Out and About with Dana Miller

Talking On The Rocks
Dana Miller

I’m happy to see few things of late have churned up the passion of WeHo’s fecund denizens more than cocktail impresario David Cooley’s unveiling of the plans and drawings for his proposed eponymously titled eatery and saloon, Cooley’s.

David is president of The Abbey, the fiercely successful coffee house turned mega-watering hole he opened in 1991 and sold to SBE Entertainment Group in 2006. It is the highest-grossing gay bar in America. That it is a gay bar is debatable, as the joint wallows in multiculturalism most nights. The Abbey is likely the most inclusive establishment in our burg since the star-studded days of Studio One across the street where the fey, famous and hetrosex types all twirled, got bent and ripped together.

Cooley and SBE are seeking permits and approval on a new 13,000-square-foot bar and restaurant at 8936 Santa Monica Boulevard, a few feet away from the Mother Lode. 

Social media has been inundated with scads of gadflies and pundits offering observations of legitimate concerns, and as is the viral way today, there is also a bevy of the banal, silly babble that comes from a few stolid individuals with access to a keyboard.

Solid issues from parking and noise levels to sheer size and retail impact are being intelligently debated. A forthright dialogue is happening.

One astute vocal warrior—and a guy with a very real dog in the hunt—is Alfredo Diaz, the entrepreneur (along with Chris Miller) behind the revived and popular Revolver Video Bar across the way.

Employing the Facebook vernacular, Alfredo is one of my “friends.” His postings on the subject were most interesting and, I thought, salient.

Diaz posted, “I love a good-spirited debate about a controversial project. I haven't been afraid to be public about my criticism of Cooley's opening. This is a bad idea for the area. Perhaps a smaller restaurant and a retail space but we do not need another SBE-owned Abbey mega-club.”

Diaz is a dad and expressed concern over the location’s potential exposure to people using West Hollywood Park. His stern volley is hard to misread: “While I’m a firm believer in the free market system, Mr. Cooley, you already have several mansions and a Rolls Royce. Flex your business acumen in New York, Miami, London or Paris.”

Belying the assumption on which Facebook categorizes our relationship, Alfredo and I are not buds, and while I have known David Cooley for years, we don’t hang out. I do have great admiration for both.

It took great style and business acumen for Alfredo Diaz and company to reinvent Revolver into one of the very best bars in L.A. These innovators figured out the best way to fundamentally respect the past and invent the future to create the quintessential neighborhood pub.

And Cooley’s Abbey journey is a biz plan studied today at university. This former Wells Fargo banker chucked it all and opened his coffee house (before they were so de rigueur) by maxing out his credit cards. David’s business trajectory is both fascinating and highly calculated.

Like other perfect public personas from that strata of premiere biz hosts, the debonair Cooley makes you feel welcome. His presence is always felt, and I’ve always admired how he carries himself while on duty. He wears his fame well. He is a rock star at The Abbey, and that’s no accident.

These are both bright, successful gents operating wildly prosperous competitive businesses. Alfredo Diaz and other sane citizens now have the opportunity to ask their questions, and as is such in democratic enterprise, compromises will likely be made. Cooley will continue to present, answer questions and likely make alterations before the first drink is served.

I’d like to see Cooley’s open and succeed. I also want the community involved in its development. I’d bet on Diaz’s Revolver continuing its streak.

Right now the process has begun, and a lot of smart folks are engaged in dialogue that is thoughtful, rigorous, sometimes biting and productive. All this seems like powerful and positive progress in the way WeHo hums.

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