The economy is in the worst recession in decades, probably worse than anything since the Great Depression. But in major cities in the US, gay nightlife is booming. One bar owner in San Francisco reported that although his top-shelf brands aren't moving as quickly, his overall gross receipts are way up. People are holding off on the top shelf liquors but are drinking a lot more from lower shelves.
Our theory: lots of gays and lesbians would go out to dinner during the week, maybe popping into a bar beforehand for a brief happy hour, or a nightcap after dinner, but then would trundle home to bed in order to get up early the next morning for work. Now they're depositing their unemployment and severance checks, buying groceries and skipping the restaurants to cook at home, and then popping out later to drink. And they can stay out until last call on a Wednesday if they want because they don't have to be up by 6:00 am.
The gay bars in the Castro appear to be doing a booming business. There's a moratorium on new liquor licenses in the neighborhood (if there wasn't, we might actually see a lot of new bars opening). But even so, that hasn't stopped some establishments from changing hands and others to undergo other changes, including some vast remodeling efforts.
Here's a recap of some of the recent and upcoming changes (our apologies in advance if we've missed anything). Note that this discussion is primarily devoted to physical changes to actual establishments themselves rather than to new theme nights and events which are constantly evolving.
As previously mentioned when The Cafe first closed for remodeling, The Cafe was sort of a "Cheers" bar for Kevin. He started going when Gus Presents debuted Boy Bar, and then ended up coming for happy hour on occasion and ultimately befriended a lot of The Cafe's regulars.
Although it's been remodeled a few times over the last few decades, it's now currently closed pending the largest remodel since a dance floor was installed in the 1990s. It was already probably the largest bar in the Castro (and one of only a few with a dance license). It's now being dramatically expanded, and while some of the additional space will go to other uses (management offices, indoor dining for Subway, and possibly other business space), much of it will go to increasing the bar's space. An elevator is being installed for ADA compliance. What was the downstairs bathroom will be turned into a coat check room. (We've also heard an additional bathroom will be created upstairs and there will finally be separate men's and women's rest rooms.) The current coat check room will be remade into a DJ booth. The current DJ booth will be made into a permanent go-go platform (complete, we've heard, with a shower!). The dance floor will be expanded. And a whole new room will have several pool tables (the bar currently has two, but we've heard it will have three or four when it reopens).
Although we regretably haven't been able to go inside, here are a few pics of some of the renovations we've seen. There are more on Flickr:
Palace @ Mist
Although the newly-renovated Mist isn't in the Castro (it's in SOMA at 11th and Folsom), and isn't even a gay bar, it bears special mention here because when The Cafe was closed for renovations and Gus Presents was forced to temporarily close down Boy Bar, it replaced with a swanky new gay night at Mist called Palace. We've already blogged a bit about Palace, but you can enjoy a few sample pictures here and well as more on Flickr from March 6th and March 20th.
We reported earlier about the rebirth of Toad Hall, an institution in the 1970s that has been reimagined and reborn on 18th Street at the site of the former Pendulum. If Badlands sired a baby with The Mix, their child would be Toad Hall. That's no accident: Les Natali, who owns Badlands, also owns Toad Hall but brought in his friend Larry (owner of The Mix) to make many of the renovation decisions. The indoors has a small dance floor, a brick facade wall, and three lighting "waterfalls," evocative of Badlands but with a bit of a facelift. The outdoor patio is much more like The Mix's patio. As far as we can tell, Toad Hall isn't planning on any special theme nights or events (beyond excellent happy hour prices) -- again, very similar to Badlands.
The owners of the Rainbow Cattle Company in the Russian River were reportedly very persistent in trying to buy the Bar on Castro from Greg Bronstein. When Bronstein turned them down, the rumor is that they instead purchased the whole building and waited until Bronstein's lease expired. Bronstein moved out in January and the new owners immediately took over and renamed it QBar. Many of their regular nights were retained, including Juanita MORE's wildly popular Booty Call on Wednedays with Joshua J and Brandon. They have a new Sunday night event called Confessional that debuts today.
The bar remained opened while they embarked on a bit of a facelift, hiding their changes behind curtains when the bar was open. The official unveiling was last Thursday. We got a few pictures and our friend Georg got even more.
Bar on Church
When Greg Bronstein lost his lease at the Bar on Castro he remodeled another one of his bars, The Transfer, and renamed it the Bar on Church (thus enabling him to retain the BOC brand). They lost a few of their regular nights, like Booty Call, but retained others like their Monday night 80s night (80s music and 80-cent Cosmos). Here are a few pics from the grand opening and from Manic Mondays.
Although Bronstein lost the Bar on Castro to QBar, he has on other occasions been on the other side of the same situation. From 1983 to 2005, the bar at 2348 Market Street was The Detour (the fifth incarnation of a gay bar on that site -- the first being the Missouri Mule, which in 1963 became the neighborhood's very first gay bar). At the end, The Detour was own by Les Natali (see Badlands and Toad Hall above), but Bronstein bought the building and declined to renew the lease in 2005. After a lengthy court fight (which Bronstein won) and subsequent remodel, it reopened in 2007 as Jet.
Bronstein also owns the building next door, and managed, after years of permit appeals, to get the rights to expand. Jet has been closed for several months while the adjoining places were gutted to allow it to double in size. It will reopen in April under a new name: Trigger.
Truly a neighborhood bar mostly frequented by its regulars, the Men's Room on 18th was recently purchased by one of the bartenders and renamed Last Call. As far as we can tell, the name is the only thing that has changed about the place. It doesn't have theme nights or throw any special events as far as we know, but is a nice place (as its name implies) for a quiet nightcap with friends at the end of the evening.
The Metro City Bar
In 2007, the Metro lost their lease at 16th and Castro (which became the LookOut under new owners). The Metro's owners acquired a straight bar down the street called The Expansion under a special one year lease with an option to buy. Sadly, things did not work out for them and they called it quits after a year. The place has reverted back into a straight bar under the name of the 2124 Market Street Bar.
Cock Fight @ Underground SF
Although Underground SF is technically not in the Castro (it's in the Lower Haight on Haight at Fillmore), we wanted to once again mention a new club there on the second Saturday of every month called Cock Fight. Actually, we mention it mostly as an excuse to post a few photos from its opening night (as usual, more on Flickr):
When it first appeared in the Castro as A Bon Port, it seemed doomed -- a French creperie at the site of another failed French creperie, which had (if memory serves) had replaced yet another failed creperie. Indeed, businesses at that spot seemed to be replaced at a rate of two to three times a year.
But the new owners of A Bon Port had a vision and a secret plan. When their beer and wine liquor license finally came through, they closed for a super quick facelife (so fast, we didn't notice they were closed until they had already reopened), and then reopened as an upscale wine bar called Blush. Of course, they still have a kitchen (their liquor license requires it), but the emphasis is now on fancy appetizers rather than full meals. But it's clear that it's the wine that's front and center -- and as a result, finally the curse may be lifted from this poor location.