“What Happens at The Abbey”

New reality show offers a glimpse inside the best gay bar in the world

By Nikole Tower, June 2017 Issue.

In the very same month that West Hollywood’s most iconic gay bar celebrates its 26th anniversary E! is premiering “What Happens at The Abbey,” a new reality show that gives viewers from around the world a glimpse into the business, the community and the lives of the employees who bridge the gap between the two.

Just ahead of the first of the seven-episode season, which aired May 14, Echo caught up with David Cooley (pictured), owner of the establishment and executive producer of “What Happens at The Abbey,” to find out more about the new reality show.

Echo: Can you explain how The Abbey came to be the institution that it is today?

Cooley: The Abbey started in 1991. We’re celebrating 26 years this May. It started off as a small coffeehouse … and in the past 26 years it’s grown to what it is today … [The Abbey] is a restaurant, a bar and a nightclub. It’s a gay club where everyone is welcome and it has become a city landmark. It’s become a place where people know they can come and have a good meal, a good drink and a good time.

Echo: Bars don’t typically last this long in LA because of the constant competition. How has the bar survived while so many others have closed?

Cooley: I think my policy from day one: We’re a place, I’m going to repeat myself, where everyone is welcome. Years ago, when you were going out to gay bars … If you were a lesbian, you would go to this bar or if you were into hot muscle boys then you would go to that bar. So, they all have that certain clientele that they cater to. Everyone learns at The Abbey, if you go in there you’ll see a mix of everybody. Everyone’s having a good time. My philosophy is still that. I also put together an amazing staff who also plays a part in our longevity.

Echo: Why is it important to have a show about a successful gay bar in LA?

Cooley: The Abbey has become a very recognizable brand. It’s a great opportunity for people to see what The Abbey [is all about] if they have never been. They can see the excitement, the DJs, the dancers, the music and the storylines.

Echo: The Abbey evolves throughout the day – lunch crowd, dinner crowd, happy hour and nightlife. Will the show feature all sides of the venue life?

Cooley: The show on The Abbey is about The Abbey itself. It focuses on my staff and we’re in Hollywood, it’s a place where people go to chase their dreams and make something of their life. It does focus on my employees and their lives and, of course, there’s some drama. Straight or gay, there are storylines for everyone to follow. We also filmed in two other cities during little trips. You’ll see all of that.

Echo: Does the show paint an accurate picture of what it’s like to work there?

Cooley: Yeah, I think so. Looking at The Abbey, you see the stress of the business, but then you have the relationships that are built, the opportunities that are available with clientele coming in. The Abbey has a lot of celebrities coming in because we are in Hollywood. It’s so great, because it is such a great introduction and it can lead to so many other possibilities. There are some good storylines to be told.

Echo: What was your favorite part about the show in general, filming it, getting it together?

Cooley: [Getting] the opportunity to film a show with E! … I had the best people around me. I had a good circle of people around me that would offer me guidance and direction. I really enjoyed it. [They] worked really well with me and have avoided being disruptive toward the business. At the end of the day, I think we’ve got a great show.

“What Happens at The Abbey” premiered May 14 on E! For more information, visit eonline.com/shows/what_happens_at_the_abbey.