Oakland LGBTQ Hotspot The Port Bar Faces Eviction Amid Lease Dispute and Attempt to Halt Queer-Oriented Events

Oakland LGBTQ Hotspot The Port Bar Faces Eviction Amid Lease Dispute and Attempt to Halt Queer-Oriented EventsSource: Google Street View
Nina Singh-Hudson
Published on November 08, 2023

Oakland LGBTQ hotspot, The Port Bar, is wrestling with potential eviction due to a lease disagreement with landlord Phil Leong. Based on a San Francisco Business Times report, Leong demands the bar to stop its queer-oriented events including karaoke nights, trivia, and cabaret shows, claiming these activities breach the rental agreement and pose safety concerns. Owners Sean Sullivan and Richard Fuentes counter this assertion.

A particular lease clause specifying the premises' usage as a "bar serving wine, beer, and spirits" is at the heart of the dispute between the two sides. Leong sees this clause as barring gatherings like karaoke or DJ nights, whilst Sullivan and Fuentes view them as typical bar affairs. Since late 2021, monthly negotiations have been taking place.

Leong detailed in an email that he "never agreed to the use of the premises as an entertainment facility with parties of dancing and entertainment presentations, indoors or outdoors." This statement contrasts a recent Instagram post by the Port Bar, noting various elected officials have pleaded with Leong to continue their lease without queer programming changes.

Adding to the complex scenario, an incident occurred at the Port Bar with an unidentified person shattering the venue's windows and door using ankle weights. No items were stolen but Sullivan surmises that it was a deliberate assault. Following this, a successful GoFundMe campaign was organized by the Port Bar, raising $14,000 for repairs from more than 280 donors.

Simultaneously, the Port Bar gains the backing of political allies like Councilmember Carroll Fife of Oakland District 3 and the Alameda County Democratic Party. The latter released a nonbinding resolution titled "Stop the Eviction of the Port Bar" in September, advocating an investigation into Leong's engineering firm, RSE Corp., over alleged discrimination.

Remarkably, the resolution took Leong to task for neglecting to manage negotiations in good faith relating to the neighboring property at 2021 Broadway, owned by him and vacant for seven-plus years. Leong and restaurateur Michele Wilson signed a lease in 2015, with the aim of opening a new branch for her San Francisco restaurant, Gussie's Chicken & Waffles. After city approval of some planning applications and permits in 2017, progress on the project faltered and Wilson has since turned her focus elsewhere.

Construction developments at 2021 Broadway have spurred speculation about future intentions for the property. Port Bar patrons questioned the underway work and according to the San Francisco Business Times, laborers insinuated the space was in preparation for a karaoke bar. Leong retained ambiguity around plans for the empty property, however, asserted it was "his right" to utilize it as he saw fit.