It’s 9-something on a sneaky cold Saturday night outside the Echoplex in Los Angeles. Either I’m early, or he’s late. Either way, I’m outside, biding my time, watching the slow trickle of decadently dressed freaks and weirdoes descending upon the eastside, arriving for tonight’s party.
The night’s called Sex Cells, and this is only their second party. I’m here to meet Ernie Omega, the towering door diva and a local institution (or “archetype,” as he sometimes refers to himself), who swoops by me with a friend at his side, whom he is at least two feet taller than. Ernie, naturally, is wearing several-inch-high heels, but he’s also tall to begin with.
I struggle to come up with an accurate description of his look tonight. It reminds me of the Diva from The Fifth Element and a Cenobite from Hellraiser. There’s something alternately attractive and ominous about his style and persona.
Ernie’s post as gatekeeper is inside the Echoplex, at a little stand by the entrance. I’m sandwiched between Ernie and a guy manning the cash box as people start coming in, mostly in ones and twos.
“Tonight it’s mostly DJs,” Ernie says. “But Kembra Pfahler is doing her rock band the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black.”
I ask Ernie and Danny Fuentas—whose night it is—what the inspiration is for their looks. “For me, Westwood,” Danny says. “Some sort of classic adult punk.” Ernie laughs and says his look is “a culmination of everything that’s cool. It’s like a post-moment.” It’s both a joke and kind of true.
“All the first Nocturnal Wonderlands, I hosted. I hosted the first EDC at the Shrine Auditorium. I was like a baby, in super huge shoes… It was amazing then.”
“I grew up in like Whittier,” Ernie tells me. Then, “Hiiiii. Welcome. Are you guys on the list?” to the three women who just walked up, dressed in all black. “Whose list are you on, babe? There are like 20 hosts tonight.”
Ernie recognizes one of the women. “Hiya, momma!”
“Aren’t you cold?” she asks.
“No. I’m always hot,” he says. “How are you, baby?”
“Good, good. I should be on the list.”
“I don’t need to look you up; you’re good.”
“That’s Danny’s sister,” he tells me a minute later.
“When did you move to the city?” I ask.
“When I was like 17. But Whittier’s only like 20 minutes away from the city,” Ernie goes on, laughing.
Another woman walks by and quips, “I almost wore the same thing.”
Ernie snaps back, “You should have” and laughs.
He strikes me as a nice guy in person. He comes off as intimidating only in still images. “There was like a punk scene in Whittier then. It was super cool. I started hanging out with the punker girls. This one girl Greta—she promoted for Ron D Core—she was a riot grrrl, and he was a hardcore DJ. [Through them is] how I started promoting for raves. And then I started hosting all the events. It was amazing. I was like 15.”
“Were you tall at 15?” I ask. “I mean, I had huge platforms,” he answers.
“What were you wearing then?”
“I was super into huge shoes.”
“When Pasquale first started, I was like 14 years old. All the first Nocturnal Wonderlands, I hosted. I hosted the first EDC. I was super young. I was like a baby, in super huge shoes,” he goes on. “The first EDC I hosted was at the Shrine Auditorium. It had carnival rides, like an inflatable slide… It was amazing then.”
“I started going out around 1994. I ran away and met the right people.”
A large group enters all at once. “Hi baby, are you on the list?” he says to a 30-something casual goth queen. “I love your Wednesday Addams look,” Ernie shouts as she walks into the club.
Then no one comes in for a few minutes. I take the chance to ask him about being on a daytime talk show as a teen. “When I was a tween, I became obsessed with going on talk shows. I came out on several of them. I would dress my friends up as club kids, and we would mesh into the storyline of the show. We would be paid and flown to where the show was being filmed.”
“They were all based around me being a teenage club kid and my misadventures,” Ernie continues. “On the first big show I did, Rolanda—the producer—prompted me with what to say. I took my best friend with me on the show. We said that we were lovers and we wanted to come out to my sister. My sister was in on it. We were all flown out to New York on this amazing, all-expenses-paid trip. To a 14-year-old, this is a huge deal. I was quite pleased and started making my name on the talk-show circuit. I appeared on Leeza a few times, as well as a Latin show called Christina that filmed in Miami.”
“The last big one I was on was Jenny Jones. It filmed in Chicago. They needed four kids—two boys, and two girls. So, I did a photo shoot where I dressed up three of my friends. We all got on the show and flew to Chicago for a week. It was crazy fun for us all,” he says.
I ask him how he defines himself. “I am a ‘celebutaunt,’” he explains, “which was coined by original club kid James St. James, by the way. I’m also a model. And event host by chance. People like how I look when I dress up in my designs. I love to bend perceptions, so I oblige. I am a creator and designer before anything else. I try to make gold from dirt.”
“I stepped away from the rave scene for a while,” Ernie goes on, “and got into costume designing for people like Madonna, Gaga, Kelly Rowland. I did a lot of stuff. I had to stop raving. I didn’t have time for it anymore.”
“What’s up, gorgeous!” as Ernie turns to someone named Jerry. “Remember the first Nocturnal? It was like $15 or $20, huh?” He laughs.
“When did you get back into the club scene?” I ask.
“I started working at Factory 93. I had been doing my own events since then and throwing my fashion shows at the same time. Also, I started doing these full-moon parties.”
Jerry pipes in, “All these years, I still haven’t made it out to a fucking moon party. It’s like a mission. You need like four days off from work to do that shit. You have to come back from the whole fuckin’ process.”
“I was doing these full-moon parties at the Lash,” Ernie says. “It was indoor/outdoor. I was allowed to do my fashion show in the alley, which was really grimy, and I liked it. It’s for everybody. Everybody who comes up and is dressed up is a host to me and is bringing something to the party.”
The party still feels a little slow now. “Everyone ends up coming around midnight,” Ernie assures me. I ask if it’s ever “gotten out of control working the door.”
“It’s well behaved now. The most hairy nights for me are when I have to turn people away. Those are the most memorable and fucked up, because everyone thinks they’re on the list. And they’re not,” he laughs. “I mean, it sucks.”
A guy in his 40s pops his head in to ask if there are any ins/outs. “No!” someone barks. “OK,” he winces. The tiny little holding area is starting to fill up quickly. I meet a guy named Burgers—or at least I think it’s his name. It’s really loud in here all of a sudden. The word is, people still aren’t dancing inside.
“Rose wasn’t sure if she had put me on the list or not,” someone chirps. It’s funny, because over the course of the next hour or two, I don’t see him Ernie away many people. Most pay, or he finds another way to get proof that they’re supposed to be on the list, even if they’re not.
“Last time I was working this door at Sex Cells, someone fucking stole my phone. I never found who did it, and my phone was unlocked. They posted a dick pic on my Facebook page, and I got suspended for 30 days,” Ernie laments. Then he turns on a dime as someone he knows pops his head in. “Hiiii, baby.”
As the line gets more hectic, Ernie goes on to sprinkle in little bits of conversation like, “There are like a lot of hosts tonight, and they’re all cute”; “I do interior design, art and fashion”; and “Clubs are different than warehouses.” At one point, a partygoer knocks his vodka drink over. The room goes, “Noooo!” His list of names gets wet. It’s a mess.
I hang out for a bit longer, but the closer we get to midnight, the harder it is to continue anything remotely resembling a conversation. The freaks, as it were, all turned out and started dancing eventually, once properly warmed up, and shed their self-conscious armor. Just another Saturday night for Ernie Omega.