Nomi Moore sweeps into the room. She flawlessly mouths the lyrics to MNDR’s “Feed Me Diamonds” as she glides past the bar and offers sultry gazes to anyone who catches her eye. She pauses just long enough for captivated viewers to offer up dollar bills for tips. Nomi is one of four divas—each with her own unique performance—at Main Street Bar & Cabaret’s “Between Us Girls” drag show on this Wednesday evening. Mahaliah Nikita gets the audience singing with “I’m Every Woman,” Keeysha Bottoms tempts with a burlesque-style dance, and Sha’day Halston St. James goes theatrical with a dramatic musical number.
Host Ms. Mae Loda-Bride takes the stage to explain the rules: tipping, drinking (“I’m prettier when you’re drunk”) and energy. Her effortless humor hits nearly every category. It’s raunchy, anecdotal and punctuated with plenty of well-timed F-bombs. At moments, you’re certain it’s the audience entertaining Ms. Mae, rather than the reverse.
Main Street Bar & Cabaret may occupy the space of predecessors Club Bounce and Main Street, but make no mistake: As of this past February, the bar is a revamped destination. While Club Bounce earned a reputation as a dive bar toward the end of its run, new manager Craig Cooley says the establishment has revived its cabaret roots. He calls it “Main Street 2.0.”
Ms. Mae Loda-Bride
The Cabaret Divas show on Wednesday is just one of many new entertainment offerings, as the South Coast Highway spot has at least one event running nearly every day. A karaoke competition for bar cash takes place on Tuesday; bingo is the opening act for the queens on Wednesday; dance music pumps through the venue on Thursday through the weekend; and Tony Tanner plays piano on Friday. Happy hour is offered daily from 4-8 p.m., with $5 drink specials. (Try the cosmopolitan; bartender Michael Witkowski’s version packs a punch.)
The physical space has been altered, too. The floors, lighting and sound system have all seen upgrades, a stage was added and the windows were uncovered—both literally and symbolically. “Being gay was meant to be invisible on so many levels,” Craig says of the 1970s. “Laguna Beach became kind of a treat in that era, where you could go and be a little more open, but at the same time you went through back doors.”
As the driving force behind the changes, Craig wants the upgrades to reflect how gay culture has evolved. While Laguna used to be known as a haven for the LGBT community, with a number of dedicated businesses such as Boom Boom Room, Little Shrimp and Woody’s, these days Main Street is the only bar in town still flying a rainbow flag. Craig aspires to revitalize the local scene while taking into account the modern environment.
“What I want to do is have gay be a component of the community and bring the gay element back,” he says, noting that the social aspect of the Internet and changes in public opinion impacted the local scene dramatically. “With gay marriage, the more acceptance of gays in the straight community is profound. … So on the other side of that is gays are in the position to welcome the straight and reciprocate.”
To that end, he includes both groups in Main Street’s target demographic, aiming for it to be a welcoming, inclusive and fun environment for all.
“There’s a change in the crowd,” says Michael, an employee since the days of original Main Street. “… On Wednesday nights [in particular] there’s a wide variety of people.” He adds that while the bar has always seen “anywhere from 21- to 90-year-old” patrons, lately he’s noticed bigger and more diverse crowds.
Craig expects the bar to take off throughout summer. Main Street was selected to host the grand finale of OC Pride Week, a celebration of the local LGBT community running July 27 to Aug. 2. This is the first time Orange County has dedicated a week to the cause; in previous years, the OC Pride festival lasted just one day. Following a party at Laguna’s gay beach, West Street, revelers will head to Main Street to conclude the festivities.
It’s the first major indicator that Main Street is officially back on the map, and Craig hopes it’s only the beginning. “I want to make Laguna Beach a gay destination again and [offer] a gay component that attracts the local people that are here,” he says. “I would love to re-establish the gay brand, so to speak, in Laguna for San Diego, Long Beach, LA and Palm Springs.”
— By Katherine Duncan | Photos by Dondee Quincena for Laguna Beach Magazine