At a July 21 event recognizing the passage of one full year since the popular Castro bar the Pendulum closed, a group of about 25 concerned citizens, including several City Hall heavyweights, asked why embattled Pendulum owner Les Natali has done nothing with the space for so long.
Sup. Bevan Dufty, who represents the Castro, was nowhere to be seen.
The Pendulum was known in Dufty's district as a popular spot for African American gay men, and rumors abounded as to why Natali was allowing it to sit empty. Natali, who owns at least $6 million worth of property around the city according to public records, had kept the bar open for over a year after he bought it in 2004, then abruptly shut it down.
Natali has since taken out numerous construction permits for the place, city records show. But progressive supervisors, including Tom Ammiano and Chris Daly along with board candidate Alix Rosenthal (who's running against Dufty), all showed up for the small rally saying nothing was happening and they wanted to make sure there was somewhere in the Castro for gay black men to go.
Confusion about the status of the Pendulum has been replaced with speculation, due in part to an April 2005 city report that alleged that Natali discriminated against African Americans, Latinos, and women at his establishments, which include the Detour on Market Street and SF Badlands, located just across the street from the Pendulum at 4121 18th St.
At the time, Dufty waved the report and declared that he wouldn't tolerate business establishments in his district that discriminated against any of their employees or patrons. So where is he now?
"At this point I have a larger objective: that I want to work with Mr. Natali and the broader community so that when the Pendulum reopens, it will be open to all," Dufty said in a phone interview with the Guardian. "Sometimes I work behind the scenes and sometimes I work out in front," he responded when asked about his silence on the Pendulum issue. "This time I worked behind the scenes."
But Calvin Gipson, a past president of the SF Pride Parade Committee and a self-described close friend of Dufty's, says he doesn't know how Dufty intends to handle the political powder keg that is Les Natali or how the Castro can again create a new home for gay black men.
"Bevan confuses me," Gipson said. "He says all of the right things, but he has not put forth a plan."
The controversy, for its part, has clearly left a fissure in the community.
In the summer of 2004, customers and former employees of other Natali-owned Castro bars alleged to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission that the proprietor systematically attempted to screen out African Americans, Latinos, and women from his venues.
The HRC conducted an investigation and eventually issued a report summarizing the complaints and finding that Badlands had indeed violated the city's antidiscrimination ordinances. Some Natali critics accepted the report as gospel and declared that it made official rumors about the club impresario that had persisted for years.