More than just a nightclub, C. Frenz is an oasis for many in the Valley’s LBGTQIA+ community – Daily Sundial
Beams of neon light refract from the smoky dance floor as reggaeton music fills the room. The musky smell of the fog machine fills your nose as you hear the clang of the pool table in the other room.
Outside, laughter is heard from a group of three friends. The soft glow of a small flame illuminates their features as they light the end of their cigarettes.
C. Frenz Nightclub brings together the local LGBTQIA+ community and creates a hometown — the San Fernando Valley “Cheers” for the rainbow community. Safe spaces for socializing are still a rare commodity for the community.
The three main places to socialize in an LGBTQIA+ environment are resource centers, bars and nightclubs. For the rainbow community of the San Fernando Valley, C. Frenz is the closest nightclub outside of West Hollywood.
There are several queer bars in West Hollywood and only two in the Valley. C. Frenz and Bullet Bar are the two resident gay bars. Bullet leans towards a predominantly male clientele, while C. Frenz caters to people from all walks of life. For CSUN students, a drive to West Hollywood can take over 30 minutes, while C. Frenz is an 11-minute drive.
As the pandemic swept across the country, much of the LGBTQIA+ social scene was removed from the community. C. Frenz closed for more than a year when the state announced the stay-at-home order, as did other non-essential businesses. Without the support of the community, the disco could have collapsed during the closure.
C. Frenz owner Stephen Miele has owned the establishment since 2005. From financially struggling to stay open to horribly vandalized, C. Frenz has suffered many blows during the pandemic.
“As a bar owner for almost 30 years, I have seen and survived a lot. Many obstacles stood in my way: the police raids of the 90s, the AIDS epidemic, government harassment, but we persevered and rose to the occasion,” said Miele. “I am delighted with the progress we have made lately, but I ask the younger generation not to be complacent because what we have gained can also be easily lost.”
Miele said he invested a lot of his money and personal time in running the nightclub, knowing how important it is to the local queer community.
“We were bleeding money – and making none,” Miele said. “I paid the rent for the building from March to September, but eventually ran out of money.”
Along with financial difficulties, the club was vandalized and robbed in November 2020.
“Taking advantage of a closed bar for many months, the thieves used a truck to pull down the fence, back it up to the back door, broke in and went on a rampage. Onto the truck they loaded almost everything what wasn’t nailed down and some that were,” Miele explained.
The culprits stole the club’s inventory of liquor, DJ and sound equipment, other technology including computers and cameras, and the wall-mounted jukebox. Beyond the theft, they also destroyed the darts machine, the pool tables and all they left were the gaping holes in the walls.
“I’ve been robbed before, but I’ve never seen such blatant vandalism,” Miele said. “I thought that was the end.”
It’s not uncommon for LGBTQIA+ venues to receive unwanted visitors, but C. Frenz had yet to see anything as drastic as the events that occurred during the pandemic’s fall season.
“I had a meeting with the C. Frenz team to decide on the future or demise of another gay bar. It was unanimous that we will all work hard to keep the club running,” said said Miele.
With the help of a GoFundMe campaign, a huge fundraiser and a small business loan, C. Frenz continues to provide a safe place for the gay community to gather.
“It was the fantastic and generous LGBT Valley community that came out for us and for whom we will be forever grateful,” Miele said.
Falling under a variety of owners and names since the 1970s, the nightclub might be known to some as Incognito or Bananas. Now, for those looking to enjoy a fun and laid back night out but don’t want others to know where they are, they say they’re going to “C. Frenz” – a clever name for members of the community who may still wish to keep a low profile.
Bartender Matt Reyes has worked at C. Frenz Nightclub for two years and is a community member himself.
“I hadn’t dated publicly, so it was a place where I could connect with others and learn without giving myself away,” Reyes said.
Reyes, like many other queer young people in the community, relies on places like C. Frenz to provide safe places to learn more about themselves and the community — all of which have been removed during the pandemic.
“Without it, there was no place to go where we could comfortably be ourselves,” Reyes said.
Many come to C. Frenz not just for dating. In fact, it’s a place where lasting friendships have been formed. Throughout the busy nights, you see people from all walks of life and of all ages sitting together. Some are there simply to learn how to be comfortable being themselves. This solace is found through conversations over a drink or a cigarette near the painted rainbow fences of the nightclub’s patio.
Two women met at C. Frenz for their first date. AJ, who declined to give his last name, an outgoing biker, walked into the bar and ordered a shot of Patron. She put her black hard hat on the wooden, red-upholstered barstool next to her. Her excitement and nervousness were evident in the quickening pace of her voice and the way she played with her drink in hand as she described the feelings of being back in an LGBTQIA+ community setting. This is her first date after her last relationship which lasted 10 years.
We sat and talked while she waited for her date to arrive. After sitting down and chatting a bit about life as a nearly 50-year-old lesbian, we exchanged contact details. She knew I was writing an article and wanted to stay informed. We joked that if there was a second date, we should schedule a double date for us and our partners. A simple moment illustrates the importance of places like C. Frenz in the LGBTQIA+ community.
AJ’s date Luisa arrived in a bright red hoodie. Her long black hair was partway up, showing off her natural beauty: her almond-brown eyes delicately framed with a hint of mascara, and her dusty pink lips appeared to be covered only by a layer of lipstick. The two ordered drinks and seemed to hit it off over a game of pool.
Before leaving, I went to say goodbye to my new acquaintance. This led to a conversation between the three lesbians at the bar on a Monday night in the midst of a pandemic.
They compared their experience at C. Frenz to their nights out in West Hollywood. Luisa, a regular at C. Frenz, said: “I like this bar because [West Hollywood] is always crowded and here you know everyone is part of the community. Lots of straight couples go to [West Hollywood]. Here you are more likely to meet other people like you.
West Hollywood, despite being a huge LGBTQIA+ hub, lacks the connection-based social life that small queer businesses like C. Frenz naturally provide. The community would always be drawn to bars without dance floors – like C. Frenz – to find others who share an experience.
Melba Martinez is another C. Frenz regular who advocates for Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the LGBTQIA+ community.
“We need to support our local gay bar,” Martinez said. “It lacks space to decompress at the end of the day and feel like you’re not being attacked by the rest of the world.”
During the nightclub’s closure, Martinez hosted a virtual dance party called “Gigalo” to spread the message against fat phobia in the community.
“People were so concerned about weight gain during the pandemic, we needed something fun to remind us of the importance of loving our bodies,” Martinez explained.
Even though the gay nightclub scene seemed to be ending as COVID-19 cases increased, Zoom has become the new party platform.
“They went from business to social,” AJ said.
Having safe spaces like C. Frenz is an important part of queer socialization, as it is an essential part of many people’s journey to self-discovery and acceptance. This year shows that even a pandemic can’t stop the community from celebrating life and dancing together, even if it’s miles apart in the comfort of their own living room.
The house is in the community. With the re-opening of C. Frenz, LGBTQIA+ members of the San Fernando Valley are once again finding themselves in the comfort of their cozy rainbow night spot.