Arts & Life, Features

A sense of community gives the Silver Fox top spot

As you walk up the corner of Fourth Street and Redondo Avenue, pass under the Art Deco exterior and through the glass doors of The Silver Fox, you’ll find a friendly bartender to welcome you into a “Cheers”-esque community of regulars, lovers of karaoke and anyone who likes a good drink at a fair price. Someone else you’ll almost definitely see is John Barnes, who’s worked there since 1984.

As a Long Beach State alumni, Barnes appreciates chatting about the hustle and bustle of college life with students just as much as he enjoys catching up with some of the bar’s long-time clients.

“We’ve been in the community a long time and we kind of strive to welcome everybody of all ages,” Barnes said. “I see a lot of young people in the community moving to our neighborhood and it’s great to see a kind of regeneration of our community here in Long Beach and it’s great to be a part of that.”

Being a part of the community has been a long standing tradition for The Silver Fox since it was founded by John Schinnerer and Ron Waddell in 1981, and the bar continues to honor that.

“We’re involved with our softball league, with the kickball league, any community charity, we’ve always been involved in our community,” Barnes said. “That’s always fostered a sense of community here that has kind of lent a good will between our customers and ourselves, it goes both ways.”

The Varsity Gay League kickball team ended up being a symbiotic relationship when the players decided to make The Silver Fox their post-game hangout location. This makes Sunday afternoons one of their largest crowds of young people, according to Barnes. He said it’s a great introduction to the city for people new to Long Beach.

“It’s fun to see people who are young, who being gay is just no issue to them. They are just so comfortable in their sexuality,” Barnes said. “They come in and just have a great time. It’s interesting to see that freedom to be who you want to be, explore your sexuality and be so open about it and free. It’s a fun thing.”

It’s a little different from 1978 when Barnes started at LBSU; when societal pressures dictated that the only time and place to be freely gay was at gay bars. He was still in the process of coming out when he moved to Long Beach, which, unbeknownst to him had become a gay mecca in Southern California.

“There was worries about your security at your job if you were openly gay, so the bar culture was very thriving at that time,” Barnes said. “There weren’t all these social media outlets to meet other guys, so there was a kind of very closeted approach to meeting other gay guys at gay bars. It was in some ways a kind of a hay day for gay life.”

Inside The Silver Fox, among the classic, sleek decor, and the fellowship throughout the room, you can sense the bar has kept that exuberant energy alive since Schinnerer and Waddell opened the doors. Barnes said that Schinnerer, who is 89 years old now, is a hard working man who’s still present at the bar every day. His partner Waddell has died, but his legacy carries on every time bartenders at The Silver Fox remind themselves of his motto — “Always make a person a great drink.”

“We’re known here at Silver Fox for making a great drink at a reasonable price. We make great martinis. We’re kind of known for just strong drinks,” Barnes said. “You get your money’s worth at Silver Fox and our customers appreciate that. It seems like drinking can become an expensive hobby these days.”

He’s got a point.

That’s why The Silver Fox offers deals on their heavy-handed drinks like two for Tuesdays, when every second beer, well or call sells for 25 cents. Or karaoke on Wednesday and Sunday nights, when singers get half off drinks; drinks that are inexpensive and well made enough to keep customers coming back.

“The drinks are pretty amazing, one, two, the energy is very calm in here, three, the music is pretty good,” regular Michael Rivera said. “They actually have some really good entertainment on the weekends, in fact one of Jennifer Lopez’s dancers was in here recently performing.”

When it comes down to it though, it seems the reason people keep coming back to The Silver Fox, and perhaps why LBSU students voted it their favorite gay bar, is the sense of community there.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of local bars that you can really walk into these days, even in the west LA, west Hollywood area, that it’s kind of a comfort zone like it is in here and still nice at the same time,” Rivera said.

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