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SF’s Oldest Gay Bar, The Gangway, Has Abruptly Closed

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Photo: Michela, Flickr

Over the weekend many in the SF Queer community posted the sad news: The Gangway had suddenly closed down. The fact that The Gangway was on the chopping block was common knowledge, there had been overtures from folks interested in buying the place since 2016, but up until now, nothing had seemed to materialize. Then on Sunday morning a number of posts popped up on Facebook with folks lamenting the abrupt closure of the 107 year old Queer bar.

A 107 year old bar closing would be sad news anywhere, but it’s particularly painful in San Francisco where we seem to be losing institutions monthly. This is especially the case in a city where Queer culture is being museumized, while the actual places where the culture was built and fought for are disappearing. The Tenderloin was once the heart of gay San Francisco, now the only Queer bar left is Aunt Charlie’s Lounge.

The history of The Gangway is as fascinating as you’d expect from a 107 year old gay bar. It opened in 1910 and had it’s first same-sex raid a year later. It did the whole speakeasy thing during Prohibition, and then became part of the Tavern Guild in 1962. The Tavern Guild was an association of gay bar owners and booze distributors who joined together to fight back against police harassment. They had a phone tree to help warn each other of impeding police raids. It was the first gay business associations in the United States.

The Gangway was always more than just a place to grab a drink, it was also a space where the Queer community gathered to support each other and look after one another. The bar was vitally involved in the activism surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic that so thoroughly scourged San Francisco. Stephen Torres, longtime contributor to this site and Gangway frequenter, told me that during the HIV/AIDS epidemic the older, straight, Korean couple who owned the bar did their part to help by cooking hot meals and giving them those who were in need. Even recently it’s where many of us gathered after the candlelit vigil that was held following the murder of Queer SF icon Bubbles.

Photo taken over the weekend by Darwin Bell. You can see the notice of liquor license transfer on the door.

As of now it’s not certain what the next business to inhabit the space will be. The last anyone heard was in 2017, when the owner of Kozy Kar was going to turn it into Young’s Kung Fu Action Theater & Laundry. But that remains to be seen.

Regardless, this is just another sad marker that the weird, artsy, Queer, bohemian San Francisco that was, is rapidly becoming the the San Francisco that isn’t.

So long Gangway. See you that great big dive bar heaven in the sky.

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Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.

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