Robert del Campo has fond memories of growing up in his family’s Silverlake Mexican restaurant Casita del Campo. His mother Nina brought diners to their feet for a conga line weaving through the banquet and main dining rooms. Robert sang along with the crowd to performances by LGBTQ icon Rudy de la Mor. As the customers grew older, his father Rudy painted regulars’ names on the back of the restaurant’s hand-carved chairs.
“At seven o’clock on Fridays, there would be a group of ten in our main dining room always at the same table, the same chairs, holding court,” del Campo says of the restaurant in the ‘70s. “This idea of acceptance—gay or straight—melding together and supporting each other has always been a part of Casita del Campo.”
Though never explicitly an LGBTQ establishment, Casita del Campo has been a sanctuary for the community since its inception 61 years ago. Its flamingo pink facade on Hyperion Avenue is a reminder of the rich LGBTQ history of the neighborhood and the numerous sex-positive venues that once dotted the area. Casita del Campo has endured and remains a local favorite: the same family runs it and has many of the same staffers—not to mention plenty of customers who keep coming back. Read on to learn more about this LGBTQ legend.
Actor Rudy del Campo appeared in several musicals, including West Side Story, Singing in the Rain, and An American in Paris, before debuting Casita del Campo in 1962. Rudy hoped that his friends in the industry, many of whom were closeted at the time, could be themselves at his restaurant.
When well-known contemporary LGBTQ hangouts such as The Black Cat were raided, Casita del Campo offered a refuge. “Word spread quickly that this is a safe space to enjoy your lives,” Robert del Campo says. “We live for the camaraderie of all these human beings— providing for each other—to make another day better for everybody.” Rudy del Campo installed privacy curtains at bar booths in the 70s to allow LGBTQ patrons, including actor Rock Hudson, a moment of quiet and intimacy.
A growing bond
As the decades went on, Casita del Campo’s relationship with the LGBTQ community deepened. Many of the restaurant’s longtime staffers identify as part of the community. Paintings of Rudy and Nina del Campo created by LGBTQ artist Larry Colburn (a regular) still hang in the main dining room, and the restaurant is full of his artwork.
By the late ‘90s, Casita del Campo had also become a beloved drag destination. Famed drag performer Mr. Dan established The Cavern Club Theater on the lower level in 1996. The club hosted popular shows including Golden Girlz Live, Chico’s Angels, and weekly mainstays such as Cher karaoke nights.
“Through that whole relationship, it was a natural fit,” says Robert del Campo on working with Mr. Dan. “He’s been our theater manager since day one.”
Casita del Campo today
Robert del Campo took over his father’s beloved restaurant in 2003 after completing studies and a career in the film industry. Casita del Campo’s art and memorabilia are a reminder of its storied history. On any given day, diners here witness a lively scene featuring hibiscus margaritas, shrimp ceviche, and a warm glow in the dining room at sunset.
The restaurant recently added an outdoor patio and is currently making the Cavern Club Theater more accessible. The venue is set to reopen later this year with its regularly scheduled programming. Meanwhile, the party continues upstairs.
“It’s always been with a glad heart to support the legacy of my father and all this dedication from the customers,” Robert del Campo says. “I want this place to continue when I take my last breath, and I want to take care of this community.”