It's hard for us to believe that Marlena's closed just a few short months ago. Ever since March, the space where the locally-famous drag bar once existed has been shut down for a remodel. Now, it's time for the new bar, named Brass Tacks, to make its debut in Hayes Valley this Thursday, July 4th.
Yesterday we were able to sneak a peek of the bar while the new owners were busy getting it prepped with last minutes touches. We sat down with two of the three co-owners, Anthony Healy-London and Matt Conway, to talk about re-entering the Hayes Valley bar scene as owners.
"We've both worked in the neighborhood for a long time," Anthony said. "We love the businesses and the vibe of Hayes Valley."
"I’ve worked intermittently in this neighborhood for 10 years," Matt added. "I still have a lot of relationships with people who live in the neighborhood, including opera and symphony attendees and local business owners. I love this neighborhood."
Matt explained to us that he started his decade-long career as a bartender in Hayes Valley at Citizen Cake, which used to be at 399 Grove, but now is the bar manager at Absinthe. Anthony, meanwhile, is the current co-owner and head bartender of Churchill (198 Church).
We were curious about how their understanding of the neighborhood and their careers in SF nightlife played into their plans for 488 Hayes.
"The thing you always hear us say is that we are a neighborhood bar first and foremost," Matt said. "We're not trying to be a flashy or super high-end cocktail bar. We're trying to be a neighborhood bar with good cocktails."
Good cocktails indeed. Brass Tacks will also feature four wines on tap and eight beers on draft, including some local brews as well as imports. The shelves behind the bar are also fully stocked with the usual range of spirits.
The venue itself has seen its share of improvements as well. For one, there's an all-new bar top underneath a custom-made chandelier of hand-blown glass cylinders by a Cleveland-based industrial salvager and artist.
The old carpeting has been removed to expose the hardwood floor beneath.
Booth seating has been installed in the back where the pool table used to be.
Oh, and there's a new jukebox near the bathrooms.
While it's practically unrecognizable from its previous incarnation as Marlena's, the new owners will be carrying on traditions from the bar's predecessor.
"One thing we and Marlena [Garry] talked about was that he was very proud of his involvement with charity," Anthony mentioned. "We talked with him a lot about maintaining that as well as having fundraisers here. We think that's one of the best ways we can continue his legacy."
Anthony and Matt made sure to note that Garry has played an important part in their conversion.
"Marlena [Garry] has been helping us with the transition," Anthony said. "You know whether it's opening up a hall and telling us what used to be there, or being an ambassador to the neighborhood for us."
"It's less about Marlena helping us with the opening and more about our relationship with him," Matt chimed in "He's been super supportive throughout the entire process. We have the Marlena seal of approval and that means a lot to us."
The pair admitted they're not entirely sure whether Garry will be at the opening, since "he's had a big weekend" serving as Pride Grand Marshal. However, they don't dismiss the chance he may come down to greet people.
Marlena might have given them her blessing, but Brass Tacks will undoubtedly face some resistance from long-time patrons of their former neighborhood haunt. Anthony and Matt told us that they expect and respect those opinions. Others, they mentioned, have come by to express their excitement about the new place in the hood.
"The reaction [from the community] has been overwhelmingly positive," Anthony said. "Sure, we’re going to get people that are upset it's not Marlena's, but we've had the door open and people stop by and they've been really happy about us opening."
If you're in the neighborhood on Independence Day, stop by to scope out the new digs. They'll be open Monday through Friday from 2pm to 2am, as well as Saturday and Sunday from 12pm to 2am. And be sure to tweet us @Hayeswire to let us know your thoughts on the new space!