Oil Can Harry's

Oil Can Harry's was a gay bar most well known for its iconic large dance floor, country-western line dances, and its Saturday disco nights. Established in 1968, Oil Can Harry's survived for 52 years before closing in January 2021, and notably served as a venue for a number of community fundraisers during the height of the AIDS crisis. 

Oil Can Harry's was a gay country-western bar known for hosting line-dancing, disco nights, and dancing lessons on its iconic large wooden dance floor. Originally opening in the 50's as a burlesque club called The Zomba Room, Oil Can Harry's (established under that name in 1968) was in operation for 52 years, making it one of the oldest gay bars in the country by the time of its shuttering in January of 2021. At the height of its popularity as a queer destination, Oil Can Harry's famously protected its patrons during police raids by using a spy hole in the door. When police came to the door, a secret alarm would be sounded by staff and the same-sex dance lines would switch partners to mask as heterosexual couples. 

During the AIDS epidemic, Oil Can Harry's also functioned as a hub of community support. According to manager and bartender Tommy Young, "When anyone came to Oil Can Harry's to get funds for any AIDS benefit, if there was no time to create a fundraiser, the original owner, Bert Charot, would take the money out of his own pocket. His business partner, Bob Tomasino, was one of the biggest advocates ever during the AIDS epidemic...example, when the epidemic first started, there were hospices, housing and homes opened to house people with AIDS...they needed refrigerators, washing machines, furniture, clothing...even transportation...cars and money for taxis and bus money. There were fundraisers nearly every night of the week. From drag shows with the world-famous Campers and the world-famous Troupers...garage sales, even people donating their time for funding from car washing, doing gardening...drink specials...and most of all, a lot of private donations from Bert Charot and Bob Tomasino. Nothing was held back." Young also states that Charot and Tomasino remained involved in personally donating to AIDS relief organizations in need of funding up until their deaths. 

As Los Angeles Pride events evolved into large-scale festivals that grew less and less catered to individual communities, Oil Can Harry's remained a prominent watering hole for the Country subculture of the LGBTQ community. Oil Can Harry's was also one of the only remaining clubs in the United States to have consistently hosted disco nights since the 1970s. Self-described as a place customers could call their own regardless of interest in country/western, rodeo, disco, or leather, Oil Can Harry's provided a secure space for queer patrons to mingle, dance, perform, and fundraise throughout some of the most formative periods of LGBTQ history. 


“Oil Can Harry’s - Our History.” Oil Can Harry’s. Accessed 23 June 2021.

Riddle, Waide Aaron. “Oil Can Harry’s - The 50th Anniversary of Studio City’s Historic Oil Can Harry’s.” Oil Can Harry’s, 10 Jan. 2018.

Reynolds, Daniel. “Oil Can Harry’s, L.A.’s Historic Gay Line-Dancing Bar, Shutters.” Advocate, 5 Jan. 2021.

Zonkel, Phillip. “Oil Can Harry’s — Historic 52-Year-Old Gay Club — Has Closed.” Q Voice News, 5 Jan. 2021.

“Oil Can Harry's.” USC Digital Libraries, ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives