Late last week the Orange County, California community was shocked to learn that one of the few queer spaces that has lived and thrived in the big bad O.C. had closed abruptly. Velvet (VLVT) Lounge in Downtown Santa Ana was found with “For Sale” signs posted on its windows overlooking its iconic patio on Thursday afternoon and there are a lot of VLVT-goer questions left unanswered.
VLVLT opened its doors on October 7, 2011 and since its inception it has hosted many themed-nights of dancing, drag brunch and dinner shows, and performances that have entertained thousands looking for a welcoming and inclusive space in Orange County.
There’s no doubt that those who frequented VLVT returned because they felt at-home with their servers and bartenders. Which is why those who enjoyed hitting up the spot for happy hour or to unwind after a long work week can’t seem to understand why the club is closed.
Currently, the club’s site says “This weekend we are closed while we make necessary changes and improvements to our business. Thank you for your understanding, and see you soon!” But will it re-open?
Thursday night was to be VLVT’s Caliente Thursdays, their resident Latin night with club mixes of Spanish hits spun by Orange County’s DJ Kaboom. On Thursday, Kaboom posted:
Much can be gathered because of the social media chatter surrounding VLVT in the last few months. Just last month, RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 2 contestant Pandora Boxx opened up about dealing with unreliable payment from VLVT management for hosting their notable Lipstick and Lashes dinner show. The show was started by Drag Race Season 1 contestant Shannel in 2014 and has brought in thousands weekly for the club.
I’ve had no contact from the owner Zach Moos. So like many, many others I assume we’ll never get paid.
Pandora Boxx mentions Zach Moos, an entrepreneur who has brought incredible gay nightlife to Orange County since the 90s, being responsible for the short-lived Club Thrust in Tustin and Club Lucky, a gay night that took different forms throughout the years at Downtown Disney’s House of Blues and beyond.
Since Pandora’s public comments several sources have shared that many, if not all, VLVT staff members are owed months worth of pay. It would be hard to believe that the club was not doing well financially since it was open seven days a week and had pricey brunches and dinner shows and the mediocre food menu had not changed probably ever.
So one could speculate where all the money that the club has been making is going if not into the pockets of the hard-working staff and performers that were keeping VLVT afloat.
VLVT performances have always been a topic of controversy since attending a drag show at this location always intersected with a City of Santa Ana ordinance that performers could not ‘take money’ from the hands of spectators or this would be considered a form of prostitution. A concept that was questioned many times, but continued throughout VLVT’s years. Even Delta Work, another Drag Race contestant, was vocal about this “ordinance”:
One thing that sources have shared is that club goers have always been generous tippers which is why staff and performers have been able to sustain themselves with little or no pay.
But has there been more going on with the club’s finances that staff didn’t know about? It’s certainly more than the public knew about their beloved VLVT.
Several sources that worked with VLVT very closely have shared that the club allegedly had not paid rent to the building owner in many months. Additionally, the liquor vendor was owed TENS of thousands of dollars, allegedly. Many staff members had quit, but others remained loyal for fear of losing yet another queer space in Orange County.
On Thursday the owner of the building changed all the locks and availability notices were posted indicating that once hotspot in Downtown Santa Ana was no more.
There is no telling if VLVT will return at this point or if this means that it will become another concept somewhere else in the city or county. For now, it has left gay club goers looking to find comfort in other queer spaces like Strut, Tin Lizzie Saloon, The Frat House, or even making the trek to Long Beach’s Broadway gay bar scene. Most importantly, the closure of VLVT has left dozens of staff and performers without work and having to look elsewhere.
Is this the end of VLVT Lounge in Santa Ana? It looks like it might be since there has been no closure (no pun intended) for those who partied there for the last eight years.
VLVT owner Zach Moos has yet to respond to a request for comment.