Effort underway to save San Francisco’s oldest gay bar

San Francisco’s oldest gay bar may be saved and relocated using a model that kept another gay bar in the city from closing last year, a supervisor’s office said.

The Gangway, a sailor-themed club at 841 Larkin St. in the city’s Tenderloin District, has to relocate because the new owner wants to open a straight bar in the space.

The Gangway opened in 1910 and police raided it a year later. During prohibition the bar was converted into a restaurant and a speakeasy was set up in the basement. It has operated as an openly gay bar for the last 56 years since it came out of the closet in 1961.

In 2016, Supervisor Jane Kim and a community collective worked to save another iconic bar, The Stud, a 53-year-old queer performance venue in the South of Market neighborhood, by helping turn it into a collectively owned and operated nightclub.

That same team is now working to help the Gangway relocate and preserve its history.

“San Francisco is at risk of losing what makes us special,” Supervisor Jane Kim said in a statement. The Gangway is located in Kim’s district.

Kim’s office said saving The Gangway has been challenging. Jung Lee purchased the bar with his wife in the 1990s and the couple ran the bar for 19 years until Lee’s wife died in 2015.

Lee put the bar up for sale shortly after his wife’s death and the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development stepped in to help Lee find a LGBTQ buyer and preserve important elements of the club.

But the effort didn’t work.

Now Kim’s office and workforce development officials are working with LGBTQ preservationists to preserve The Gangway’s business name and important physical ephemera.

Nate Allbee, who founded The Stud Collective, has agreed to help set up and operate a collectively owned Gangway bar, which supporters hope to relocate in another location in the Tenderloin District.

“This bar has survived decades of anti-gay bigotry, police raids and the HIV/AIDS crisis,” Allbee said in a statement. “We can’t just walk away from a business as important as The Gangway – this history is also vital to our future.”

The new owner, Sam Young, has offered to gift the business name and physical ephemera to preservationists. Young is also donating all of The Gangway’s assets, including the boat above the door, to the future collective.

The bar’s sign will stay though because it’s owned by the landlord and not Young.

Allbee said supporters are now looking for contractors who can help dismantle the interior and exterior, storage space, a new location for the bar and investors.

Young is already paying rent so preservationists want to find a new home quickly, Allbee said.

Allbee said for the collective to be successful, a lot of people are needed. Eighteen people came together to save The Stud.

An investment will not mean a lot of money, Allbee said. It’s for people who are interested in preserving an important place.

Members of the LGBTQ community who want to invest in The Gangway Collective and anyone willing to help save it should email Allbee at nate@queercollectives.com.

-Keith Burbank, Bay City News

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