Things haven’t been so great lately for gay-owned and -friendly businesses. Costumes on Haight just announced it would close. Castro clothing consignment institution Worn Out West suddenly closed this week. Kink.com is officially shutting up shop at the Armory and moving to Vegas.
The kicker, of course, is that we also lost the city’s oldest gay bar, the Gangway in the Tenderloin, a couple Saturdays ago. Eek.
But wait! This afternoon, an effort to preserve and move the Gangway was announced by Supervisor Jane Kim, a coalition of LGBT preservationists, and the Office of Workforce and Economic Development (OEWD). Can they save the Gangway from walking the plank?
This idea is to bring community members together to invest in operations and find a new space for the Gangway—much like what happened, so far successfully, with the Stud Collective, which formed to save that historic gay bar in January 2017. (Full disclosure I’m a Stud Collective member.)
The call-out for community investment is being led by Nate Allbee, a queer preservationist and familiar face around City Hall, who has been working on a plan to save the Gangway for three years, knowing the 107-year-old bar would likely close if nothing was done.
“I and the OEWD got together with other bar owners and people from the community to see if we could buy the space as is, where it was, but it just wasn’t viable,” Allbee, who wrote the city’s Legacy Business legislation and is working on forming the Compton’s Transgender Cultural District in the Tenderloin and the Leather Cultural District in SoMa, told me.
“Jung Lee owned the bar with his wife, who passed away 15 years ago. It was time for him to sell. The new owner, Sam Young [of Polk Street bar Kozy Kar], has been really generous with letting us have everything, including the name and the big boat above the door, as we look for a new space.”
Moving a gay bar to preserve it sounds radical—and it is part of an ongoing experiment to see if city-backed entrepreneurial efforts and cooperatives can save important queer cultural heritage.
But as Allbee points out, “Several Legacy Businesses have moved. The Stud has moved twice and needs to move again at the end of the year. The Tadich Grill has moved something like eight times. Moving a business is par for the course for anything that has survived this long, it’s always been an option for a successful business strategy.”
Jane Kim’s office is backing the effort, lending resources and support. As Allbee says in a press release sent out this afternoon:
“Right now we’re putting out a call for three things,” said Allbee. “Investors who want to be part of the Gangway Collective, contractors who can help us work quickly to dismantle the historic interior and exterior elements of the bar, and any leads on storage space and a new space for the bar in the Tenderloin.”
Anyone interested in helping preserving this vital piece of SF’s gay heritage should contact Nate Allbee at [email protected]. Full press release below:
San Francisco – Supervisor Jane Kim’s office working with LGBT preservationists and the Office of Workforce and Economic Development (OEWD) announced today that they are working together to preserve and relocate The Gangway – San Francisco’s oldest gay bar – using the same model that saved The Stud from closing last year.
The Gangway first opened as a bar in 1910 and had its first same-sex police raid only a year later. During Prohibition it converted into a restaurant and moved the bar into a speakeasy in the basement. The sailor-themed nightclub came out of the closet in 1961 and has operated openly as a gay bar for the last 56 years. At 107-years-old the bar is in the running for one of the oldest gay bars in the country and holds the uncontested title of oldest gay bar in San Francisco.
“San Francisco is at risk of losing what makes us special,” said Supervisor Kim. “Our city was the birthplace of the LGBT civil rights movement, and bars like the Gangway played an essential role. We can’t just let the oldest gay bar in the gayest city in America quietly close.”
Supervisor Kim’s office has been actively working on preserving the LGBTQ communities in District 6. In 2016 she spearheaded efforts to save the 53-year-old queer performance venue, The Stud, by turning it into the nation’s first collectively owned and operated nightclub. She also led efforts to create the Compton’s Transgender District, as well as the upcoming SoMa LGBT & Leather District both of which are first of their kind anti-gentrification efforts.
Preserving the Gangway in its current location at 841 Larkin has been an up-hill battle. Jung Lee, the Bar’s most recent owner, purchased the bar with his wife in the 90’s. The couple ran the bar for 19 years until Mrs. Lee passed away in 2015. Mr. Lee first listed the bar for sale not long after his wife’s death, at which time OEWD began working with Mr. Lee to engage buyers interested in preserving important elements of the iconic gay bar.
“OEWD is proud of the support we were able to provide for community members seeking to save the Stud,” said Joaquin Torres, Deputy Director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, “and we are happy to step in again to support community members as they endeavor to preserve and relocate the Gangway.”
Supervisor Kim’s office and OEWD are supporting LGBT preservationist’s effort to preserve the Gangway’s business name and meaningful physical ephemera. Nate Allbee, a preservationist who authored the City’s Legacy Business Registry and founded The Stud Collective, has agreed to lead efforts to teach a new Gangway Collective how to set up and operate a new cooperatively owned Gangway bar. With support from Supervisor Kim and the City, this new Gangway Collective will seek a location in the Tenderloin to reopen the historic bar.
“We won’t be able to keep The Gangway in its exact location but we can hopefully recreate it in the same neighborhood,” said Allbee. “This bar has survived decades of anti-gay bigotry, police raids, and the HIV/AIDS crisis. We can’t just walk away from a business as important as the Gangway—this history is also vital to our future.”
Sam Young, who purchased the bar from Jung Lee, has generously offered to gift the Gangway business name and physical ephemera to preservationists. “I grew up in San Francisco and I’m supportive of this history being preserved. I hope it can be successfully reopened in another location someday.” Young has agreed to donate all of The Gangways assets, including the iconic boat above the door, to the future Gangway Collective.
“Right now we’re putting out a call for three things,” said Allbee. “Investors who want to be part of the Gangway Collective, contractors who can help us work quickly to dismantle the historic interior and exterior elements of the bar, and any leads on storage space and a new space for the bar in the Tenderloin.” The new owner has already begun to pay rent, so preservationists need to move fast to dismantle and find a new temporary home for the historic elements of the Gangway.
Supervisor Kim is hopeful that these efforts will be another win for LGBT preservation in District 6. “Last year the LGBT community really stepped up to save The Stud, and that’s what it’s going to take to save The Gangway,” said Kim. “I want to make sure that San Francisco remains a safe and welcoming place for the next generation of LGBTQ people, and that means preventing historic LGBT spaces from being erased.”
LGBTQ member of the community interested in investing, or anyone willing to help save the Gangway should email Nate Allbee at [email protected].