David Cooley celebrates the 30th anniversary of West Hollywood landmark The Abbey Food & Bar
BY MARK ARIEL | PHOTO BY DUSTI CUNNINGHAM
The Abbey Food & Bar in West Hollywood, opened in 1991, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month.
Hailing from Ohio and armed with a degree in Hotel Management from the University of Nevada, David Cooley, The Abbey’s CEO and founder, packed up and moved to Los Angeles in 1981.
Pursuing a new career in finance, Cooley was a stockbroker for two years before becoming a vice president at Wells Fargo Bank. Shortly thereafter in 1991, Cooley set out on his own, and invested in a small, discreet space in West Hollywood that he renovated into a coffeehouse called The Abbey. After thirty years and five expansions The Abbey is more than 14,000 square feet and known as the Best Gay Bar in the World, having won the award twice from Logo.
The bar, restaurant, dance club, event space and more soon became a sort of community center for the gay community, and later the LGBTQ community, where Pride, activist events and fundraisers were spearheaded, as well as dance parties, musical performances, celebrity sightings and reality TV episodes. Memories have been created and forgotten at The Abbey, and Cooley, in an interview with Restaurant Hospitality, says the community that has formed around it has helped it survive the current pandemic.
A significant participant in and contributor to the community that has been loyal to The Abbey, Cooley’s annual Academy Awards viewing party has raised nearly $2,000,000 for AIDS Project Los Angeles. He helped found Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing, which he continues to support every year. David hosts an annual Christmas in September event and toy drive for Children¹s Hospital Los Angeles, which brings in thousands of toys a year for the hospital, when it needs them most.
While The Abbey is a gay venue—everyone is treated with respect. “My policy has always been that all of my guests are VIPs—no matter your background, sexual orientation or color.”
In 2012, Cooley was selected to join President Obama’s LGBT Advisory Committee, hosting several fundraising events for the President. Cooley regularly hosts events and fundraisers for openly Gay and Lesbian Candidates for public office.
Cooley is known for politically charged stunts. He famously banned Bachelorette Parties from The Abbey until marriage was legal in California, created the Chick-for-Gay sandwich, which raised thousands of dollars for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the non-profit group fighting Prop 8 in Federal Court, and banned anti-gay state legislators from The Abbey.
Through The Abbey, Cooley supports dozens of LGBT and community groups annually, including OUTfest, LAGLC, Gay Men¹s Chorus, HRC, Pop Luck Club, Raise-A-Child, Trevor Project, GLAAD and others.
Additionally THE FIGHT holds its monthly issue release parties at The Abbey.
One of the secrets of the establishment’s success, Cooley tells THE FIGHT, is that while The Abbey is a gay venue—everyone is treated with respect. “My policy has always been that all of my guests are VIPs—no matter your background, sexual orientation or color.”
“We’re a big melting pot… a few weeks ago during the course of one evening—I met a group of gentlemen celebrating their friend’s 90th birthday, a straight couple celebrating their 2nd wedding anniversary and a group of young gay boys out just having a good time.
We have been fighting all of our lives to be equal, and that is why everyone is welcome at The Abbey—the trans community, the leather crowd, the lesbian community, as well as our straight allies.”