“The rich always have a sort of pilot fish who goes ahead of them... then you have the rich and nothing is ever as it was again.” -- Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
Hemingway's even more prescient than he realized: the relentless white shark of gentrification recently devoured another of its trusty Venice pilot fishes. A Roosterfish, to be precise. If you’re not familiar, Roosterfish is the Abbot Kinney watering hole that’s been catering to the Westside’s gay community since 1979. Us westside straights love the joint, too -- what with its pool table and $4 Rolling Rocks and room full of people who live every night like the world is going to end in flames -- and’ll be damned if they aren’t going to be dressed for it!
Not everyone gives a rat’s ass about Roosterfish, its rich history, and its patrons, though -- their landlord just shoved his boot up the bar’s ass, obviously hoping that it gets taken over by a well-off future tenant, which almost surely will be some sustainably customized cutting-edge specialty boutique that sells Euro-chic gluten-free hand harvested whatsafutsas nobody needs, yet can somehow afford to pay $17 a square foot on top of $600K key money (the one in SoHo, for what it’s worth, is quite nice).
It’s not just Roosterfish
Roosterfish, which will officially shut down in May, is right down the street from where the original Hal’s Bar & Grill used to be. Hal’s closed last year after 30 years of brisk business on Abbot Kinney (though apparently not quite brisk enough). Several shops that were adjacent to Hal’s also went belly up. A store called Vince now occupies one of the spots. I don’t know Vince or where he came from but, man, are his skinny ribbed cardigans and stamped python shoulder bags ever pricey.
And just a stone’s throw away from the soon-to-be ruins of Roosterfish you’ll find Joe’s Restaurant. Or, at least you will until February 14th. That’s when the Michelin-star-rated local favorite’s quarter-century run comes to an end. (Just so we’re clear, I’m talking figurative stone throws here. You throw a real rock on Abbot Kinney and you might hit a Snapchat exec coming out of Scotch & Soda. Those dudes are more lawyered-up than Martin Shkreli and twice as smug.)
Is Silicon Beach to blame?
Indeed, I don’t think it can be a coincidence that tech bros are becoming as ubiquitous in Venice as fixed gear bikes and cranky hippies. Start-ups have invaded the area in recent years, lured by exorbitant rents, craft cocktails, and an obsession with Californication. And the people who work for them have taken to referring to the area as “Silicon Beach.” (Note: thanks to a little known loophole in local ordinances it is perfectly legal to punch anyone who uses that stupid term seriously right in their stupid dick. Unfortunately, it’s also well documented that using that phrase causes your penis to evaporate. How do you like that Catch 22? Thanks a lot, physics!)
The truth is, in 2016 there’s about as good a chance of getting punched on Abbot Kinney (in the dick or anywhere else) as there is of enjoying a $3 mimosa at Feed (which closed last month) or a pitcher of Sangria at Primitivo (shuttered last August) or an affordable cashmere hoodie at Vince (they start at $395). I first moved here 16 years ago, which makes me a short timer by many people’s standards. But back then you had to watch your ass on Abbot Kinney at all times. If you stumbled out of The Brig at 2am, the street was full of possibilities, many of them treacherous -- which is what made hanging out there so appealing. Which is what brought the tech bros. Which is what destroyed the possibilities, treacherous or no.
People who can afford to avoid danger are drawn to it. Until they smother the life out of it, that is. Then they chase it somewhere else to kill it again.
How’d it happen?
Venice throwbacks who’ve managed to hold on amid the gallimaufry of gentrified emptiness spreading across the boulevard endlessly debate the moment when Abbot Kinney went from being the artery that supplied blood (i.e., whiskey) to the country’s most nonconformist beach community. Many point to the April 2012 issue of GQ magazine, which dubbed AK “the coolest block in America.” Locals embraced the honor with enthusiasm normally reserved for being chosen for jury duty. And while the GQ nod no doubt helped raise Abbot Kinney’s profile among certain undesirables (i.e., those who read GQ) the die was cast long before that article came out.
Remember Pinkberry? It opened in 2007. Local rabble-rousers like to crow that they eventually “shut it down,” but the fact is the place endured for almost three years. Nailed it! Eventually!
Louie Ryan owns the Townhouse in Venice along with Hatchet Hall in Culver City. He’s been around a long time and has one word to explain what’s happened to Abbot Kinney. If you said “greed,” you win a 50-cent-off coupon to Vince (tell ‘em Martin Shkreli sent you).
“It’s just marketing,” says Ryan. “There are businesses out there with very deep pockets who view having a shop on that street as strictly brand building. There’s a lot of money to be made right now if you own property on Abbot Kinney.”
Indeed, along with Vince, the AK has seen a string of fashionably low-key high-profile brands open up shop such as Warby Parker, rag & bone, and Junk Food Clothing Co. Most of which took down a long term, beloved resident of the strip. And, just to spell it out so even Trump voters can understand it, THESE PLACES THEY KILLED ARE THE VERY REASON THE NEIGHBORHOOD WAS COOL IN THE FIRST PLACE.
Ryan is suspect as to the long term health of these businesses, saying “it's a very dangerous bubble. Abbot Kinney’s not going anywhere, of course, but the genuinely cool places that made it great in the first place, who knows if anything like that can ever happen again.”
Personally, I could give a bespoke shit about the long term health of this pack of cynical culture-napping vultures. If they start losing money, they shut the stores down, take a minor loss, open up in the next hipster enclave and continue on their merry way exploiting child labor in Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, there is only one Roosterfish. And it’s going to be gone soon. Like breathable air in Porter Ranch and black people at Oscar parties.
Still, if they fuck the neighborhood up to the point where they have to pull up stakes it would be preferable to the way it is now. I actually look forward to the day I can walk down Abbot Kinney again secure in the knowledge that at any moment, a crackhead might come along and whack me upside the head with a tire iron. It’d be a lot less painful than, say, the average brunch tab at Gjelina.
Until that day comes, however, rumor has it it’s pilot fish mating season over in West Adams. Get in while the gettin’s good.
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Dan Dunn’s latest book, American Wino: A Tale of Reds, Whites and One Man’s Blues, will be released on April 5th. Follow Dan on Twitter and Instagram.