Los Angeles Gay Bar The Abbey Faces an Overdue Reckoning

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.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 566 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. This is wild because I’ve only been to the Abbey once and I drank one (1) drink and then immediately felt so dizzy, disorientated and weak that I had to call my friend to come and pick me up. When I got home I passed out and whacked my head on the bathroom floor.

    I always assumed I’d been drugged but this makes me certain.

  2. I’ve been there once with a small group maybe 10 yrs ago but have heard rumors for years. Some of it taking place right out front. You try to be wary of taking drinks from strangers but more and more I hear it’s bartenders to worry about drugging your drink.

  3. This is an important story. An important piece. A conversation we should never stop having. Women should be heard and believed.

    This being said, was no one else available to write it?

    I’m constantly impressed with how Drew always brings it back to Drew managing to get in that she was at a protest and wasn’t allowed to use a bathroom.

    As if by some small chance it is even comparable or even “worse” than what all of the women this piece was supposed to be about went through.

    Please, please. If you think “hmmm maybe Drew could write this” think again.

    • Being slighty self-absorbed in an article about people getting roofied at a gay bar is not actually worse for the victims than acting like only one gender was victimized or making “subtle” attempts to misgender the writer.

    • If you don’t like Drew’s style or have some gripe, why bother reading the article and taking the time out of your, obviously busy, day to complain about it?

      Save everyone some time and buzz off. There’s more important information included here than the closer.

      Queer ppl need safe space irl and online plain and simple.

      • Lesbian and gay people had safe spaces until you queer people started coming in.

        Why don’t you get over someone having a negative reaction to the writer who has chosen to write for a living and publish it online. As you are allowed to react to this comment they are allowed to react to the article. Oh no, I forgot unless an opinion is the same as the “queer” people it’s wrong.

        Butt hurt generation. You’ve no idea what it was to need a safe space!! We built you safe spaces and you wasted them, abused them and protested them. You want safe spaces from lesbians with opinions built your own.

        • So often I find people with this sort of hair-trigger reaction are projecting their own hurt all over the place.

          You say “Why don’t you get over someone having a negative reaction to the writer who has chosen to write for a living and publish it online. As you are allowed to react to this comment they are allowed to react to the article. Oh no, I forgot unless an opinion is the same as the “queer” people it’s wrong” as you write an upset comment about someone having the gall to…have a different opinion than you.

          “Butt hurt generation” lobbed at people younger than you, yet you immediately follow this with a sentence about how you, yourself, and your generation have been hurt by the young people daring to not conform with you.

          And somehow you end your comment claiming to speak for all lesbians? Chef’s kiss of the kind of self-absorption you often blame the rest of us for…

          It’s not a “safe space” if the only people allowed in it are forced to be exactly the same as you.

          And what does this have to do with the Abbey?! Are you defending that as a “safe sapce”? On this article, about people being drugged and sexually assaulted there? Truly wild.

        • Attacking queer people yet saying you built safe spaces for them…. delusional much.
          You don’t speak for this lesbian. Trans inclusion is not a threat and nothing to do with excluding lesbians. Cis and trans women are so often the victims of sexual abuse. We should be fighting with each other and not against each other.

        • You are pulling this shit in the comments of an article about a sex crime, do you have any fucking shame? It was an imperfectly-written article about a sex crime, but the bathroom thing was obviously brought up to make a point that the management at this bar has a pattern of callousness. You can tell this because Drew brought it up immediately after discussing how the management pretended people weren’t being roofied. There’s an obvious connection there, and a lot of why the article was informal was because it was linking to a more formal report. I have criticisms, but she was definitely acting in good faith.

          You, on the other hand, are talking about how gay and lesbian people are unsafe because of trans and bi people on an article about how over 70 people (with a focus on one bi woman victim and one lesbian victim) had their drinks spiked at a relatively old-school gay bar and the establishment didn’t give a shit because their patrons’ safety wasn’t important to them. The lack of safety in this situation had nothing to do with which kinds of people were allowed into the community, apart from “people who spike drinks” and “people who run a bar in a negligent way”, which doesn’t have anything to do with what type of LGBTQ a person is. Inclusion did not cause this problem. If you want to be somewhere that’s less inclusive, go somewhere that’s less inclusive and bother some like-minded people on their sex crime articles.

          • If a cis woman writer wrote this article with the same line about not being allowed to use the bathroom during a protest I doubt the OP would have cared. Funny how it’s always Drew getting weird hostility in the comments over bullshit. I can’t think of any reasons why she would be targeted.

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