Terry Larson performs on stage at the new One Eleven Bar, formerly Studio One Eleven, in Cathedral City.
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY ONE ELEVEN BAR
The pandemic appears to have brought only roadblocks and a sense of hesitancy. But it has also presented opportunity and action.
John Wiersma and his husband Greg wanted to be bar owners as part of their move to the desert. That was the 5-to 10-year-plan. Then the shutdown happened. “2020 changed all of that,” Wiersma says. “Moving here (from Los Angeles) last year was a 180 turn for us, but it was kind of one of those opportunities that if we didn’t do it, we would always wonder. Fortunately two longtime friends Cory and Andy Didrick-Pitts were also willing to take the leap with us and together we made it happen.”
They had been to Studio One Eleven several times as part of their mission to research the Coachella Valley gay bar scene. When it came up for sale following the shutdown, all the reasons they liked the bar made the purchase seem right.
In giving the bar a refresh, owner John Wiersma says he wanted to present a "midcentury lounge vibe".
“We liked that the bar was a place where all the locals like to hang out,” Wiersma says of Studio One Eleven, which has been part of the local bar scene since the 1980s. “The atmosphere was very friendly and familiar: it was very homey. It seemed to be more a laid back kind of place where people would go to hear their friends perform in karaoke. Everybody seems to know the bartenders and everybody else.”
Since officially reopening earlier this month under a new name, One Eleven Bar, and the appearance of Pickle, a drag star from Los Angeles, Wiersma shares with Palm Springs Life their plans for the bar going forward.
What was the attraction to Studio One Eleven (now One Eleven Bar)?
Because of COVID we saw a lot of these old bars closing, like Oil Can Harry’s and Gold Coast in West Hollywood. We wanted to make sure that we do not lose any more of them. We thought it would be a great opportunity to not only save the bar, but also give it new life. We wanted to keep exactly what people loved about it: an entertainment bar. Hopefully, it will be around for another 30 years.
Why did it seem the right time to purchase the bar during the pandemic versus waiting until later?
It seemed to be the right time, because half of the decision-making was trying to save spaces. We still need spaces to go to after the pandemic; the other half was making sure we still have gay spaces. It also was economically more feasible during this time. We would not need to wait another five years to make our dream come true: Having our own bar.
The bar has a history of individual performers and karaoke. What vision did you see in the bar after looking at the space, and why did you think those changes would resonate with patrons here?
We knew that it was well known for karaoke and its live entertainment. My background is in production design. I understand how to build a show and an atmosphere. We thought it was a great space that had some good bones. Upgrading the space would really add to the shows. We kept a lot of the same performers. We still have Tommy Dobson, Terry Larson, and Ron Pass. But at the same time we will add some new flavors into the mix as well.
How important was connecting with Pickle to your plans? What does she bring to your entertainment plans going forward?
We love Pickle. She is the unusual drag queen who sings, dances, and performs. She also does comedy and trivia.
She does it all. I think her style of entertainment fits in really well with our bar. It is live entertainment and a variety show act. She is funny and connects well with our audiences. I think it has to be something fresh and new which people have not seen.
What COVID precautions are in place currently and will those change once we can fully reopen in mid-June?
Yes, all of our tables are socially distanced six-feet apart. There is only table service and cocktail service at the moment. We are still serving food inside, because we have to operate as a restaurant. Partners are the neighboring restaurants Las Carretas and Upper-Crust Pizza. The guests still have to sit at a table and they can’t move around. Hopefully, once June 15 hits, we can go back to being a real bar again.
Have you made any changes to the interior of the bar? What was the thinking behind those changes?
We changed everything, from floor to ceiling. I believe we’ve touched every surface in the bar. It definitely needed a refresh. We wanted to give the bar a midcentury lounge vibe, which gives it more identity. We really want to build the brand of One Eleven Bar. We upgraded the entertainment system, and gave the bar a much more cohesive color scheme. We did a lot of branding. Our intension was to really give it a good atmosphere so that people know where they are.
Was there any hesitancy in making changes to the interior now versus later in the year?
We worked on the bar last year when everything was still shut down. We had some time on our hands, and we wanted to get ahead of everything.
We thought everything should be ready when we were able to reopen. We didn’t want to alienate our audience, because they are very loyal patrons, but at the same time, we wanted to give the bar a new life again.”
Where do you see the bar a year from now?
We would like to be known as the premier piano entertainment bar of the valley. A lot of gay areas don’t do this type of entertainment anymore. Beside that, we will have a regular lineup. We’ll have our regular artist scheduled every month, but there will be new shows as well. It is the kind of place where you can go to get a good drink, know people, but at the same time, see some good entertainment in the evening. We would like to attract a later night crowd as well. We try to achieve that with our video bar. We have different themed music videos. There are ‘80s videos one night and then Sundays and Mondays we have musicals right now.