Jon Carrasco
Bryan Alexander
September 12, 2008 09:30 AM

Elizabeth Taylor made a low-key return to public life Thursday night with a trip to her favorite watering hole.

In the film legend’s first known appearance since she was hospitalized last month, Taylor headed to The Abbey, a popular West Hollywood gay bar.

“She was lively. She was laughing and she was smiling,” said one onlooker. “Even if she was not as strong as the last time she was here, she was once again the life of her small party.”

Rumors about Taylor’s ill health swirled over this summer, with one tabloid reporting that the 76-year-old was on life support. But her publicist denied the claims, calling them “dramatic, overstated and untrue.” (Last month, a friend told PEOPLE that Taylor was out of the hospital and “busier than ever”.)

Back at the Abbey, the actress held court in a corner of the bar with a sizable martini in hand and four people at her side (one of whom held Daisy, Taylor’s Maltese dog).

Before she was wheeled outside, an assistant placed a pair of rhinestone sunglasses on the ever-stylish star.

“She needed help getting into the car,” says the witness. “As [they] drove away in this gigantic black sedan, all you could see was those sunglasses and a big smile on her face.”

From 1975 to 1996: See all of Elizabeth Taylor s PEOPLE covers!

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