Plywood boards that were installed over the windows in the early pandemic have been taken down, revealing the front of the bar that hasn't been seen since March 2020.
On Thursday, workers could be seen inside and outside the bar preparing it for reopening. According to one worker, Badlands should be reopening in less than two weeks. "In time for Castro Street Fair," said the worker.
Badlands at 4121 18th St. prepares for reopening. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline
Owner Les Natali and business partner TJ Bruce have not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Last week, Badlands posted on its reactivated Facebook page that "Badlands San Francisco is back and we're hiring for multiple positions."
As reported by the Bay Area Reporter in mid-August, Bruce stated that Badlands could "be open within 60 days." Now it appears that the timeline has been moved up.
Natali and Bruce have been working on a deal since earlier this year to reopen Badlands. Bruce owns a number of nightclubs including Seattle's Neighbors, Badlands locations in Sacramento and Portland, and Splash locations in San Jose, Fresno, and Modesto. A Splash location in Reno closed earlier this year.
Hoodline readers will recall Badlands announced on social media that it was closing permanently in July 2020 after 45 years in the Castro. The still-visible post stated, "Badlands bar is closed. Later this fall a new bar, under new ownership, will open in the Badlands location."
Badlands disabled its Facebook page in August 2020 after another post was shared about the permanent closure of the bar.
Plywood boards covering the front of Badlands were taken down on Thursday. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline
As Hoodline reported, the liquor license was never transferred from controversial landlord Les Natali and the bar has remained one of the last businesses to reopen after the pandemic.
In February, it was reported that Badlands would be reopening under new management by Bruce. However, Badlands' reopening was in limbo after the liquor license was surrendered in October 2022 due to inactivity.
Hamburger Mary's, also owned by Natali, surrendered its liquor license at the same time. At the time, California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (CA ABC) spokesperson Bryce Avalos told Hoodline that both licenses could be reactivated immediately.
"If the location is able to immediately begin operations, it could be immediate," said Avalos at the time.
While work is underway at Badlands, CA ABC spokesperson Devin Blakenship tells Hoodline that both liquor licenses remain suspended. "I looked up the locations in our internal system and they are both showing suspended still," said Blakenship.
Construction workers remodeled the bar in October 2020. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline
Construction has been ongoing inside Badlands since the bar closed and no work appears to be happening at the shuttered Hamburger Mary's space. 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."
Badlands owner Les Natali (left) outside the bar in March 2020. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline
Natali purchased Badlands in 1999, and after a brief closure for a remodel, it reopened in 2000 as a dance club.
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 also owns Toad Hall at 4146 18th St. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline
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.
The former Pendulum at 4146 18th St. (2004) | Photo: Max Kirkeberg/SFSU
As a result, the Castro lost its only bar specifically catering to Black gay men at the time. In recent years Q Bar (451 Castro) and Beaux (2344 Market) have emerged as bars that cater to the QTPOC community. Q Bar was damaged nearly four years ago in a four-alarm fire and its reopening has been delayed multiple times.
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.
It appears that Badlands has taken another step closer to reopening. CA ABC spokesperson Devin Blakenship tells Hoodline that Badlands has filed the paperwork to reactivate its liquor license.
"[I]t looks like we did receive a request to activate the Badlands license," said Blakenship. "The paperwork is making its way through the department but it could be active relatively soon, barring any issues."
In regards to the status of Hamburger Mary's liquor license, Blakenship added, "We haven’t received anything for Hamburger Mary’s or that location."
At this time, public records indicate that Badlands liquor license has not been activated. However, processing the application typically takes a few days to be reflected online.
Badlands' liquor license is now listed as active on the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control website.
According to the website, the license was activated on September 20 and will expire on February 29, 2024.
Badlands owner Les Natali remains listed as the sole owner of the bar and new manager TJ Bruce is not listed on the liquor license.
Badlands' liquor license has been activated as of September 20. | Image: CA ABC
Thanks to Hoodline tipster Christopher V. If you've seen something new (or closing) in the neighborhood, text your tips and photos to (415) 200-3233, or email [email protected]. If we use your info in a story, we'll give you credit.