More than just a nightclub, C. Frenz is an oasis for many in the Valley’s LBGTQIA+ community

A dancer takes the stage at C Frenz Nightclub in the Reseda neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif., on Oct. 2, 2021.

Kaitlyn Lavo, Staff Photographer

The neon light beams refract from the smoke-hazed dance floor as reggaeton music fills the room. The musky smell of the fog machine fills your nose as you hear the clanking of billiards in the other room.

Outside, laughter is heard from a group of three friends. The soft glow of a small flame illuminates their features as they light the tips of their cigarettes.

C. Frenz Nightclub brings the local LGBTQIA+ community together and creates a hometown — the “Cheers’ ‘ of the San Fernando Valley for the rainbow community. Safe spaces to socialize are still a rare commodity for the community.

Three main places for socializing in an LGBTQIA+ setting are resource centers, bars and nightclubs. For the rainbow community of the San Fernando Valley, C. Frenz is the closest nightclub outside of West Hollywood.

Leading bar tender for C Frenz, Memo, right, makes a vodka drink for a guest at C. Frenz in the Reseda neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif., on Oct. 2, 2021. (Kaitlyn Lavo)

There are multiple queer bars in West Hollywood and only two in the Valley. C. Frenz and Bullet Bar are the two resident gay bars. Bullet leans toward a male-dominated clientele, while C. Frenz caters to people from all walks of life. For CSUN students, a drive to West Hollywood can take over 30 minutes, whereas C. Frenz is a short 11-minute drive.

As the pandemic swept the nation, the largest parts of the LGBTQIA+ social scene were taken from the community. C. Frenz shut down for over a year when the state announced the stay-at-home order, just like other non-essential businesses. Without community support, the nightclub may have fallen under during the closure.

C. Frenz’s owner Stephen Miele has owned the establishment since 2005. From financially struggling to stay open to being horribly vandalized, C. Frenz took many hard hits during the course of the pandemic.
“As a bar owner of close to 30 years, I have seen and survived much. Many obstacles have come my way: police raids of the ’90s, the AIDS epidemic, government harassment, but we have persevered and rose to the occasion,” Miele said. “I am thrilled at the progress we have made over the recent past — but I ask the younger generation not to be complacent, because what we have gained can be easily lost too.”

Miele said he has put a lot of his own money and personal time into keeping the nightclub running, knowing how important it is for the local queer community.

“We were bleeding money — and making none,” Miele said. “I paid the rent on the building from March till September, but finally just ran out of money.”

Along with the financial hardship, the club was vandalized and robbed in November 2020.

“Taking advantage of a bar that was closed for many months, the thieves used a truck to plow down the fence, back it up to the back door, broke in and went on a rampage. Onto the truck they loaded almost everything that wasn’t nailed down and some that was,” Miele explained.

The culprits stole the club’s inventory of liquor, DJ and sound equipment, other technology including computers and cameras, and the jukebox attached to the wall. Beyond the robbery, they also destroyed the dart machine, the pool tables, and all they left were the gaping holes in the walls.

“I have been robbed before, but I never saw such blatant vandalism,” Miele said. “I thought that was the end.”
It is not uncommon for LGBTQIA+ places to receive unwanted visitors, but C. Frenz had yet to see something as drastic as the events that occurred during the fall season of the pandemic.

“I had a meeting with the C. Frenz team to decide the future or demise of yet another gay bar. It was unanimous that we would all work hard to keep the club going,” Miele said.

Danny Aguilar plays billiards with his friends at C. Frenz Nightclub in the Reseda neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif., on Oct. 2, 2021. (Kaitlyn Lavo)

With the help of a GoFundMe campaign, a huge fundraiser and a small business loan, C. Frenz continues to provide a safe place for the gay community to gather.

“It was the fantastic and generous LGBT Valley community that came through for us for which we will be eternally grateful,” Miele said.
Falling under a variety of owners and names since the 1970s, the nightclub might be known by some as Incognito or Bananas. Now for those looking to enjoy a casual fun night out but don’t wish to let others know where they are, they say they’re going to “C. Frenz” — a clever name for members of the community who may still wish to remain inconspicuous.

Bartender Matt Reyes has worked at C. Frenz Nightclub for the last two years and is a member of the community himself.

“I wasn’t out publicly, so it was a place where I could connect with others and learn without outing myself,” Reyes said.
Reyes, like many other young queers in the community, rely on places like C. Frenz to provide safe places to learn about themselves and the community — all of which was taken away during the course of the pandemic.

“Without it there wasn’t a place to go where we can comfortably be ourselves,” Reyes said.

Many come to C. Frenz not just for dating. In fact, it is a place where lifelong friendships have formed. Throughout the busy nights, you see people from all walks of life and ages sitting together. Some are there to simply learn how to be comfortable being themselves. This comfort can be found through the conversations made over a drink or cigarette by the painted rainbow fences of the nightclub’s patio.

Two women met at C. Frenz for their first date. AJ, who declined to give their last name, an outgoing biker, stepped into the bar and ordered a shot of Patron. She placed her black helmet on the wood and red upholstered bar stool next to her. Her excitement and nervousness were evident from the quickened pace in her voice and the way she played with her drink in hand as she described the feelings of being back in an LGBTQIA+ communal setting. This is her first date after her last relationship that lasted 10 years.

We sat and talked while she waited for her date to arrive. After sitting and chatting for a bit about life as an almost 50-year-old lesbian, we exchanged our contact information. She knew I was writing an article and wanted to stay informed about it. We joked that if there’s a second date we should plan a double date for us and our partners. Just a simple moment paints the importance of places like C. Frenz in the LGBTQIA+ community.

AJ’s date, Luisa, arrived in a bright red hoodie. Her long dark hair was pulled up halfway, showing her natural beauty: her almond brown eyes softly framed with a hint of mascara, and her blush-pink lips appeared coated only by a layer of chapstick. The two ordered drinks and seemed to hit it off over a game of pool.

Before I left, I went to say goodbye to my new acquaintance. This led to a conversation between the three lesbians in the bar on a Monday night in the middle of a pandemic.

They compared their experience at C. Frenz to their nights in West Hollywood. Luisa, a regular at C. Frenz, stated, “I like this bar because [West Hollywood] is always overcrowded and here you know everyone is a part of the community. Many straight couples go to [West Hollywood]. Here, you are more likely to meet others like you.”

West Hollywood, though it is a huge LGBTQIA+ hub, lacks the connection-based social life that small queer businesses like C. Frenz naturally provide. The community would still be drawn to bars without dance floors — like C. Frenz — to find others with a shared experience.

Melba Martinez is another regular at C. Frenz who advocates for the Black, Indigenious and people of color in the LGBTQIA+ community.

“We gotta support our local gay bar,” Martinez said. “There’s a lack of a space to decompress at the end of the day and feel like you aren’t being attacked by the rest of the world.”

During the nightclub’s closure, Martinez hosted a virtual dance party called “Gigalo” to spread the message against fat phobia in the community.

“People were so concerned with gaining weight during the pandemic, we needed something fun to remind us the importance of loving our bodies,” Martinez explained.

Even though the gay nightclub scene seemed to cease as COVID-19 cases increased, Zoom became the new party platform.

“They expanded from business to social,” AJ said.

Having safe spaces like C. Frenz is an important part of queer socialization, as it is a vital part of a lot of people’s journeys to self-discovery and acceptance. This year goes to show that even a pandemic can’t keep the community from celebrating life and dancing together, even if it’s miles apart in the comfort of their own living rooms.

Home is found in community. With the reopening of C. Frenz, the LGBTQIA+ members of the San Fernando Valley once again find each other in the comfort of their cozy corner of the rainbow night.