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The Spotlight was one of L.A.’s oldest gay bars. A Hollywood nightlife boom brought it back.

A DJ presiding over a packed dancefloor
Mindchatter DJs at the Spotlight in Hollywood on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024.
(Chiara Alexa / For The Times)
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On Saturday night in Hollywood, the rising electronic musician Mindchatter performed to 1,200 people at a sold-out Fonda Theatre. He wrapped up a bit after 11 p.m., and by midnight he was back onstage at the Spotlight just a few blocks down Hollywood Boulevard.

To judge by the lines outside, much of the Fonda’s crowd followed him back to this brand-new 300-capacity venue, which resurrects the original name of the bar at 1601 N. Cahuenga Ave. The Spotlight was once one of L.A.’s oldest gay bars, a rough-and-ready beacon from the dawn of queer activism until its 2011 closure, a nearly 50-year run.

A few short-lived incarnations and a pandemic-shuttering later, the Spotlight is now part of a growing club music circuit run by Kobi Danan, the proprietor of Sound nightclub just a few blocks away. It’s far from his only new effort in the area — his concert promotion firm Framework recently closed down Hollywood Boulevard for a massive rave with DJs Fisher and Chris Lake that drew 12,000 fans.

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In a neighborhood spilling over with new nightlife investment and some of the buzziest restaurants in the country, the Spotlight is a small-capacity but significant new entry for one of the region’s agenda-setting promoters.

“When I first moved to L.A., in the mornings after my shifts, I’d get a bite to eat and on this corner there were always people dressed all in leather coming out of here. I was like, ‘This is too early in the morning, what the hell’s going on in there?’” Danan laughed. “The Spotlight was an anchor, it had a real place in the neighborhood. We’ve brought it back to that.”

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This incarnation is not an overtly LGBTQ club like its namesake. “Everyone’s welcome,” Danan said, while acknowledging expectations to have at least “a few concepts for beautiful gay nights,” given the club’s history. Spotlight states its aspirations to dance music lore right at the entry. The lobby bar is framed by an altar of portraits depicting dance music legends Larry Levan, Frankie Knuckles and the late EDM superstar Avicii.

There is also a large portrait of Erick Morillo, the house music pioneer who was arrested and charged with sexual assault in 2020. Morillo died of a drug overdose a month later. Asked about Morillo’s inclusion there, Danan declined to comment. Kristen Knight, the DJ who came forward as Morillo’s alleged victim, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Further inside, a modular DJ booth raises and lowers to make room for live bands and jazz groups in front of a tastefully geometric light wall, with a tidy modernist dance floor leading to an outdoor lounge with a retractable roof that can turn the whole venue into a free-flowing summer patio with an attached restaurant. The club has much less LED razzle-dazzle than Sound — more New Orleans Garden District vibes, and it’s much easier to comfortably hang out in.

Female DJ in a blue shirt
Deirdre Coleman DJing at the Spotlight in Hollywood on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024.
(Chiara Alexa / For The Times)
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The Spotlight’s legacy as a deliciously seedy gay bar was news to some of the current young patrons. In the outdoor area, a small crew of millennial gay bears said they had just wandered in off the street, with one admitting “I thought this was going to be a super-straight bar with bottle service.” Upon being told of its jockstrappy history, they decided to stay a little longer to cut some rug and scope out prospects — “I hope they bring some of that old vibe back too,” he said.

The Spotlight is already a contender for awards-season after-parties and underplays for bigger acts like SG Lewis, Dom Dolla, DJ Tennis and the Dare. Future, Addison Rae and Finneas showed up to party on opening nights. Danan, who is Israeli, recently turned the Spotlight over for a private party for a few dozen survivors of last year’s Nova festival massacre in Israel, where Hamas fighters killed hundreds of young Israeli ravers.

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Danan’s firm Framework has been on a major expansion of late. Framework oversees the dance-centric Yuma Tent at Coachella, and last year Danan threw the Afterlife festival at L.A. State Historic Park near Chinatown and Art of the Wild fest in Las Vegas. Opening an even smaller jewel-box venue down the street from Sound is unexpected, but he sees it as a farm-team venue to test emerging acts.

“This is for us to grab artists that we’ve never done before to build them to move to Sound, the Shrine, then a festival,” Danan said. “Festival lineups right now do more underground house and techno. So this club is an incubator, to build artists to go to do these other things.”

Talent agents sound happy to have a new option for non-warehouse gigs.

Two men hugging on the dance floor of a nightclub above a disco ball
Jason Burnam and Cesar Caudillo at the Spotlight in Hollywood on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024.
(Chiara Alexa / For The Times)

“I’m jaded because I’ve been a dance music agent for 20 years, and what we have as far as nightlife in L.A., let’s say I’m not often going out to clubs in Hollywood,” said Alex Becket, a dance music agent at CAA who swung by the Spotlight on Saturday night. “But this place is highly encouraging if you want to actually hang out with your friends and not just go rave. If I’ve got an artist with a show at SoFi Stadium, this is the perfect place for the after-party.”

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The Spotlight arrives at a gangbusters time for Hollywood the neighborhood. Grandmaster Recorders, a DJ-driven venue in a historic former recording studio, opened across the street post-pandemic. Bustling bars and restaurants like Mother Wolf, Jemma, Mars and Ka’Teen have brought Westsiders and global tourists back at fever pitch, as have a spate of new apartment skyscrapers and hotels like the Dream, a sleek and madcap scene of tourists and clubgoers right above the Spotlight.

“I’ve gone up and down on Hollywood because it can get really bad in the streets, but there’s been a lot of new positive energy,” Danan said. “I’ve never seen so much change in just a short period of time. It motivates me to invest and do more things in Hollywood.”

He welcomes any aspiring club competition to try their luck and keep filling out the neighborhood. “Do you remember what used to be like on the Boulevard?” he continued. “There used to be like 50 nightclubs and bars. That was slowly disappearing, and I think that it’s missed. I have enough on my plate, but I think that Hollywood has room for so much more.”

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