This was supposed to have been a story about the 40th anniversary of a Garden Grove bar called the Happy Hour. A story about how the Happy Hour—Orange County's oldest gay bar—survived police raids, parking-lot bashings and a dwindling queer presence on Garden Grove Boulevard to become something of a historical landmark, if not to the rest of OC, then certainly for its employees and regular customers.
You would have read quotes right about here from 73-year-old Happy Hour owner Jo Moore, who would have regaled you with stories about the time gay-hating vigilantes tried to burn down her bar. And the times she was arrested during the '70s for permitting in her establishment such heinous acts of lewd conduct as hand-holding and kissing. And the protest marches against the city she helped to organize. And the three years she spent fighting a trumped-up vice charge she ultimately won but still cost her $175,000 in legal fees.
We probably would have popped in on the Happy Hour's birthday celebration, Sept. 19 and 20.
But there was no birthday party because Moore died of respiratory and cardiac problems a scant two weeks before the Happy Hour's anniversary.
And as the Happy Hour's sole owner as well as the holder of its liquor license, her passing meant the bar effectively lost its lease. The building was quickly closed and sold by its property owners, eliminating the jobs of Happy Hour employees practically overnight. The Happy Hour will almost certainly be torn down, and Garden Grove Boulevard—once peppered with such long-gone queer watering holes as Rumour Hazzit, the Tiki Hut, the Mug, the Iron Spur, the Old Bavarian Inn, the Knotty Keg, the Hound's Tooth, the Ranger, the Saddle Club and DOK West, all lured to the area by cheap rents during the 1960s and '70s—will have only one gay bar left.
The day before Moore's funeral, friends, employees and Happy Hour regulars—Jo Moore's extended family—gathered at a Mexican restaurant down the street from the bar to remember her.
"There was a lot of history in that bar," says Donna Koehler, who met her partner at the Happy Hour some 20 years ago. "There were weddings, anniversary parties, all kinds of things. Now nobody has anywhere to go, especially since [Costa Mesa women's bar] the Huntress closed.
"But the Happy Hour wasn't like a bar bar," Koehler adds. "It was more like a family bar, a community center. Every Thursday afternoon, all the old-timers would meet and play cards. If anybody needed anything, people were always there for support. Jo was always raising money for AIDS and other charities."
"Jo was very low-key," says friend Carol Sparks. "She never bragged about the things she did for Orange County's gay community. She never wanted her picture taken for anything. And she took a lot of abuse to keep the Happy Hour open. She'd get beaten up by the cops pretty regularly back when they could get away with it. And when her customers would get arrested for completely made-up stuff—cops used to say we were all having sex on the pool tables!—Jo would bail them out of jail and pay their legal fees."
"She was a real nice lady," says Happy Hour regular Whiskers, a man with a Texas drawl that's as long as his scraggly beard. "I was the only straight guy who ever came into the place, but Jo and everyone accepted me, and I appreciated that. I really enjoyed her company."
Sheila Ballesteros sang and played rhythm guitar for the Secretaries, the Happy Hour's house band for much of the '80s. They were supposed to have reunited for the bar's birthday party.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
"Jo always said we were her favorite band," Ballesteros remembers, "but then she would always be telling us to turn it down! A lot of people were afraid of her—she had this growl in her voice, kind of a rough exterior. Inside, though, she was really soft; once you got to know her, she'd just open up. She was like the ogre at the front of the gate you had to pass through.
"She always provided a safe oasis for us," Ballesteros continues, "a haven where we could be our real selves, to be free without judgment. During the police raids of the 1960s and '70s, it was women like her who paved the way for where we are today. She had seen several generations of gays and lesbians come up, and I know she was looking to retire soon to Solana Beach, but we all told her, 'No! You can't! You're an icon!'"
After the gathering, we drove over to the permanently shuttered Happy Hour. Stacks of bundled free magazines and newspapers sit near the door, meant for Happy Hour patrons who'll never be able to pick them up. A handwritten sign on the door reads, "The bar is closed due to the passing of Jo." Flower baskets and wreathes with BELOVED FRIEND banners draped across them sprinkle the patio. Outside the bar's back entrance, candles—some inserted into beer bottles —have been lovingly left burning in Jo's memory, and melted wax has drained and hardened onto the cracked, 40-year-old asphalt.
A Happy Hour remembrance/appreciation party will be held at The Fire Island Club, 3325 E. Anaheim, Long Beach, (562) 597-0014. Oct. 4, 3-7:30 p.m.