It was a hot August night in 1974 when they met.
For Larry Hebert, it was his first time gay-bar hopping. After a stop at the Diamond Horseshoe in Wilmington and a step inside a Long Beach club called Ripples, he went to Victor Hugo’s (now it’s Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles).
It was there that the postal carrier from San Pedro met John Garcia of El Paso, Texas, and started a 45-year business and personal relationship.
This weekend, the business side of the relationship will come to an end as the two men close Club Ripples. On Friday and Saturday, the club, located at 5101 E. Ocean Blvd., will be open to everyone with free food each night. On Sunday, Ripples will hold a VIP-only party.
The new owners will be rebuilding the 5,000-square foot location into a Burger & Beer Joint restaurant.
“We’re going out on top,” Hebert, 74, said. "I’m so happy the way things are going. We’re having big parties and we’re going to enjoy ourselves.”
“We did everything right in running the place,” Garcia, 67, said. “We are leaving a legacy behind us.”
Before Ripples became Ripples, it went through a few iterations. In the 1940s, the building was an ice cream parlor. It became a gay bar in the 1950s that closed in 1968. Later, Shirley Temple’s first husband, John Agar, bought the property and called his restaurant Land’s Inn.
“It was a restaurant and an iconic gay place and it never went straight and he sold it to Mary Azar,” Garcia said.
Azar turned it into Mary’s Celebrity House and Garcia worked for her as a waiter in 1968-69. Azar sold it to a group of 12 Orange County business people who changed the name to Great Expectations. After a series of renovations, they re-opened and changed the name to Ripples.
“It was very successful,” Hebert said. “There were lines out the door seven nights a week.”
Then, in November 1974, Ripples was firebombed. The men have their suspicions about who was to blame, but the suspects were never caught.
Garcia, who had been a business major at Long Beach State, helped the owners reconstruct the books after the firebombing. And he helped get Hebert a job as a waiter. Garcia noticed massive mismanagement of the books and the dozen owners could not understand why they had to keep putting money into the club while people lined up to get in.
“Little by little, one by one we bought them out and in 1980 we owned all 12 shares plus the property,” Hebert said. “We took over the liquor store in 1994.”
The men have weathered health issues — Hebert had open heart surgery — and they lost hundreds of employees, friends and customers to AIDS.
“This bar was spotless during the AIDS crisis and people knew it and would come to the bar,” Hebert said. “My mother taught me how to clean. We even switched to using plastic glasses for drinks. But still, we used to go to funerals more than once a week.”
Eight years ago, Ripples was going through a financial downturn. Tabatha Coffey from the reality TV show “Tabatha Takes Over” entered the picture.
“It was scary, but fun,” Hebert said. “Listen, I’ve watched that show before she even contacted us. I did what I had to do to fix my bar because things were slow. She was tough, but we ended up friends. She’s a lovely person; she’s real and she works very hard. She really worked us over. But I took it because I knew in the long run it was going to be worth my while.”
The men are proud, not only because they have the longest-running gay bar in Long Beach, but because of their activism in the community. For example, Garcia started the Gay Chamber of Commerce in 1992.
“I’m not a big shot, but we are public servants,” Hebert said. "That’s what we are. People don’t realize what we have done for the community. We are talking years. We’ve raised millions of dollars. We did Pet Walk with the AIDS Walk and in the first year John raised $55,000 by himself.”
Former mayor Beverly O’Neill is one of the few politicians to go to the club. She remembers the men for their warmth and contributions.
“When I think of Ripples, I think of good things,” she said. “At the time I was mayor, I can remember we had good vibrations. They made a good contribution to the city.”
Celebrities have been a part of the Club Ripples scene, too.
“We’ve met Barbra Streisand; her sister (Roslyn Kind) sang here three times,” Hebert said. “The famous impersonator Jim Bailey has been here, Rock Hudson even came here before we owned the place, the football player Dave Kopay as well as actors Tab Hunter and George Maharis and Lois Brumfield from “Sorority Girls From Hell.”
While both men look back at their years of ownership with fondness, it is time to move on. After escrow closes with the new owners, the men will take a well-deserved vacation.
“I haven’t had a vacation since 1996,” Garcia said with a sigh.
“We’ve had our day in the sun,” Hebert said. “I’m going to miss a lot of lovely people but we’re both tired. We’ve done it for years and it’s time to move on.”
NOTE: This story has been updated to take out references of the connected liquor store closing. The store remains open.