by tony reverditto –
David Cooley, the man who created The Abbey, voted “Best Gay Bar in the World” by Logo, has become a pioneer in the West Hollywood landscape.
Originally from Ohio, Cooley made his way west to Las Vegas, earning a degree in hotel management at the University of Nevada. He took a leap further west upon graduation, moving to Los Angeles in 1981, where he worked in finance as a stockbroker and then a vice president at Wells Fargo Bank. Ten years later, he invested in a small space in West Hollywood, creating a coffee house there and dubbing it The Abbey. Five expansions and many years later, The Abbey Bar & Grill has since grown to 14,000-square feet filled with exciting social experiences and culinary excellence.
His annual Academy Awards viewing parties are epic and have raised nearly $2,000,000 for AIDS Project Los Angeles. Cooley’s generous heart also helped found Gay And Lesbian Elder Housing, as well as the Abbey’s annual “Christmas in September” toy drive for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
He supports dozens of LGBT and community groups annually, including OUTfest, LAGLC, Gay Men.s Chorus, HRC, Pop Luck Club, Raise-A-Child, Trevor Project and GLAAD. Cooley became a member of President Obama’s LGBT Advisory Committee in 2012 and has hosted fundraising events for the President, as well as many other LGBT candidates. The Rage Monthly recently sat down with Cooley to catch up.
Congratulations on the 25th anniversary of The Abbey, it is quite the milestone. What originally inspired you to open it?
It started off as a coffee house across the street where Bossa Nova is now, at a time when there were no corporate coffee houses like Starbucks. While I was a banker, a client I had was doing very well with his finances, so I started watching his business and thought, “I can do this.” I started looking for a new location in WeHo and after three years across the street, I found a little space here.
How do you think the LGBT scene has evolved since you first opened?
Oh gosh, it is so much more progressive from when I first started; the gay bars were behind closed doors or glass blocks. When I opened The Abbey, I wanted it to be outside so everyone could enjoy the climate. When we moved to this site, I definitely wanted to upscale the image and have exposure, so people could be proud of who they are.
The Abbey was voted the “Best Gay Bar in the World,” at one point. How did that feel?
It’s wonderful and rewarding. People often thank me for having a space that they can bring their families to and show them gay life. It may not be what they were thinking and it makes me proud that people love what we have created.
What can you tell us about the The Chapel, which we hear is coming soon?
It will be its own separate night club at first. I have to file paperwork once it’s open in order to merge the two places, so that will take three to four months. It’s going to be a chapel and will have a big steeple, with two great bars, a dance floor with great sound and lighting and a lot of nice areas where you can converse with friends!
I understand that you are in the process of filming the first season of The Abbey on E! Entertainment Channel. How did that come to be?
It has been a busy summer and we just finished eight weeks of filming! The Abbey is the star, I’m just a cast member. I didn’t get to travel this year because we were in production and The Chapel was being built, on top of the daily operations. The network called and asked if they could take a meeting with us and when the E! Network contacts you, you take the call.
This was a whole new territory for me and a new chapter in my life and luckily I am surrounded by the right people, including my publicist, Brian. I asked everyone to give me guidance to make a great TV show. It follows my life at The Abbey on a day-to-day basis and all of the aspirations I have to expand the business. It’s also about the people who work here too, as they pursue their own dreams.
For those who have never been to The Abbey, straight or gay, why should they come in for a visit?
My philosophy from the beginning has been that this is a gay bar, but everyone is welcome. During the day, you can see nannys and their kids eating here. I remember young children eating here years ago and now they are going off to college. It’s a place where we don’t question your sexual orientation, there is no hate, just good people.
You’ve witnessed the evolution of West Hollywood. What has been your favorite memory of this journey so far?
I would have to say seeing this new expansion and being involved in charitable and political events. Also, all of the love and support. Drinking martinis with Elizabeth Taylor is also an outstanding memory. Recently, there was another overwhelming experience for me; I had the owner and her husband from Pulse in Orlando come in. She brought four of the survivors who were working that night and I hosted them. It was the first time they were in a nightclub since the horrific incident and to hear their stories of survival was heart-wrenching.
Beyond The Abbey experience, what is your true passion in life?
Being a workaholic, sometimes I say I just need to slow down a little bit…This is a difficult business, a 24/7 commitment. But, when you come in here and hear people thank you, or when you see the place filled with people having a great time, that is so rewarding. To hear the great music and see our go-go boys and girls and people enjoying delicious drinks, you go…This is pretty cool, I created this!
THE FOOD AND DRINK:
After our interview was completed, my partner and I took in a terrific lunch. He enjoyed a glass of light and refreshing Chardonnay from the thoughtful wine list and I began with one of the signature cocktails prepared by their skilled mixologists, Nat. The Wild Berry Martini with chilled vodka and fresh blueberries and raspberries…Delish.
I would describe the cuisine as casual gourmet, which caters to every palette, day or night and it’s been consistently good over the years I’ve visited. This trip we had the privilege of tasting classics and some new items, as prepared by the new Executive Chef, Gary Jones. This gentlemen is a third generation chef with a long history of culinary excellence, in a career that ranges from San Francisco to Las Vegas.
The menu is packed with a mix of elevated fare with unique takes on traditional sandwiches, burgers, flatbreads and salads, reflecting a wonderful meshing of flavors and textures. We were excited by the first appetizer, delivered by our wonderful server, Gabrielle. A delightful Smoked Salmon Benedict divinely prepared in a sexy presentation, the yolk of over easy egg oozing over the salmon and triangle toast.
Next was a new menu item, the Scallop Crudo Tacos lit up my tastebuds; mango salsa over scallops, with avocado foam and red and orange caviar. It was followed by a popular Abbey staple, the absolutely luscious Rock Shrimp; a generous tempura style portion with spicy sweet aioli and chopped walnuts. We shared the Chicken Pesto With Orecchiette Pasta; pesto cream sauce, shaved Parmesan, burrata cheese, micro basil and a grilled baguette…It was cooked to perfection.
In a nod to their coffee house beginnings, they have a dedicated section for coffee and tea, with a refrigerated showcase filled with sinfully decadent desserts.
Breaking News: Bottega Louie announced recently that it will partner with The Abbey’s David Cooley to open a second location for the restaurant, market and patisserie at 8936 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.
The Abbey is located at 692 North Robertson Boulevard in West Hollywood, for more information, call 310.289.8410 or go to: theabbeyweho.com.