New Year, New Owners For Marlena’s Bar

It's truly the end of an era for Marlena's Bar (488 Hayes).

News broke yesterday that our very own LGBT pub will be changing ownership, relinquishing the 23-year reign of owner Garry "Marlena" McClain, otherwise known as Empress XXV of San Francisco. He and his business partner, Janice Buxton, entered into escrow with the new buyers last Friday, January 4. When we spoke to Garry, he mentioned the deal could be finalized as soon as March.

After that, he said he envisions the new owners will “freshen” the place up with a remodel and bring the bar up to city and state codes, such as adding wheelchair access to the restrooms.

Rest assured, the makeover of the coveted establishment won’t render it entirely unrecognizable, Garry noted. Sure, the name will probably change, but the character and clientele are expected to remain the same. According to Garry, the new owners want the bar to remain a gay-friendly community bar with the same staff.

"It'd be foolish to get rid of them [the employees]," Garry said. "They're part of the neighborhood and everyone knows them."

Garry also expects that the new owners will keep the weekly drag show, Follies, and possibly his amassed (and quite honestly impressive) collection of Santas.

"They are talking about buying [the Santa collection]," Garry said. "If not, then I’ll probably give them to the [Legion of Honor]."

Due to restrictions, Garry wasn't able to reveal who exactly was planning to buy his beloved bar, but he did describe them as "three young guys, one is a lawyer and the other two are bar people." While other news outlets identified the new buyers as The Absinthe Group, a local group of proprietors who own other eateries and bars in the Valley, Garry told us that only one of the new buyers is officially affiliated with them, and that they are not the new buyers.

According to Garry, it's Janice who keen to sell the place. He remains slightly apprehensive — understandable, since the place bears the name of his treasured drag persona — but the upcoming change isn't entirely unwelcomed.

"My business partner wants to retire; she's 70 after all," Garry explained. "I'm 73 and working seven days a week is getting to be a lot."

What will Garry do with his newfound free time? He told us that he plans to travel, but remain active within the Hayes Valley community and, of course, still have a presence and influence at the bar. As Garry put it, they didn't just buy a bar, "they bought a queen."