For decades, the blinds of this semisubterranean Laguna Beach bar were closed tight. Back then, the dingy saloon was underground in more ways than one. People whom employers might still refuse to hire because of their love interests flirted openly as they knocked back martinis. Couples whom hotels might turn away for wanting to share a room danced and kissed without anxiety.
To step down the stairwell into the bar, patrons of that era say, was to find sanctuary from streets where, even in the 1980s — even in this then-funky liberal enclave — gay bashing often took a literal turn. In one particularly ugly incident in Laguna, an Orange County resident lost six teeth and the sight in his left eye after young men attacked him with pipelike objects, yelling: “Faggots! I’m gonna kill you.” And, so, the shutters. “They were closed,” the bar’s current manager recalls. “Always closed.”
Over the years, as homosexuals fought for and won one victory after another in pursuit of equal rights, Laguna blossomed into one of California’s most famously gay-friendly communities. Bars and other businesses catering to people across the spectrum of sexual orientation popped up all over the little beach town. Now, with overt discrimination and Laguna’s homosexual population both waning, Main Street Bar and Cabaret is the last gay-specific establishment in town — and the place where Orange County Gay Pride Week is scheduled to hold its wrap-up party on Sunday.
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