Badlands reopening remains in limbo after liquor license surrendered, owner Les Natali insists new management arriving soon [Updated]

Badlands reopening remains in limbo after liquor license surrendered, owner Les Natali insists new management arriving soon [Updated]Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline
Steven Bracco
Published on February 17, 2023

The future of Castro video bar Badlands (4121 18th St.) appears to be in limbo after controversial landlord Les Natali was forced to surrender the bar's liquor license.

Last week, Natali told the Bay Area Reporter (BAR) that the Badlands space could reopen in as little as eight weeks.

Hoodline readers will recall Badlands closed permanently in July 2020 after 45 years in the Castro.

Natali told the BAR that he is finalizing a deal with business partner TJ Bruce. Bruce owns a number of nightclubs including Seattle's Neighbors, Badlands locations in Sacramento and Portland, and Splash locations in San Jose, Fresno, Modesto, and Reno.

Badlands has been shuttered since March 2020. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline


Natali and Bruce did not respond to Hoodline's request for comment.

In October 2022, California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) spokesperson John Carr told Hoodline that the liquor licenses at both Badlands and Hamburger Mary's were "active, license fees have been paid, and disciplinary history is clean." "The locations will soon be in a 'license surrender' status and the owner can reopen when the businesses are prepared to do so," added Carr.

Public records indicate that the liquor license at Badlands is renewed annually in February.

Yesterday, ABC spokesperson Bryce Avalos confirmed to Hoodline that Badlands' liquor license was surrendered on Thursday. Avalos confirmed the license was surrendered due to inactivity. Public records indicate that the surrender date for Badlands's liquor license has been backdated to October 25, 2022.

Badlands' liquor license is currently marked as surrendered. | Image: CA ABC


"We have received the surrender request and the license should show surrendered in our system soon," said Avalos. "If the licensee requests that the license be reactivated, ABC will confirm that they are able to open prior to reactivating."

Avalos stated that reactivation can be immediate. "If the location is able to immediately begin operations, it could be immediate," added Avalos. "ABC looks into the circumstances of the request before reactivating."

As Hoodline previously reported, construction has been ongoing inside Badlands since the bar closed in June 2020.

Inside Badlands while it was being remodeled (December 2021). | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline


Badlands has been closed since shelter-in-place restrictions went into effect on March 17, 2020 and remains one of the only spaces to not reopen.

At this time, it’s unclear if Natali is selling the bar outright or if he will continue to own it under a new concept and management group.

Natali told the BAR that Bruce is "going to buy it. He's [Bruce] going to take over. His attorney and my attorney are going to work it out. He's going to be the boss and have all the control."

However public records indicate a liquor license transfer has not been initiated and a notice has not been posted at the business.

"I'm hopeful to start working together real quick and get it open as long as we agree on something," added Bruce. "I'm hoping to get it open early summer."

Natali also owns Toad Hall at 4146 18th St. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline


Longtime Castro residents will recall this wouldn't be the first time Natali has promised to open a long-shuttered business and has had to surrender a liquor license.

Natali also owns now closed Hamburger Mary’s (531 Castro), which opened in 2018 after its Natali-owned space (formerly the Patio) sat vacant for nearly two decades. Two years before opening Hamburger Mary's, Natali voluntarily surrendered his liquor license while the restaurant underwent repairs.

Avalos confirmed that Hamburger Mary's liquor license was surrendered again on October 31, 2022, despite public records indicating the license as active.

In December 2021, Natali told Hoodline "Hamburger Mary's is available and/or the space is available for another restaurant."

Natali also owns Toad Hall (4146 18th St.), which is directly across the street from Badlands and remains open.

Badlands originally opened as Watergate West in 1973, changing its moniker in 1975. According to SF Gay History, “the bar had a rustic, almost honky-tonk vibe" by the late 1980s, "with automobile license plates from every state decorating the walls and several pool tables."

Natali purchased Badlands in 1999, and after a brief closure for a remodel, it reopened in 2000 as a dance club.

The former Pendulum at 4146 18th St. (2004) | Photo: Max Kirkeberg/SFSU


In 2004, Natali sought to purchase the Toad Hall space — then home to the Pendulum, a bar that largely catered to Black LGBTQ+ people. In response, a group of eight complainants alleged that Natali had discriminated against Black employees and customers at Badlands.

A 10-month investigation by the city's Human Rights Commission ultimately concluded that Badlands “required multiple forms of identification from some Black customers, used discriminatory hiring practices, applied a dress code only to Black patrons, and denied entry using other policies rarely applied to whites."

Natali disputed the claims. The California Department of Alcoholic and Beverage Control (ABC) conducted its own investigation in 2005, but it was unable to substantiate the allegations and closed the investigation a month later.

Ultimately, the sale went through, the Pendulum was closed for repairs, and Natali reached a confidential settlement with the complainants in 2006. But the Pendulum ultimately never reopened, with the space reemerging four years later as Toad Hall.

As a result, the Castro lost its only bar catering to Black gay men at the time. In recent years Q Bar (451 Castro) and Beaux (2344 Market) have emerged as bars catering towards the QTPOC community. Earlier this month, Q Bar announced it will be reopening this Spring after being damaged over three years ago in a four-alarm fire.

Natali also owns two other long-vacant Castro properties: 4144 18th St., a one-time dry cleaner that has sat empty since a pop-up furniture store moved out in 2018, and 541 Castro St., which has been vacant since the 2014 closure of Under One Roof.

Last month another Natali-owned space at 4150 18th St. became vacant after Mexican restaurant El Capitan shuttered after three years.

Update 2/22:

ABC spokesperson Bryce Avalos tells Hoodline the liquor license surrender request for Badlands and Hamburger Mary's were submitted on October 25, 2022. That day is one day after Hoodline originally contacted ABC spokesperson John Carr about the status of the liquor licenses at both businesses.

While Badlands' surrender was backdated to October 25, Avalos tells Hoodline there was a delay in the surrender at Hamburger Mary's which resulted in it being backdated to October 31.

"The Hamburger Mary’s surrender request was submitted on October 25, 2022, but experienced a delay in processing so it was backdated to the last day of October 2022," said Avalos.

When asked why the licenses were not backdated further to when Badlands and Hamburger Mary's originally closed Avalos said, "a surrender begins once the licensee has submitted a license surrender request."

When asked what prompted the liquor license surrender request Avalos said, "the licensee followed a standard ABC process requesting that the license be surrendered."