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Café Gala

8795 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069
1939 1957

Café Gala was opened in 1939 by Baroness Catherine d’ Erlinger, “a titled Englishwoman with bohemian tastes and the case to exercise them.” Like the “pansy clubs,” this club attracted the Hollywood’s smart set regardless of sexuality. Beverly Alber, a singer at the Gala, remembers it as a "marvelous gay supper club where straights came to see the entertainment." Cole Porter, Lena Horne, Christopher Isherwood, and Judy Garland were among its patrons. It was treated no differently than other clubs by the gossip columnists. It survived frequent crackdowns on the Sunset Strip, and was rarely raided.

“Not that it advertised itself as a gay bar or even had an exclusively gay patronage,” says David Hanna, “but a gay bar it essentially was.”

While the Gala’s bar area catered to gay men, a well-enforced dress code and other general rules of decorum were engineered by the Gala's proprietor and resident singer and proprietor Johnny Walsh: everyone had to face front, and physical contact beyond a handshake was verboten. Walsh himself was a homosexual, and the constant companion of Gala’s owner.

Café Gala “epitomizes both the social scene and the status of homosexuals within the industry of immediate post-Code Hollywood. With a veneer of ‘respectability’ – a façade that could not be overly identified as ‘queer’ or ‘deviant’ – both the Gala and the gays within the studio structure could thrive.”

It was the swankiest, gay-upholstered Venetian-themed club on the Coast…a “very chic” bar with a “startling view of the city lights twinkling below” … It has the obvious touch of a décor called “early homosexual.” [While its address was Sunset Blvd, it actually stood one building up on the hill on Horn Ave.]

Jimmy Dolan purchased the Gala in 1948, and Walsh stayed until 1951.