"Do you want a big hug or a small hug?" asked Wiley, the doorman at the Silver Fox in Long Beach. I hesitated, no stranger to his back-cracking big hugs—this man could easily double as a chiropractor if he wanted to. For an answer, I looked to the drunk-ish woman standing next to him, smiling and bouncing with rosy-cheeked glee. She sputtered, "Come onnnn! You knowwww you want a big one!" I didn't want to let the doll down, so a big hug it was. Elated, Wiley embraced me in a giant bear hug, lifted me off the ground, and bent backward. I laughed and kicked my feet in the air and felt like I was five years old again. After putting me down, he patted me on the shoulder, told me to drive safely, and sent me and my friends home with smiles on our faces. Everyone gets a hug from Wiley, and everyone becomes a bouncing, giddy child afterward. It's like magic.
Earlier in the week, I'd received an invitation to the Silver Fox's grand reopening gala. Given that the Fox was the first gay bar I ever went to, with Hudson, my first gay friend, I called him to see if he had plans for the evening. He did, in fact—he'd been invited to the Fox as well. Smashing! And so we arrived at the bar last Thursday, he in a tie and me decked out in black pants and a tight red tube dress that I fit into perfectly—in high school. There were limos parked in front and a half-dozen men in tuxedos standing outside.
Hold on: Limos? And tuxedos? At the Fox?
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Was this really the same place where I had spent countless Sunday nights listening as Hudson sang karaoke to Shawn Colvin's "Get Out of This House," where I'd choked on my first Chambord margarita? The same unpretentious, unassuming, universal watering hole that welcomes everyone who walks through its doors? Yes, it was. But after undergoing extensive remodeling, it no longer looked like it. Instead, with its Art Deco pillars and ever-changing multicolored lights looming over Redondo Avenue, the bar reigned supreme over the otherwise drab storefronts. The redesign, conceptualized by bar owner John Schinnerer after a trip to the World's Fair as a young boy, was planned by designer Joseph Musil, the same man responsible for the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles.
Inside, the general structure had been left intact, with the walls repainted a brilliant red and lined with framed Deco prints. There was free wine for all—now that I know what wine is supposed to taste like, I may have to scale back on the Chuck and save up for the good stuff—and amazing appetizers—mango chutney chicken! Grapes covered in bleu cheese and rolled in crushed walnuts, courtesy of the bar's manager, John Barnes. After a few glasses of wine and more than my fair share of appetizers, I told him he should go into catering. Just for me. After a few martinis, he agreed.
As my friends and I sat around the table, sharing stories and singing along to Ron Valentine's surprisingly great live jazz standards, I realized the Silver Fox was—as everyone who spoke that night attested to—really very unique. With its new makeover, it finally looked as we had always known it to be: charming, a bit magical and always impressive.
This week, hit up Chain Reactionon Thursday as they present the wispy musings of Kind of Like Spitting. Then on Friday, make friendly with the folks at Atlanta during Club Candy, a new hip-hop night featuring Eric Cubiche from 100.3 the Beat. After you wake up the following morning, relax for a while before joining me at the Town Center park in Costa Mesa for KCRW's Next Up, a free concert showcasing the unsigned and up-and-coming bands Bedroom Walls and the 88. Colours In Spin, a gorgeous night of mellow lights and shoegazer rock—the only way you should spend a lazy night, really—returns to Que Sera on Sunday, a melodic pause before welcoming the Players Club to Detroit as they begin their October residency on Monday. New '80s clubs are popping up—and then disappearing—every few weeks, it seems, so be sure to catch Club Rad '80s at Sing-Sing on Tuesday before it checks out for good. Lastly, on Wednesday, get a bear hug from Wiley at the Silver Fox as they continue their fabulous karaoke tradition. And when he asks, trust me: go with the big one.