision to close Joe’s, which was an early adopter of farm-to-table concepts now seen in neighboring restaurants such as The Tasting Kitchen, Willie Jane and Gjelina.

“We just can’t keep up financially, with the type of cuisine we do and the type of restaurant we are,” Miller said of Joe’s. “White tablecloths just isn’t where it’s at these days. We would need to do a full-on remodel.”

There have been a string of notable departures from Abbot Kinney in recent years, most recently Hal’s Bar & Grill leaving the boulevard after 30 years with plans to reopen in Playa Vista later this year.

Longtime Venice restaurateur Daniel Samakow says change and evolution has been the norm for Venice over the past 110 years, but what’s going on now at along Abbot Kinney Boulevard is something new.

“Abbot Kinney has an odd situation because it’s attracted some companies that I don’t think are suited for the neighborhood — chains that are using the Venice brand to elevate their own brand. Venice, Paris, London, Rome — it gives them cache. It’s an advertising vehicle,” said Samakow, whose restaurants include Danny’s Venice, James’ Beach and the Canal Club.

High-end national retailers pushing out locals is exactly what Venice resident Dawn Hollier had feared eight years ago when she and two friends launched a grassroots campaign to keep chain stores off Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

Hollier, who owns the Venice-based outdoor cleaning service Sparkleyard, said changing attitudes about community identity due to an influx of new residents may also be to blame.

“I think what Venice means and represents has shifted to some extent with new people who are coming to Venice,” she said. “The best way to continue the fight [for local culture] is to shop at locally owned businesses and not chain stores.”

The loss of Roosterfish closes a chapter in Venice’s rich but often forgotten legacy as a haven for the gay community, Samakow said. One by one, he’s seen popular hangouts that embraced the gay community — places such as The Friendship, The Watusi, Bar Sinister, the Pink Elephant and a stretch of gay-friendly nude beach north of Windward Avenue — quietly go away.

“Venice has been the place where all people, including gay people, have come to live free since Abbot Kinney created his ‘people’s paradise’ in 1906,” Samakow said.

Sunny Bak, president of the Venice Art Crawl, said Roosterfish had become a landmark for the Westside’s gay community because it was the last of these designated “safe spaces.”

“To me it’s just depressing that the old guard is so quickly being pushed out,” Bak said of the rising cost of doing business and living in Venice. “The creatives are being forced out, and what they don’t realize is when the creative community leaves Venice, Venice won’t be Venice anymore.”

Samakow is optimistic, however, that Venice’s unique character will preserve.

“This is a free, creative community and we will continue to celebrate that spirit and come up with new ways to do so.”

Mick, who plans to retire after May, said Roosterfish patrons remain in high spirits.

“The energy is not downer, not boo-hooey,” he said. “Everybody’s celebrating the bar, and they’re glad they have three months’ worth of a reason to party.”

Reporters Gary Walker, Christina Campodonico and Will Theisen contributed to this story.