SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Like other cultural facets of the San Francisco lifestyle, high rents have also had a major impact on the city’s once bustling LGBT bar scene.
Some bars have survived and are flourishing, but many other have been forced to shut down.
“I think this bar really makes its way by maintaining a loyal, regular customer base,” said Dave Harmon as he sat inside the Lone Star Saloon.
But even a strong customer base is not enough to off-set the soaring rents brought on by gentrification.
“People are being priced out,” said Honey Mahogany, co-owner of The Stud Collective. “And I think it’s taking away some of the uniqueness of the city…I think for a long time we’ve been seeing a lot of queer and LGBT businesses close across San Francisco. It’s a part of the problem of gentrification that we’re seeing.”
One of the victims of the trend is the once popular The Gangway. It was a treasure in the community since the 1960s, until it closed last year.
“Rents started going up,” said Marke Bieschke, a co-owner of The Stud. “San Francisco experienced web 1.0 which was our first kind of acquaintance with people suddenly not being able to afford to open places of their own where gay people and queer people could gather.”
Bieschke and Mahogany admit its battle to keep the doors of The Stud open. It has been a popular spot in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood since 1966.
In 2016, Bieschke, Mahogany were among a group of drag queens, performers, bartenders and LGBT leaders who formed a collective to buy The Stud and keep it open.
Just before the collective took action, the rent had tripled and the bar’s future appeared grim.
“I have always loved the queerness of this town and watching places like the Lexington Club close really lit a fire under me and my friends to take action,” said Rachel Ryan, who is a member of the collective ownership of The Stud.
Charlie Evans and his business partner staged a similar rescue of the Lone Star about 2 1/2 years ago.
“This bar is 30 years old, it was founded in 1989, so this year is its 30th anniversary and if you can make it through the first 15, good luck to you mate, and when you get to 30 there’s a certain solidarity that you have with your community,” Evan said.
The bar scene is also losing patrons because they no longer have a lot of discretionary income because of the high cost of housing in San Francisco.
“I think there’s still very good things happening and the venues that are surviving are good ones, but I think everyone has that struggle in San Francisco right now,” said Steve Piasecki. “It doesn’t really matter if the bar is open, if you’re spending your money on rent can you afford to go out?”