In a part of Los Angeles that has been home to some of hardest to get into bars and clubs like My House, Mood, Drai’s and the Cabana Club, The Spotlight in Hollywood wins the distinction as the city’s ultimate gay dive bar and sets the standard for dive bars across Los Angeles.
What does make a bar a dive bar? Cheap drinks? Unpretentious décor? Characters perched on top of bar stools unlike people you’ve ever met before? Snacks in baskets on the bar? Unusual hours? A pool table, pinball machines and a juke box? Smoking patios that often breed heated and obscure debate and perhaps even the occasional physical altercation? The Spotlight has these and yes kids, even more.
The Spotlight has been open since 1963 and is open every day from 6 AM until 2 AM. That’s right – 6 AM. And you thought you knew where the after party was.
Besides the perfect place to get your pre-going to work cocktail, The Spotlight’s also a great place to take a first date, as it creates a terrific sink or swim situation for the one you’re auditioning. Can your date hang in there for a few cocktails at the Spotlight or are they too freaked out by the appearances of the bar?
Indeed, a lot of people appear to be terrified of The Spotlight, and an inexperienced or even average gay will often shrink at the proposition of going there, and be extremely unlikely to venture inside alone. It takes either an adventurous character or someone who just doesn’t care to ignore the Spotlight’s intimidating reputation. Looking for glamour and cocktails that reflect the latest trends in mixology? Not here, bub. But if you’re open-minded and not afraid of strangers, you might be lucky enough to hear a few unforgettable stories from veterans of the Los Angeles bar scene. It’s as if all of the characters from the stories you read as a kid ended up at a gay, darker, smaller, more extensively mirrored and neon-lit version of Cheers, a bit older and worse for the wear. The crowd’s a definite mixed bag, a few grumps, a few overly touchy feely types, a few who seem like they don’t really speak English, a few lost looking twinks, a few blurring the traditional lines of gender barriers, many amiable regulars and everyone else in between. Though this might not be the place to go if you’re looking to get lucky or dance the night away, this is definitely the place to be if you just want to kick back with a friend – or stranger – over a few cheap cocktails.
Though there is no happy hour, there are drinks specials every day. And interestingly enough, unlike a lot of other dive bars, the Spotlight doesn’t have draft beer; a bottle of Bud Light costs $4. A vodka and soda is $4.75, and for 25 cents more, you can get a well drink with a juice mixer, like a vodka and cranberry juice, or vodka and orange juice.
If you play your cards right, the Spotlight’s the sort of place where someone might buy you a drink. Your luck of scoring a free cocktail might be a bit random – sometime the bar is busy around 6 PM, sometimes the bar goers come in waves later in the evening. On top of that, you and your friends get to play DJ, by sinking a few crisp dollars into a surprisingly current and extensively stocked jukebox. There’s some here from Whitney. Britney, Janet, Gaga, Ciara and Dolly, but the sort of song queue where you might end up waiting several drinks before hearing any of the selections you’ve made. Take a moment to geek out over the fact that you can listen to Jennifer Hudson sing “Spotlight” in an eponymous bar Rock Hudson allegedly used to frequent.
So the next time you’re figuring out where to get a cheap and casual drink, or figuring out where to kill some time in the Cahuenga Corridor, peel back the curtain behind the front door, and step into the Spotlight. It won’t bite…well, maybe it’ll just nibble a little.
The Spotlight – 1601 Cahuenga Blvd (at Selma), Hollywood, 90028, 323-467-2425
A few insider's tips:
A few insider's tips: