Arenas District, where the fun is!
By Kevin Perry
Leave the drama with your mama, because the daddies are partying on Arenas. This is the epicenter of LGBTQ unity in Palm Springs; it’s the so gay of SoCal; a big gulp of queerness with a small-town-charm chaser.
Arenas Road has managed to bottle our city’s intoxicating blend of relaxed cool and scene-stealing panache. You feel the urgency to explore, but at your own laid-back pace. This inviting atmosphere wasn’t achieved by accident. Rather, it is the product of cooperation as chic and unique as the street itself. The Arenas Business District galvanizes our community’s commitment to strength, style, and serving up a rainbow of smiles.
“In the last six months,” explains Blackbook Bar owner Dean Lavine, “we have formed the Arenas District. All of the owners on Arenas and the buildings surrounding Arenas on Indian [Canyon] are part of this district. We regularly meet. It’s an organization to help promote the Arenas District as kind of like the Castro or Hillcrest of the Coachella Valley.”
As president of the organization, Lavine harvests a cacophony of perspectives into one cohesive brand. “One of the beautiful things about our street is we have diversity of business. People never stay in one place – you’ll go from Chill to Hunters to Blackbook to Streetbar, you’ll go shopping. I sound like the mayor when I talk about it. I’m really excited about it!”
The Business District recently commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots with a street fair that embraced that pivotal event’s defiance, empowerment, and flamboyance.
“We’re becoming this place where people should feel welcome and be able to have a lot of fun.” Imagine: seven gay bars (and various other LGBTQ owned establishments), all on one fabulous block, eschewing cattiness in lieu of coziness. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats, and on Arenas Road, it’s always rainin’ (men)! So how did it become such a beacon of camaraderie?
Just ask founding father Stacy Louis. “We’re all working together I think extremely well. We have people coming to these meetings that I didn’t anticipate would be so open to working together. I love the community - every bar owner, retail owner, restaurant owner on the strip is a nice person. Every one of ‘em!”
Stacy lends his name to the transcendent piano bar he opened on Arenas in 2017; Stacy's. His inviting tone is like a concerto in speech form, welcoming fellow business owners into his orchestra of inclusion like the true LGBTQ pioneer he is. When asked about the queer quotient of the Arenas Business District membership, Louis proudly sings, “It’s really concentrated, all gay. Um, well there’s one straight owned one, I think, I’m not sure about him. Hold on a minute.”
With a hilarious aside, Stacy pauses to gossip with a coworker in the next room. As it turns out, one of the Arenas entrepreneurs might actually be – GASP – hetero! “Yeah, we don’t have any idea about one of ‘em, but he’s very friendly with all of us. It’s great to be able to get along and know all of the owners here.”
Straight-friendly Stacy has since sold the piano bar to new owners, but his love lingers on like the reverberation of a vibrant showtune. The melody even lured a brand spanking new resident to Arenas… emphasis on the spanking. Eagle 501 Bar brings leather & Levi realness to the block, and owner Scott Murchison is happy to sharpen the edges of the district.
“I see folks walking in leather up and down the street, but then they don’t really have a place to go and kinda hang out.” Eager to illuminate the dark side of the Palm Springs gay scene, Murchison continues, “It was serendipitous that the opportunity came up on Arenas, so I jumped on it immediately.”
Despite his naughty proclamations, Scott is nice to a fault, as his Arenas neighbors are now keenly aware. “I went and introduced myself to each of the owners of the other bars,” narrates Murchison. “Everyone has been supportive because all the other owners are feeling like there isn’t really anything to draw the leather community to this street.”
Extending a virtual bear hug to his new neighbors, Scott continues, “There were two businesses here on the street that didn’t really have anything to support them. That’s Rough Trade and Bear Wear, both of which are in the leather and Levi community. They didn’t really have a bar to help anchor and draw people to them.”
The Eagle has swooped in to help serve this furrtastic demographic, and they’re joined by tantalizing tastemakers like Krave and Kulture, Division, the Palm Springs Piercing Company, and Gay Mart. You can navigate this tsunami of tstyle with a rental from Bike Palm Springs, another Proud member of the Arenas Business District.
The evolution of this group is an overnight success that took five decades to manifest. From the closet to the chat rooms to the fractured schisms of our current social climate, it’s often difficult to find your community. But on Arenas Road, community is at the top of the menu.
“We got very lucky, to be honest with you,” admits Dean Lavine. “One: that we found a location where we fit in, and two: that we are on a street, and as we like to call it a district now, that everyone gets along.”
Tying a ribbon on our LGBTQ journey with grace and dignity, Dean simply concludes, “That’s who we are.”