Monday, January 22, 2007

Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot Editorial on Woody's Closing

dear friends -- I thought that you would be interested in this thoughtful editorial from Friday's Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot regarding the closing of Woody's at the Beach and gay life in Laguna Beach.

full text below:

we will keep you posted on any further developments.

EDITORIAL:Woody's loss hits home

A lot of anger is being directed at the owner of Woody's restaurant after the revelation that the longtime gay establishment would be turned over to a Mexican restaurant chain on Feb. 3. That's less than two weeks away. The prospective new operator has reportedly indicated to one person that he will "cater to the community" — and, while it may be wishful thinking that the "community" he refers to will be Laguna's gay community, it's a nice thought. Some who are angry want to punish Woody's owner by refusing to patronize other establishments he operates. They are furious that he apparently took no steps to try to find a gay owner to keep the place operating as a gay haven. The soon-to-be-former owner, Joel Herzer, has responded that he didn't want to launch a public search for a new gay owner because he didn't want to alarm his employees and also because he felt it would be a futile effort. Herzer points to the year-long effort by the owner of the Boom Boom Room and Coast Inn to find someone in the gay community to take over that location, to no avail. It would be unrealistic to expect Herzer or any property owner in Laguna Beach not to engage in sound business practices when looking to sell. Property values in Laguna Beach have gone through the roof, and it's very difficult to find someone with deep pockets who wants to serve a relatively small segment of Laguna Beach. The new owner of the Boom Boom Room and Coast Inn reportedly has big plans for the spectacular ocean-view property, and the Boom Boom Room will have to go. Somehow, the sudden demise of cozy little Woody's — remembered by many as "Little Shrimp" — has hit people harder than the long-drawn-out death of the legendary nightspot where Rock Hudson held court. It's as if a safety net for gays in Laguna and beyond has been pulled away. It's a stab in the tender heart of a community that has survived many hard times — including having the highest per capita incidence of AIDS and HIV in the nation. Optimists point out that the climate for gays and lesbians has changed, and, in the New Millennium, gays and straights mix together as never before. The social segregation that many of the older generation grew up with and take for granted has been all but erased by a new generation that doesn't see what the big deal is in being straight or gay. Still, it's very hard to give up a longtime security blanket, and intimate, friendly Woody's was one. When Woody's is no more, and an Avila's El Ranchito restaurant is in its place, we'll see if gays feel comfortable there or not. We doubt you'll see same-sex couples holding hands and openly flirting. The fact is that Laguna Beach is fast losing its status as a sanctuary for the gay community — and that is sad.

New Article on Woody's Closure

dear friends -- thought you would be interested in seeing the story from yesterday's Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot by Cindy Frazier. -- full story below as well --

there is a link at the bottom of the story to send in a letter or comment to the editor of the paper. take a minute and write a few sentences on how you feel about the closure of Woodys and the changes going on in Laguna.

thanks very much.

Modified Jan 11, 2007 - 22:12:08 PST
Woody's sold to Mexican dining chain
Gay establishment turns over to a new owner Feb. 3. Boom Boom Room activist 'optimistic' that gays will be welcome.

By Cindy FrazierReader Feedback - Currently 0 Comments
Woody’s, the restaurant/bar that is popular in the gay community, has been sold and will reopen as Avila’s El Ranchito Mexican restaurant.

Another gay-oriented establishment in Laguna Beach is on the way out. Woody's at the Beach restaurant will close Feb. 3, and reopen as Avila's El Ranchito Mexican restaurant. Avila's is a 40-year-old family-run business that owns 10 restaurants in Orange and Los Angeles counties and features traditional Mexican dining, according to its Web site. Woody's owner Joel Herzer announced the sale last week on his restaurant's Web site. In a letter dated Jan. 3, Herzer wrote:"To Our Guests:"After nearly a decade serving the community we have sold Woody's at the Beach effective in February. "We would like to express our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to everyone who has made these past years what they were. It is never an easy decision to leave a part of your life behind, especially one that has been so integral and affirming as Woody's has been to us. The community has been a family to us and we will miss the day to day experiences that together we shared. "Thank you again for the privilege of becoming part of your lives."The location has long been integral to the gay community in Laguna Beach, which is centered on the two blocks that include Woody's and the legendary Boom Boom Room — which is now in its final year of operation at the site.Woody's has been at the Coast Highway site for about 10 years; previously the location housed Little Shrimp, a bar/restaurant with a noted piano bar, and others preceded it. The vine-covered cottage-style structure has housed gay-oriented establishments for about 50 years." There is so much history in that two-block area," said Fred Karger, a gay activist who launched a high-profile campaign to save the Boom Boom Room.Herzer said the decision to sell Woody's was personal. "It was a lifestyle issue," Herzer said. "I wanted to spend more time with my family and we have two other restaurants in the Palm Springs area." The sudden sale of the restaurant took some by surprise, but Herzer said he had not contemplated attempting to find a gay buyer or operator for the restaurant. "We watched what happened at the Coast Inn and Boom Boom Room, looking for a gay owner, and didn't want to be on the market that long," Herzer said. The Coast Inn and the adjacent Boom Boom Room were up for sale for a year before being purchased by an investor who reportedly plans a major redevelopment. The Boom Boom Room — famed as the hangout of Rock Hudson and other stars — was granted a one-year reprieve by the new owner, who agreed to a lease extension that will end in September. Karger said he is not disheartened by the turnover of Woody's to a family-oriented restaurant chain. "I will miss Woody's, but the new owner has told me 'we cater to the community'," Karger said. "They will be gay-friendly." Karger said he is trying to convince the Avilas to reopen the restaurant with a hip, Tex-Mex theme — like Marix in West Hollywood — that will attract a young crowd and enliven the nightlife scene in the area. "Woody's was very high-priced and that attracts a different type of customer," Karger said.

"The Woody's crowd is in bed by 9:30. A trendy restaurant will be a huge draw, and I've offered to do anything I can do to help. I think it could be a huge success." The Avila family could not be reached for comment. Karger is optimistic that the "gay area" in Laguna Beach will continue to attract gays and lesbians despite the changes. "There is a misconception that there are no gay people left here," Karger said. "We have a tremendous gay population in Orange County. The population has shifted, and many are moving to Aliso Viejo and Laguna Hills, because they are no longer unwelcome. "Karger says that integration of gays and lesbians into the general population has altered the dynamic of the gay scene in Laguna Beach, but has not eliminated it. Herzer said a closing party will take place on the last day the restaurant will be open, Feb. 3.

For more information, call the restaurant at (949) 376-8809.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK - Is Laguna's gay-friendly orientation threatened by the loss of gay-owned businesses? Write us at P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, CA, 92652, e-mail us at or fax us at 494-8979. Please give your name and tell us your home address and phone number for verification purposes only.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Last Call for Woody's

dear friends -- thought that you would be interested in the story below from yesterday's Orange County Register by Restaurant Writer, Nancy Luna. I just heard Wednesday that Woody's at the Beach was sold to the El Ranchito family owned chain of restaurants . The change-over is supposed to happen next month.

I had a long conversation with Michael Avila who will be managing and operating their newest store in Laguna Beach for his family. He was very upbeat and told me that the family's philosophy is to "cater to the community." am hoping to meet with him next week, and have offered to do whatever possible to help make a smooth transition of this historically gay restaurant and bar into his vision of a fun and more moderately priced mexican restaurant and bar. have told Michael about the famous Marix, the Tex-Mex restaurant in West Hollywood. Marix is a 20 year success story which traditionally has a 1 to 2 hour wait for dinner. The wait time is usually occupied by customers consuming pitchers of their delicious margaritas. It is an extremely popular and fun place to go. it could help serve as a model for the new Laguna El Ranchito.

be sure and come to Woody's often until the change over. Joel Herzer and his partners have done an outstanding job of serving wonderful food and drink to the community for 10 years. it has been such a warm and friendly place and a real asset to Laguna Beach. and the Boom Boom Room has lots going on this winter. it has been busy for this time of year and always fun. Laguna is Back, Come Back to Laguna!

wiill keep you posted on this and all else as we are working to "SAVE the BOOM!!! -- Forever!!!

here's the story...

Thursday, January 4, 2007
Woody's in Laguna to close
Owners of the gay seaside bistro sell to Avila's El Ranchito.
The Orange County Register

Woody's at the Beach – a popular upscale gay bar and bistro in South Laguna – will close next month and hand over its keys to Orange County-based Avila's El Ranchito.
Woody's managing partner Joel Herzer said in a statement posted on the restaurant's Website that he has sold the seaside property to the Mexican food chain. The restaurant will be Avila's seventh in Orange County.

"This was a difficult decision to make," Herzer said in the Wednesday memo. "I would like to express our sincere thanks for all the support and patronage we've had from the community".
The Laguna Beach restaurant had earned a reputation as one of the city's most trendy eateries. The 2007 Zagat Survey for Orange County called the gay establishment "a laid-back Laguna local tradition" that served dependable California fare, and the best martinis in town.
On Thursday, Herzer said he is not closing Woody's because of a downturn in business. Instead, he decided to sell the 7,500-square-foot property so he can focus on two other restaurants he operates in Palm Springs.

"It's more of a quality of life issue for me," he said.

Herzer said he put out "feelers" last year that the coastal property was for sale. However, the only serious takers were the Avilas, he said.

He said he's happy to hand the parcel over to a family-run chain.

Herzer, who has been active over the years in promoting Laguna Beach as a gay destination, could not provide an exact date for the restaurant's closure. He expects the property to change hands in February.

The closing comes on the heels of troubles at another gay landmark in Laguna Beach. Last year, news of the impending demise of the Boom Boom Room triggered a battle to keep that gay bar open. In the summer, the bar got a break from its landlord, negotiating a lease extension through September 2007. The bar is inside the 24-room Coast Inn.

In May 1995, Laguna Beach's oldest gay dinner club, Little Shrimp, closed its doors after 31 years.

When longtime Woody's and Boom Boom Room patron Fred Karger heard about the restaurant's closure, he said he contacted the new owners immediately. Karger, a 10-year Laguna resident, founded the Save the Boom organization last year.

"My first concern was would it (Avila's) be a gay establishment," said Karger.
He said a member of the Avila family told him the Mexican eatery will cater to the local community. The Avilas could not be reached for comment Thursday.
In his memo, Herzer said he will "leave a part of his life behind" when he shuts down Woody's next month. "Thank you again for the privilege of becoming part of your lives."

El Ranchito opened its first restaurant in Huntington Park in 1966. Six of its eight restaurants are in Orange County.

Contact the writer: or 714-796-6756