Bar’s move likely to be OK’d

A self-proclaimed “dirty little biker bar” that is a mainstay of the South of Market gay scene will likely gain approval to move two blocks from its current location after a months-long fight that harkens back to the zoning battles of the late 1990s.

The owners of the Hole in the Wall Saloon won preliminary approval from the San Francisco Planning Commission on May 10 to move the 13-year-old establishment from its dilapidated location at 289 Eighth St. near Folsom Street to a former dance studio at 1369 Folsom St., near 10th Street.

Life and business partners John Gardiner and Joseph Banks, who own the Hole in the Wall and the Eagle Tavern at 398 12th St., bought the new building last fall. They had hoped to reopen the bar in April, Gardiner said, but opposition from homeowners and neighbors in the area slowed the process.

The struggle conjures the massive zoning fights of the late 1990s, when new loft owners fought to prevent 11th Street — already home to numerous bars and nightclubs — from becoming a dedicated entertainment district.

That clash, and others like it, resulted in the formation of the San Francisco Entertainment Commission in 2003 as a city-sponsored mediation device between neighbors and club owners.

However, a new wave of grumbling has recently begun, with South of Market neighbors opposing the opening of nightclubs and bars, and working to close some existing establishments such as Club Six on Sixth Street. Opponents of the Hole in the Wall’s move cited smoke and noise concerns.

This is the “single most contentious project I’ve been involved with,” Hole in the Wall architect Jeff Matt said. “This case has become something of a bellwether of what southwestern SoMa may or may not become.”

But the Hole in the Wall’s struggle is somewhat different from the battles of the late ’90s, when longtime club owners often battled newly arrived residents.

A man identified by Gardiner and Banks as the leader of the neighborhood opposition has owned his home in SoMa for 30 years — more than twice as long as the Hole in the Wall has been open. He also sits on the Entertainment Commission.

Commissioner Jim Meko, however, denies that he led the opposition to the bar, saying Wednesday that he simply participated in a neighborhood group expressing concerns about the establishment.

“You don’t get any sympathy if it’s the neighbors who were there first,” he said.

Neighbors complained that an open rear smoking area at the new site would pollute the neighborhood with smoke and noise. Banks and Gardiner agreed to build an indoor smoking room and to prohibit access to the rear area, and neighbors dropped their opposition.

But the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission still has seven valid protests on file. Even if the Planning Commission finalizes its approval, as it is expected to do today, Banks and Gardiner must gain approval from the ABC, which could mean a hearing before an administrative judge.

Meko said he plans to rescind his ABC protest once the Planning Commission finally approves the bar’s proposed new site.

amartin@examiner.com

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