Craig Wirtz still remembers a time when it was hardly accepted to open a bar catering to the LGBTQ community. As the General Manager of The Falcon—a gay bar that opened in Long Beach in 1996—Wirtz remembers how wary people were during its initial days.
“When we first opened up, the cops would come here all the time to check on us,” Wirtz said. “You couldn’t really even touch each other.”
Acceptance of LGBTQ establishments and activities by the community has taken tremendous steps since then, highlighted most recently by the three-day Long Beach Pride event this past weekend. The celebration is a key time of year for many of the owners of gay bars on East Broadway, long recognized as a major hub for the LGBTQ community in Long Beach.
For these bars and similar establishments, the event means huge boosts in business through an influx of traffic. Wirtz said that there are three days of “nonstop traffic” down Broadway during Pride, which is particularly amplified on Sunday, according to Jeff Darling, who owns long standing gay bars Mineshaft and The Brit on East Broadway alongside his wife Rhonda.
“We equate it to about four weeks worth of work in a day,” Darling said of Sunday, the day of the Pride parade.
This sudden increase in business at times exceeds the capacity of bars, so many establishments needed to prepare in advance to host customers over the weekend.
Wirtz set up an area in The Falcon’s parking lot to serve patrons, and Darling brought in outside equipment like large outdoor fans to ensure that the increased volume of people in his establishments were still able to remain comfortable.
“We really try to stock up and prepare so that the customers don’t have to wait long, and they can have the best experience,” Darling said.
It wasn’t just these bars that were given a boost in visitors by the event. Johnnie Magana, who owns adult store Romantix on East Broadway, says the weekend festivities boosted his sales by 40% compared to a normal weekend.
The long-time presence of these bars has inspired a potential designation of a chunk of East Broadway as a LGBTQ cultural district. The current proposal would have the district extend from Alamitos Avenue to Junipero Avenue, which would include The Falcon, The Brit and Mineshaft, along with several other long-time gay bars in Long Beach like Sweetwater Saloon and The Broadway Bar.
Support for the change from businesses in the potential corridor is strong as well. Magana said that it was important to establish this kind of recognition “especially in Long Beach,” and others believe that it was a decision that was a long time coming.
“It’s phenomenal progress,” Wirtz said of the potential cultural district. “These bars have been here for a long time.”
For Darling, establishing an LGBTQ corridor on East Broadway is something that can allow the residents of the community to show how important support of the community is even as the area is shifting.
“As these neighborhoods change, you’ll lose some of that cultural history in every generation,” Darling said.
“I think it’s really important that we maintain this corridor in this cultural district, so that we have a different kind of recognition that these are the issues that matter most to our community.”
Seeing the idea for this district come together is something that excites these bars, but it is not something that they are desperate for. Darling and Wirtz both expressed enthusiasm for its establishment, but said their roles and presence in the community is unquestioned even without such formal recognition.
“We feel we have been here all along,” Darling said. “We’ve already known that.”