Streetbar on Arenas Road in Palm Springs.
PHOTO COURTESY GREATER PALM SPRINGS PRIDE
Palm Springs residents who explored the 200 and 300 blocks of Arenas Road in the late 1980s would have experienced a vastly different street from what is now the nexus of the LGBTQ+ mecca.
At that time, desert dwellers frequented a hub of small businesses — from upholstery and barber shops to a fish store, an Italian deli, and a convenience mart.
That all changed in 1991, when Streetbar Named Desire opened at 224 E. Arenas Road. Taking its name from gay playwright Tennessee Williams’ seminal A Streetcar Named Desire, it was the first gay bar in Palm Springs.
Leading the welcoming committee for other LGBTQ+ nightclubs and businesses that soon followed, Streetbar helped to transform Arenas into a thriving community hot spot and destination for LGBTQ+ visitors.
Steve Smith, who inherited partial ownership when his husband, Conrad Riley, died in 2020, describes Streetbar as a neighborhood bar akin to the hangout in the ’80s sitcom Cheers. Tony Mora is also a co-owner.
“We are local throughout the day,” Smith says. “We get out-of-towners throughout the night and on the weekends.”
The demographic of customers skews toward generations who likely watched first-run episodes of Cheers and can recite Blanche DuBois’ best lines in Streetcar — and the younger set who prefers daddies, zaddies, and silver foxes.
Streetbar is the first stop for resident William “Bijou” Perez, 93, when returning to the desert after traveling. The beloved drag personality has been a regular customer for about 25 years.
“This is my home away from home,” Bijou says. “The people are wonderful. The bartenders are just great. I met my best friend here.”
Best friend Brett Cranford concurs: “It’s such an accepting place … an accepting crowd.”