The Eagle Has Landed
The leather & Levi’s gay bar spreads its wings in Palm Springs
By Kevin Perry
Gay bars elicit myriad descriptions: provocative, bold, progressive, enticing, and even a little bit naughty. But according to Eagle 501 owner Scott Murchison, they can also be subversively traditional.
“We lived in our solitude until Stonewall,” Scott recaps, “and our coming-out era was about connecting with other people. And bars were the way to do it. But with the advent of the internet, I’ve noticed that bars are kind of fading all around, particularly in the big cities.”
With a soulful lament, Murchison observes, “We’ve kind of all gone back underground.”
That’s why he made the move to our scintillatingly social hometown. “I found Palm Springs to be open and friendly and inviting and everybody wants to connect.” Scott continues, “There are plenty of people who still want to do the old fashioned thing and go out and meet people.”
Murchison found the perfect place to summon his gregarious brethren (and sistren): the site where Score Bar recently closed up shop. “It was serendipitous that the opportunity came up on Arenas, so I jumped on it immediately.”
Long before any suds would be slung or hunks would be ogled, Scott wanted to deliver his signature southern-fried hospitality to his new desert-fried surroundings. “I went and introduced myself to each of the owners of the other bars… Everyone has been really supportive. I can’t even tell you all the positive feedback I’ve gotten from the other bars, so I thought it just makes sense. The reaction’s been very good.”
Perhaps the reason why Murchison’s fellow Arenas tavern-keepers opted for camaraderie over competition (besides the fact that it’s just an amazingly accepting place) is that he was bringing a new flavor to the Pride potpourri.
“When I was deciding what to do with the bar, what kind of genre to do, I looked at what’s missing on the street. There are several bars that have go-go boys and several bars that have dance floors and there are several just neighborhood bars, but 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.”
Sometimes, market research is as simple as people-watching in your favorite gayborhood. Scott remarks, “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. So I was like, ‘Why don’t we offer this to them?’ That’s how this all evolved.”
It’s a journey that brought Murchison all the way from the Deep South to the depths of decadence. “I used to bartend at a 501 Bar in Memphis Tennessee,” he narrates. “Everybody knows those as Levi bars, y’know just comfortable jeans bars. And then I have an affinity for the leather community myself, and so I wanted something that tied into the leather idea as well. Eagle is one of the most known names, at least in the gay community. If you see an Eagle, you know what it is; it’s a leather bar.”
Hence the name Eagle 501. “People will know it’s a Levi/leather bar.”
Celebrating their grand opening in the height of the alluring summer heat, Scott sweats the small stuff but always thinks big. “I always had it in my mind that I wanted to own a gay bar. I bartended a lot in Memphis and I bartended in Los Angeles at several bars over the course of the years. I always thought bartending was so much fun, it’s a great way to meet people, it’s iconic.”
Surrounded by rawhide and even rawer clientele, Murchison is like a kid in a candy store… or a man in a mandy store, to be more accurate. “Palm Springs is California’s gay resort town. It’s the gay resort for gays and lesbians on the West Coast. So I’ve been coming here for 20 years for various events. I really liked it so I decided that when I was ready to retire, I wanted to move here because it’s a great place.”
Far from the dulcet lure of retirement, Eagle 501 is a bustling den of testosterone and temptation. It is the quintessential safe space when you want to feel a little dangerous. Palm Springs now has a gritty new leather fringe on its already fabulous crown of gay riches, and Scott Murchison is proud to add to the LGBTQ landscape.
“I think this town is vibrant and it’s getting even more vibrant.”
Eagle 501 | 301 E Arenas | 760.327.0753