Last-minute talks could save SF queer institution
Hennis and Hilsinger told us a contract was signed and the deal had progressed through an initial set of inspections and into escrow when the property's owner, John Nikitopoulos, refused to negotiate a new lease with the prospective owners.
Despite successful conversations up to that point, Gardiner and Banks "turned off and didn't say why," Hennis said.
Further complicating the matter, Gardiner and Banks' lease ran out and Nikitopoulos hasn't renewed it. He's been renting the property month-to-month and is reportedly raising the monthly price tag, which has remained the same for the past 10 years.
Hennis said the owners were still paying rent when they were threatened with eviction — which would mean a death sentence for the Eagle unless they could sell the business to a party Nikitopoulos would be willing to negotiate a lease with.
In the midst of the stalemate, Nikitopoulos offered to buy the business (and most important, the liquor license) from Gardiner and Banks, who refused saying they'd already agreed to sell to Hennis and his partners. Nikitopoulos then approached Hennis, suggesting Hennis purchase the business as planned and then sell him the liquor license. When Hennis also turned down the landlord's offer — without the liquor license, Hennis wouldn't actually own the bar — he disappeared from the conversations.
At the April 12 demonstration, mayoral candidate Bevan Dufty called for the stakeholders involved to recognize that in a city that "values history — indeed, is defined by history," the lease on the Eagle is "more than just a business transaction.
"The owner of this building needs to come to the table and talk about this," he urged.
But Nikitopoulos, a resident of Santa Rosa who inherited the property from his father, hasn't responded to Hennis, reporters, or even to calls from Sup. Wiener. He was, however, reportedly in communication with Englebrecht when the Skylark owner swept in to purchase the space and liquor license — but not the name or the leather culture.
Though Englebrecht withdrew, supporters worry Nikitopoulos could potentially negotiate a lease with a different tenant — leaving the bar a casualty of SoMa's continued gentrification.
Longtime Eagle patron Mike Talley, who has lived in SoMa for more than two decades, fears the Eagle would fit perfectly into a familiar story of luxury lofts, astronomical rent increases, and — inevitably — mass evictions. He explained that what the Chronicle's late columnist Herb Caen called the Miracle Mile — a strip of SoMa gay and leather bars that once numbered in the dozens — now consists of just a few properties "hanging in there."
Mark Kliem, a.k.a Sister Zsa Zsa Glamour of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, echoed Talley's concern, saying, "The rest of the entire world is family-friendly. Why can't we have this one little half-mile area to call queer space?"
It's worth noting that the Eagle is by no means exclusively gay. It is famous for its Thursday-night rock shows where, according to an Eagle DJ, "a melting pot of hipsters, stoners, and rockers mixed with the leather crowd."
"Everyone was cool," he said. "Everyone was welcome."
Still, the bar has become an icon of San Francisco's queer community.
Kim, who represents the district, presented the Eagle with a letter of commendation recognizing its 30 outstanding years as a "venue, cultural institution, safe haven, and home for the LGBT community" at the April 12 meeting.
"You can't threaten something as important as this institution," Campos added.
Wiener, Kim, and California Sen. Mark Leno also praised the Eagle at Sunday's regularly scheduled beer bust. Leno lauded the efforts of local drag queen/community organizer Anna Conda, and referred to the week's events as "Stonewall West."