|Bermudez, left, and Rabe at Bermudez Projects|
John Rabe, 46, and Julian Bermudez, 38, met at the close of a sunny day in Malibu in 2001, when separate afternoons spent sunbathing on the shores of El Matador beach led both to the Friendship on West Channel Road. The nautical-themed watering hole, one of L.A. County's oldest gay bars, was a popular alternative to the club-heavy scene in West Hollywood, Rabe recalls. You could go just to talk, not necessarily to hook up.
Established in 1937, the bar's history ran deep — most of the structure had been ruined in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, but the original old keel, salvaged from a shipwreck in the 1930s, remained over the bar, carved with the names of men who'd shared drinks there. By the time the bar closed a few years ago, most of the names had been painted over in white — a ritual memorial to customers who'd died.
Long before Rabe and Bermudez met, Christopher Isherwood, who lived nearby in Santa Monica Canyon, depicted the landmark affectionately in his novel A Single Man, "down on the corner of the ocean highway, across from the beach, its round green porthole lights shining to welcome you."
Rabe bought Bermudez a $1 burger, and they were a half-hour into their first chat when the friend Bermudez had arrived with decided he was ready to go home. Rabe insisted that Bermudez give him his number first. "And don't give me a fake one," he said.
Bermudez's friend warned him not to get involved with the tall Midwesterner. He was obviously a hustler, he cautioned. But Bermudez ignored him. "You have a bad track record with boys in general," he thought. "I'm not going to follow your advice. I'll go with my gut."
The men dated exclusively from the beginning. Eleven years later and now happily married, "It's the world's longest hustle," Rabe jokes.More »