UPDATE: Oil Can Harry’s, the famed Studio City gay bar which closed earlier this year, might soon be designated as a Historic-Cultural Monument.
According to a report in the Daily News, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission made the recommendation to the City Council on Thursday. Oil Can Harry’s opened in 1968 and was one of the oldest gay bars in the San Fernando Valley when it closed in January.
The nomination must still go before the full City Council for approval.
This article originally appeared in QVoiceNews.com, and is shared here as part of a LGBTQ+ community exchange between Q Voice News and Pride Media.
It was April 19, 1986.
For Young, Oil Can Harry’s was more than a gay nightclub. Young says he had never felt so safe in his life.
“I had been running away from things all my life,” says Young, 60, who was born and raised in England. “I was molested, turned to prostitution, grew up in battered women’s shelters. When I walked into Oil Can Harry’s, I lost all that bad energy. The people were amazing. It was a family place. They were my family.”
Oil Can Harry’s had a retro and country Western vibe. It was the longest continually operating LGBTQ club in Los Angeles, and possibly West of the Mississippi.
That first night Young walked through the doors, it was rodeo night at Oil Can Harry’s, and the crowd was country line dancing.
“When I saw country line dancing, I had never seen that before,” Young says. “It was a wonderful acceptance of gay people. I came from England. I was beat up, and called names. Being accepted was wonderful.
“Oil Can Harry’s gave me a sense to be who I was. It gave me a sense of being. It gave me life basically,” Young says. “It served that purpose for many years.”
Young also worked at Oil Can Harry’s more than 34 years, including 25 years as manager. During his first night at the club, Young was offered as job as a bar back, and eventually, worked his way up to manager.
To the patrons who frequented the 52-year-old historic gay watering hole, which was renowned for it’s Friday night country line dancing or Saturday night disco parties, it was more than a bar or a dance club. It was a safe space.
“It was a community. Throughout all these years, that’s where people met their boyfriends, made new friends,” says Rick Dominguez, 56, who was the club’s resident DJ since 1993. “I attended hundreds of weddings of gay couples who met at the club.”
The club’s early days coincided with the dawn of the LGBTQ civil rights movement and sexual revolution. It also was the days of Donna Summer, Thelma Houston, and Gloria Gaynor, whose disco hits caused many fanny bumpers on the dancefloor.
Oil Can Harry’s (courtesy Q Voice News) and its owner Bert Charot (courtesy Jerry Arko)
In Los Angeles and the Valley, people felt freer and safer to frequent gay spaces not located in an out-of-the-way industrial area or down a dark alley and hidden behind a nondescript door.
“During the 1970s and 1980s, it was superstardom with lines of people up the street,” Young says. “People would call asking what was a good time to arrive, and we would say, Get here by 9 p.m. or you won’t get in.”
Instead, here are seven things you didn’t know about Oil Can Harry’s...
Want to know more about Oil Can Harry’s, including the owner who bore a strong resemblance to Sonny Bono along with those famed Hollywood after parties that became the celebrity-studded stuff of legend?