One of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic has been the nightclub scene. Annenberg Media’s Caitlin Hernandez has the story of how one LA club found a new way to keep it’s community connected.
One of Los Angeles’s biggest queer hot spots is Club Cobra. The North Hollywood club is one of the last Latinx LBGTQ spaces. On Friday nights the club would be packed with people dancing to loud music under neon lights. The founder has invested 20 years into the community in a black building on Burbank Boulevard. He’s had caliente go-go dancers, drag shows en Español, and the longest-running trans Latinx night in L.A. When COVID-19 hit all that shut down. He had to get creative.
The future of gay entertainment is in the home, because even when the nightclubs are reopened, right, you’re no longer going to be putting 500 people into a room, you’re going to be putting 80 people into a room.
That is Marty Sokol, the founder of Club Cobra. When the club was open in person, guests would be greeted by Sokol in his jeans and t-shirts. Now, the host has pivoted to filming content for OnlyFans sporting stylish suits and ties. OnlyFans is a platform where people can pay to subscribe to their favorite creators to view often salacious photos and videos.
Personally, we’ve always felt that gay nightlife is an important... it’s actually an integral part of gay culture. The clubhouse show is really about the environment of fun that we’ve managed to put together over the last 20 years.
Cobra’s fog-filled exotic dances are filmed at his home without nudity. One of the programs that Sokol says he’s trying to bring back is based on the club’s show Transfix. It’s the only trans-focused night in L.A. run by trans women. It’s been a place where trans people could come for advice, friends and safe hookups. Most of all, it’s been a special community for trans people to share experiences.
I think that’s what, that’s why people love Cobra so much. You know, it felt like a family. Like a family place even though it was a nightclub.
That is Aubrey Barcelata, Transfix’s director. She’s also performed at the club wearing revealing fringe bustiers and lingerie. Barcelata isn’t sure yet if she’ll be involved in OnlyFans. Most of her trans performers already have accounts of their own, so she doesn’t want to compete with them. But Transfix has been a popular event for years in the trans community. She isn’t worried about the event fading away.
I would say Transfix has a life of its own. So it doesn’t need the maintenance and the upkeep that, you know, the rest of the night Club Cobra needs. People won’t forget it.
Initially, Transfix performers would appear on OnlyFans but they were still learning what performed well and how. Nudity is popular, but Sokol wanted to make it where people could watch it together.
And it’s something that if your mother walked in the room, she might laugh and sit down with you.
That is... if you have a very open-minded mom.
OnlyFans as a platform is a little bit more risky. We don’t show any nudity on the OnlyFans, but it gives, you know, like, Latin guys go-go dancing and getting in the pool. Just very sort of erotic content.
The Club Cobra team has made it work despite expensive costs. They use high-quality lights, camera gear and editing software to produce the shows every week.
Antony Tadros is the self-described jack-of-all-trades for Club Cobra hailing from Sydney, Australia. He’s worked for Sokol for almost five years doing everything from bartending to booking talent. Now, he films the show. He says Club Cobra’s pivot to OnlyFans has helped the team connect more as a family.
This is not the first hardship we’ve experienced. It probably won’t be the last but that doesn’t mean we just quit and give up. We’re a very passionate family. We take care of each other. The reason we’re doing it is to keep our heart and our energy and our passion alive.
That passion has resonated with supporters of Club Cobra. They promote the OnlyFans content on social media, and Tadros says that helps remind people that they’re still around. People have reached out in support sharing how much they’ve missed the club and love seeing it in another form.
That’s the reward in itself. You know, these people are, our customers aren’t able to see us in person at the moment. But it’s such a reward to know that just seeing us on a TV screen brought that joy back to them.
Sokol has big plans to bring back Club Cobra. But for now, he’s tight-lipped on when and what that will look like. Since Sokol believes gay entertainment’s future is in the home, he says people will still be able to find Club Cobra on the platform even after it reopens in person.