A new celebration of Venice’s LGBTQ community lights up the beach in all the colors of the rainbow
By Stephanie Case
By day, the late Bill Rosendahl spent eight years representing local communities on the Los Angeles City Council. By night, he’d occasionally stop by the Roosterfish — a vibrant LGBTQ haven on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, then the last gay bar on the Westside.
But as rent prices skyrocketed on the boulevard, forcing many longtime neighborhood spots to close their doors, Rosendahl started to worry.
“Bill was very concerned about the Roosterfish closing — that there would be no place for the LGBTQ community to go,” says Daniel Samakow, co-owner of Danny’s Venice and other local restaurants.
Samakow remembers making Rosendahl a promise: If the Roosterfish buckled under the pressure of gentrification, he’d help keep the local gay community alive.
Then, like a one-two punch, heartbreak hit the neighborhood. On March 30, Rosendahl died after an extended battle with cancer. Less than two months later, the Roosterfish shut down for good after its rent tripled overnight.
The final days at the bar were celebratory, but the void was palpable.
“The closing of the Roosterfish was a big emblem to a lot of people that, well, there goes the old Venice,” Samakow says.
But he and Grant Turck, another bar patron, were set on making sure the neighborhood’s gay culture didn’t slip away.
To fill the void, they’ve created the very first “Venice Pride,” a weekend chockfull of gay-friendly celebrations that they intend to make happen every year.
After the Venice Chamber of Commerce approved their plan in early May, Samakow and Turck teamed up with George Francisco, vice president of the chamber and a member of the Venice Neighborhood Council, to whip the project together in a mere month.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Turck says. While many Angelenos lounged at the beach, Turck spent his Memorial Day Weekend hitting the pavement, handing out hundreds of Venice Pride flyers up and down the boardwalk.
Their work comes to fruition this Friday, when the neighborhood will literally light up with LGBTQ pride.
After the sun sets, L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin (who was Rosendahl’s chief of staff) and a surprise celebrity guest will ignite the plain white letters of the iconic VENICE sign at Windward and Pacific Avenues with a burst of rainbow color.
Underneath the bright glow of the sign, partygoers can munch on “unicorn melts” — multicolored grilled cheese sandwiches from Santa Monica’s Chomp Eatery — and dance to the beats of famed queer club DJ Victor Rodriguez.
Then, on Saturday and Sunday, a massive LGBTQ party floods the beach. Two lifeguard towers by the Venice breakwater, draped in rainbow ribbons, will act as signposts — “our bat signal,” Turck jokes — to draw in revelers looking for a space to be free and to celebrate themselves.
Samakow, for his part, is carrying on the Roosterfish baton, just as he’d promised Rosendahl. Danny’s Venice, will be hosting two gay nights a week — every Wednesday and Friday — even long after Venice Pride 2016 ends.
“The old Venice is not gone. The LGBTQ community is not gone. We’re going to celebrate that diversity and bring it back,” Samakow says.
Friday’s sign lighting and block party will, in part, also honor the memory of Rosendahl, a man who made certain Venice’s queer community wouldn’t fade away.
“When they closed the Roosterfish, the idea of First Friday [food truck gatherings] coming along and all those people not having any place to go. … It was too depressing,” says Samakow. “But out of the ashes of that, this community rises like a phoenix.”
The inaugural Venice Pride celebration kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday, June 3, with a block party along Windward Avenue west of Pacific Avenue. The VENICE sign will be lit at 8:15 p.m. and keep its rainbow hues for the entirety of June in honor of LGBT Pride Month. For more information, visit venicepride.org.