Feature image by FG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images via Getty Images
This piece contains frequent reference to sexual assault.
I went to The Abbey for the first time in early 2019, a couple months after moving to Los Angeles.
New to the city and looking for queer community — and, let’s be honest, some post-breakup partying — I typed in lesbian bar on Yelp. I followed a mostly empty page advertising “Girl Bar” that ended up just being a defunct offshoot of The Abbey. Already there, I got a drink and did my best to talk to the few queer women amidst the crowd of cis gay men and straight people.
During my first year in LA, this was always the role The Abbey played. Nowhere else to go? Well, fine, let’s go to The Abbey. There are better gay bars on that very block, but with its size, lack of cover charge, and mix of genders — even if many were straight — it was a natural place for desperate queer women with limited options to end up.
But, from the beginning, I’d heard the rumors.
Spoken about with a regretful shrug, like the bar was a predatory actor still winning awards, people passed along warnings about The Abbey. Everyone seemed to know someone who had been drugged.
Open secrets — even ones that reference multiple lawsuits — are only so effective. That’s why it’s both upsetting and a relief to read the recent report on these incidents by Kate Sosin and Steven Blum for The 19th.
“More than 70 people interviewed by The 19th over the course of three years reported going to The Abbey… and experiencing disorientation to varying degrees or losing consciousness,” they write.
The piece goes on to highlight several of these incidents including Yvette Lopez who sued The Abbey in 2013, claiming she was drugged by an employee and then sexually assaulted, and Haely White, an actor and comedian who was sued by The Abbey after posting on Instagram in 2021 about being drugged. (Lopez settled; White is still fighting, “buried in legal fees.”)
It’s notable that most of the women who were drugged at The Abbey are queer. Since many of these incidents took place, bars like The Ruby Fruit and Honey’s have opened, but for years Los Angeles was completely devoid of lesbian bars. There are more dire consequences than boring nights when a lack of spaces exist for queer women and trans people.
This is emphasized by the fact that White was outed by The Abbey when they released a message exchange of White explaining she was on a date with a woman, even though she’s married to a man. “I was framed as a liar,” White said. The truth was her husband knew about the date — they weren’t monogamous even if she wasn’t ready to come out publicly.
Lopez also faced skepticism about her queerness — this time from detectives. She eventually dropped her case, because it was retraumatizing with victim blaming and detectives questioning whether she was, in fact, a lesbian.
Incidents such as these are allowed to continue for so many years, because there is an incentive not to report. Many of the individuals who spoke to the police or even just to management at The Abbey were dismissed or worse. Even White has faced emotional and financial consequences just for posting on Instagram.
In response to one incident when a woman did not report, the piece states: The Abbey said it had no record of this incident and went on to say that “anyone who believes they are a victim of a crime should report it to the police.”
It’s astounding to see this requirement of law enforcement stated by a gay bar. There’s an immense ignorance to queer history and queer present in this demand. I’m not surprised, but I am sick to witness this politic stated so brazenly.
The last time I went to The Abbey, I didn’t go inside. It was June 2020, the day of West Hollywood Pride, and I was at a protest. I asked if I could use their bathroom and was informed only patrons having brunch were allowed to use their facilities. The peak of a pandemic, amidst protests against police brutality, and they wouldn’t let a trans woman take a piss.
I hope this excellent reporting and the brave women who have come forward result in The Abbey experiencing a long overdue reckoning. I also hope there continue to be more spaces available for queer and trans people where we can dance and get drunk and do drugs while also feeling a greater amount of safety and care.
It’s impossible to create a completely safe space, but The Abbey is, at best, complicit and, at worst, entirely responsible for over a decade of harm.