50-year-old gay bar The Stud faces closure as rent triples

Building sold, rent hiked, and owner ready to retire: Will the SF nightlife classic survive?

UPDATE: Artist and nightlife fixture Mica Sigourney aka VivvyAnne ForeverMore!, hostess of Club Some Thing at the Stud, has announced he is forming a community co-op to buy the club. For anyone interested in supporting the effort, contact Sigourney at: saveourstud@gmail.com and join the Facebook group here

One of San Francisco’s oldest gay bars, The Stud, sometimes called “the Stonewall of San Francisco,” faces an uncertain future: its building has been sold, the rent will triple in September, and the club’s owner has announced he will retire and move to Hawaii.

At an emergency community meeting called by owner Michael McElhaney this evening, a cavalcade of club kids representing the ’60s through today — many of whom had attended the Stud’s 50th anniversary celebration just last week — gathered at the SoMa bar to hear the shocking news and propose ideas for the future. Ever since an enormous glass luxury condo building sprang up next to the one-story Stud building, hand-wringing has been rife about the future of the venue.

“In 1987, when I walked into the Stud, I knew I wanted to move here,” said an emotional McElhaney, originally from Hawaii, seated on a bar stool and “taking deep breaths of tequila” on the club’s small stage. “When the opportunity came up to buy it a few years later, there were these incredible obstacles,” including substantial debt. “But there I was, this young kid fresh out of art school who just wanted to do it anyway, to keep this magical thing alive.”

Stud owner Michael McElhaney lays out options for the club's future.
Stud owner Michael McElhaney lays out options for the club’s future.

McElhaney purchased the Stud with business partner and vibrant club presence Ben Fiesta in 1996. (Fiesta died in 2011.) McElhaney went on to cite the “golden age” of the Stud in the ’90s, when legendary parties Trannyshack and Sugar packed the club — and he recounted the hard times after those parties left the venue in the late 2000s. Recently, however, the club had been back on an upswing, with parties like Some Thing, Dark Room, and Go Bang.

Suddenly, however, circumstances changed. “For all this time we’ve had an awesome, awesome couple as landlord. But a few years ago, one of them passed away. Things continued fine, we were even able to negotiate a lower rent, which, to be fair, has been very low, especially at this point in history. That’s allowed us to pay off all our debt, get up to date on everything, and be in really good shape.

“But then, I found out a couple weeks ago that the building had been put in escrow to be sold,” McElhaney continued. “That comes just as our lease is up for negotiation, now with the new owners. In two months, our rent will be almost tripled, to $9500. For us as a small cabaret-type club, that is inconceivable. We just can’t do it with the way things are now.

“And also, my mother is getting old. After putting decades into this place, it’s time for me to move back to Hawaii and take care of her.”

McElhaney called on the community to collaborate on saving if not the space then at least the club in a different spot. “The Stud isn’t just a building, it’s a community.” He laid out options that included finding another buyer who could also pay the rent, finding another space and transferring the valuable liquor license, pooling together as “the next generation of queers” to buy the club, and working with the city to find solutions.

As a club, the Stud is 50 years old, and has been in its current location for 29 years.
As a club, the Stud is 50 years old, and has been in its current location for 29 years.

The Stud’s building was erected in 1908, which could qualify it for historical preservation status and, at 50 years — despite a move from nearby Folsom Street where the Holy Cow stands now — the Stud could also qualify as a legacy business.

Nate Allbee, who works in Supervisor David Campos’s office and wrote the legacy business legislation, addressed the crowd, saying that legacy status — which helps longtime business owners with city grants and lease negotiations — would help, but only in so much as it would probably at most shave $2000 off the oncoming monthly $9500 in rent. He added that historic preservation of the building itself may protect the facade, but that the interior could be destroyed and built upon. (The Stud site is currently zoned for five stories.)

Bobby Lopez, representing SoMa Supervisor Jane Kim’s office, said Kim was eager to fast-track the Stud’s legacy business application and help develop ways to leverage the Stud’s valuable liquor license to help preserve the space. Both Lopez and Allbee went on to cite hopefulness in the revival of the SF Eagle, a gay bar that had closed but was then reopened due to pressure from community groups to preserve queer space, and engagement from Kim and other Supervisors in finding new owners.

Allbee also pointed to oncoming “1 to 1” legislation that may be on the November ballot, proposing that, for legacy businesses, new building owners must help either relocate the business if they plan to alter the building, or help the business remain operable during construction and afterward.

Etta james performing at the Stud's former location, where it helped magnetize the gay hippie and funk scenes.
Etta james performing at the Stud’s former location, where it helped magnetize the gay hippie and funk scenes. Photo by Dan Nicoletta.

Comments from the crowd were mostly forward-looking, and applause sprang up throughout at the mention of the club’s past. The fate of the Stud’s beloved staff, however, was still in doubt. “I’m racking my brains to figure out how we can make sure there’s a place for you,” McElhaney said. “When we first bought this place, people said. ‘Oh, this is a gay bar, you should hire shirtless muscle twinks.’ But that’s not what the Stud is about. This is a bastion of beautiful freaks, of the kind of individuals that make San Francisco such a magical place, and I wanted my staff to reflect that.” The attendees burst into wild cheering.

As for action to save the club, McElhaney will put out an official statement tomorrow about the club’s situation, at which point further mobilization will be suggested. There are already plans to investigate the possibility of forming a co-op of owners to take over. But at that moment, everyone was letting the shocking news sink in, “taking deep breaths of tequila” of their own.

 

  • WAIYDE

    heart. breaking.

  • DeeLeit

    Thanks for the hopeful message, I think there is A LOT of community love and investment in keeping The Stud here and queer.
    Also, that photo of Etta James at The Stud by Danny Nicolleta is one of my favorite photographs, ever.

    • Melaniemschmitt4

      <<wss.
      ✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:::::::!bxr151es:….,….

  • S.Q

    I met my husband there in1979 @ the old Location. We ‘d start off at hamburger Mary’s then cross the street and stay until last call. The Holy Cow loved our love story the opened up in the afternoon and let us have a wedding reception in the original location with all our friends. I can’t believe they can’t save it

  • gskorich

    why didn’t the owner buy the building especially when he admits to paying below average rent? I’m sure the option came up through the years. seems odd he didn’t buy it when it was recently sold ? now suddenly because he has to pay his rent he wants to sell and run off to Hawaii ? hmmm. that can’t be cheap or is he hoping to form a co-op to finance his Hawaiian escape

    • Cynthia

      Uh, because he couldn’t afford it? Do you really not grasp that buying a building is on an entirely different financial level than operating a small club?

      • gskorich

        after how many years and he couldn’t afford it? why didn’t he get first refusal in buying the property?

        • plantguy

          Stop saying such idiotic things about topics you know nothing about.

          • gskorich

            do you mean basic real east ate knowledge? if these past owners were so nice and allowed him to rent from him for so many years below market then why wouldn’t they given him right of first refusal ? you can’t tell me he wasn’t making money on the place ?

          • Ben Colarusso

            Your Fucked.

        • Cynthia

          Why do you assume it was even offered at all?

          • gskorich

            do you know that it wasn’t ?

          • Cynthia

            *sigh.*

          • gskorich

            exactly. you are shooting off and aren’t adding anything to the conversation

          • scantron37

            you didn’t add much either. you clearly don’t know much about real estate. it is very unlikely that the new buyer will keep the building as it stands. they are not looking to just rent to another bar for 3x the rent. the building next door just traded hands, and I would bet the new owner of the Stud property also purchased the adjacent property (i think they own the hotel 2 doors down alread.) If the building is trading hands for a redevelopment play, that would be priced way out of the means of an owner/user.

          • gskorich

            hmmm, very unlikely? you would bet? hmm sounds like you know less than the other poster. now i’ll ask again, since the current owner of the bar has benefited from lower than average rent for years one could assume he was in good with the owner of the building. was he asked to buy the building before the owner of the building sold it?

          • scantron37

            you are an idiot. the owner of stud may have been contacted about buying the building, but he no doubt could not afford the price tag. the building next door just sold to an LLC that is owned by the same family that owns the hotel two doors down. this is likely a redevelopment play, and the pricing for such a deal in SOMA would be well beyond the means of an owner/user occupant. stop trying to argue with others on this site, you don’t know what you are talking about.

          • …Because it’s not required.

            Really, those who live in a building should get first crack at buying it, but it’s not required by law.

          • gskorich

            I get that but my question is why not? if they were so nice to lease at below market why wouldn’t they have offered to sell to him. unless they did ?

  • We need to make sure facades and business like this are preserved. If it means there’s condos over it, sure. But this arbitrary rent increase and owner swapping needs to stop.

    • SFguy

      How do you suggest it is stopped?

  • tywifi

    … the soul of San Francisco is on life support due to money, greed, and tech companies

    • SFguy

      All tech’s fault right?

      • Hank Chapot

        Die Techie Scum!

        • Pvt. Hudson

          For all the rhetoric, I’ve yet to hear of any techie scum actually being assassinated…

      • Ragazzu

        No, s/he said money, greed and tech (but left out spec.)

  • Rhonda Price

    there is alot of $$ in the gay community–if there is enough interest the club will survive

  • Foginacan

    With $3500 rent, were they selling drinks for $3?

  • Stephen A Golden

    I was never fond of the Stud when I went there in its older location. But I recognized its significance. Billed as a gay bar, its clientele could be diverse. It was a true crossroads.

    How annoying that the owner refers to the “next generation of queers.” As the owner he is entitled, I suppose, but we were not a queer generation in the 1970’s when we went there. Referring to the Eagle as queer space is really too much and deserves an eye role. Dammit, stop using queer as if it encompassed all of us. It surely does not. Never did. Never will.

  • Another SF Casualty scarified to the god of greed. AKA Real Estate investors/owners. F-ing bastards.

    • Foginacan

      At this point, it’s the owner of the Stud looking to get full value on a liquor license who stands to profit most.

      • The owner will make money but I disagree he will profit the more than the realtors/developers who will be involved with the hostile takeover of yet another SF property.

        I used to love SF. Now, I would never move back. It reminds me of all the things I have always disliked about NYC and LA in the past although from what I hear NYC and LA are actually pretty cool again. All the DBags left and moved to SF.

        • Foginacan

          Considering that a hostile takeover is loony.

          If the owner wants to preserve the Stud, he can hand it to new ownership, keep an interest, and get paid off slowly…. it happens all the time. He’s looking for a nest egg, and he’s spoiled by rent from a sweetheart deal.

          If you no longer live here, please don’t add to the cultural wars here. It’s not helping.

          • I am happy to add to the cultural war since this city is being invaded by those trying to enforce their culture among us.

          • Foginacan

            Who is “us”? You’re not here to experience the repercussions and tensions of the friction you’re adding to. There are a lot of sociopaths moving here, but this story doesn’t appear to involve any of the “invaders”. I wouldn’t use that term though.

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  • Brian T

    I used to go to the stud frequently 10-15 years ago and to me it will always be that place where you could fly your freak flag high. Over the last 5 years, I went once or twice. Didn’t seem like they were really trying to create new parties or other events to draw in the crowds. I guess you can do that when you’re paying an insanely low rent. $9,500 doesn’t sound too bad. I’d love to know how many soma clubs pay less than $10k a month — probably not many.

    Hopefully someone will come in, spend a ton of time and energy to get parties there multiple nights a week, and we’ll see a resurgence like we saw at the eagle. For all the folks whining about real estate greed, it’s a business! If you want it to stay in business, you need to go there every week and spend your $$$. If you don’t, you’re the reason it will close.

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  • Patch O’Furr

    One of the unique events hosted here – http://dogpatch.press/2016/07/05/frolic-furry-dance-lose-venue/

  • sebra leaves

    This is indeed a test of the new legacy business legislation. Can the community save the Stud as one of the longest living cultural icons of San Francisco art scene?

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  • Pingback: Party Radar: Can this colorful crew save the Stud? - 48 hills()

  • sugarntasty

    Are we safe it’s” new direction for LGBTQ” commerce especially clubs? Where divide is part, of culture or continuation of pursuit? Attended many shows, enjoyed myself “connotation” attributed gentrified policies where emancipated LGBTQ society! Don’t need exclusive commerce nor,identity disagree thanks saying “Stud” if not. Another loft or office for BOMA. S.F message i’ll ask next generation where do stand? For preservation of LGBTQ heritage America trying to eliminate presence of “LGBTQ” society using. Assimilation where? Kudo’s Stud ownership!!!!!!

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