An effort to resurrect the city’s oldest gay bar is seeking community members interested in preserving a piece of San Francisco history.
As we reported last month, the Gangway at 841 Larkin St. poured its last drink on January 28th after 108 years in business.
The bar, said to have become an openly gay-friendly saloon in 1961, changed hands many times over its lifetime. Its most recent owner, Jung Lee, had been searching for someone to take over the bar in its current form since his wife passed away in 2011.
Ultimately, the location went to Sam Young, owner of Kozy Kar on Polk Street, who doesn’t intend to keep it a gay bar. A new ABC notice indicates that the new spot will be called "Young's Kung Fu Action Theater & Laundry."
Although Young isn’t planning to maintain the Gangway at its current location, he's accommodated efforts to preserve the business' legacy, said Nate Allbee, who is largely heading the effort to relocate the bar.
Allbee, an aide for former District 9 Supervisor David Campos, also led the effort to establish the Legacy Business Registry and helped draft legislation to develop many of the city’s cultural districts, including the Compton’s TLGB District in the Tenderloin and the Leather District in SoMa.
“Mr. Lee really tried to hand off the business to someone who wanted to keep it alive, but the second-best option has the potential to occur,” he said. The Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development tried to identify potential buyers, but no one clicked, he added.
Allbee said Young has agreed to donate the bar’s historic assets to preservationists.
A few years ago, Allbee helped develop the Stud Collective after the SoMa bar's landlord put the parcel on the market. With help from 18 members of the community, it’s now the first cooperatively-owned nightclub in the US, he said.
The Stud has remained in its building for the past two years, but co-op owners are looking for a new location, as the new owner will take over the building at the end of the year.
Since the cooperative took the helm, sales have increased about 60 percent and it is thriving artistically, Allbee said. “One of the ethos of cooperative businesses is members agree to teach others how to do a collectively-owned business."
After the Gangway's closure was announced, he reached out to Supervisor Jane Kim’s office and offered to teach a group interested in keeping the city’s oldest gay bar alive somewhere else.
The Q Foundation has offered to store the bar's assets—including its iconic ship's bow—in its shipping container until a new space can be found, Allbee said.
The next step is really just a call out to the community, Allbee said. The priority is to let the neighborhood know about the option of doing a collaborative business, and to identify “a group of folks willing and able to do business together,” he said.
Anyone who'd like to become a member—or knows of a suitable new home—can email Allbee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Tenderloin is one of the last places in San Francisco left with “somewhat affordable commercial spaces available,” Allbee said, adding that he plans to meet with interested Gangway Collective members in the next month or so.
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