Gym Sportsbar, the first gay sports bar to open in West Hollywood nearly 11 years ago, is closing its Santa Monica Boulevard location permanently because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, its owners said in a Facebook video.
“It’s no mystery that this pandemic has been incredibly difficult on small businesses, especially bars and restaurants,” Rick Schmutzler said this week in the video seated next to fellow co-owner Hunter Haliniak. “There is no path forward for us at this location.”
The West Coast edition of the popular bar of the same name in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood opened in West Hollywood in October 2009 and quickly became a favorite of sports fans and members of various LGBTQ leagues. Gym also has a location in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The bar was facing a triple whammy of loss of revenue from the pandemic, an unyielding landlord and the closing of a nearby auditorium that housed WeHo Dodgeball, whose members would then gather at Gym after their games.
After being closed for three months because of the coronavirus lockdowns, bars were allowed to reopen in Los Angeles County in mid-June. However, they were shut down again June 28 for at least three weeks by Gov. Gavin Newsom as coronavirus cases spiked in Los Angeles and surrounding counties. Exceptions were made for bars that served food along with alcohol and had outdoor seating compatible to social distancing.
Gym, which opened its Chelsea location in 2005, was at the vanguard of what became a surge of sports bars opening in gayborhoods across the country. Gym was joined in West Hollywood a few years later by Hi Tops, which is an offshoot of the bar by the same name in San Francisco.
The demise of Gym West Hollywood (at least in its current location) will certainly not be the only bar casualty of the pandemic since bars have been among the last businesses to reopen and the first to be closed again once infections spike. As the New York Times wrote: “Everything you love about your neighborhood bar — the ambience, the crowds, the music, the free-flowing alcohol — makes it the ideal place to catch COVID-19.”
Schmutzler and Halinak received an outpouring of support on Facebook to the video. Some representative comments:
- “Heart breaking... We’ve spent so many nights there after our sport leagues, we love all of you and thank you for so many good years. We’ll miss you very much.”
- “I’m sad that it’s ending, but grateful and happy it existed. Thank you Gym Bar! You will be missed.”
- “I’m so sorry, you guys deserve better than this. I hope you know how much support you have though. You changed a lot of lives and I think I speak for so many of us when I say our friendships and community wouldn’t exist without you. We love you.”
- “Aww. Thank you for being a staple in most of our lives. It’s been an amazing place to come together and celebrate life, Pride, friendships. The location may change but it will always be a part of us. Good luck in the future... we’ll follow to the next location.”
The owners are determined to go out on a high note and will host “Wig Wednesday” today (July 8) from 8-10 p.m. PST in a Zoom virtual happy hour.