The Eagle flies? -- property disputes, protests, and the uncertain future of an SF institution

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Members of the queer community rally outside City Hall.
PHOTO BY EMILY APPELBAUM

The commendation presented this afternoon by Supervisor Jane Kim to The Eagle Tavern recognizing its 30 outstanding years as a “venue, cultural institution, safe haven and home for the LGBT community” won’t be enough to pacify everyone who nests there – especially if their aerie is taken away.

Monday night, as many as 300 people gathered for an emergency meeting outside the beloved SoMa institution, trying to figure out how best to prevent that possibility in the face of an April 29 closure and potential eviction. Among them were representatives from the offices of supervisors Scott Weiner and Jane Kim, as well as former supervisor Bevan Dufty.

Members of the group gathered again yesterday on the steps of City Hall - complete with colorful signs – to talk about The Eagle as an icon of SF’s queer culture and to rally support from community members and the Board of Supervisors. Presenters and patrons likened the late-night spot to the Statue of Liberty, saying it represented a sort of Ellis Island for the queer community.

“This is where you come,” one speaker said, “when you’ve been kicked out of Kansas, or Florida, or Ohio, for being gay. You come to San Francisco.”

But the bar has welcomed far more than disenfranchised leather fiends through its doors. For 30 years, the South of Market venue has been a community hub and fundraising hotspot, raising what now amounts to millions for everything from breast cancer to youth charities to AIDS awareness. The club is renowned for its Beer Busts – which can raise over $2,000 in a weekend – and its Thursday night rock shows, which draw in hipsters, stoners, and leathermen alike for some of the strongest local rock bills in town, often tied to record releases.

But now, the queer spot may have to straighten up and fly “right,” if the property’s landlord has his way. When the bar’s current owners, John Gardiner and Joe Banks, decided to focus on their other SF property, Hole in the Wall Saloon, they tried to sell The Eagle to those they felt would continue the legacy: current manager Ron Hennis, owner of The Lexington Lila Thirkield, and Eagle entertainment coordinator Doug Hilsinger. But property owner John Nikitopoulos refused to renew the lease for the bar’s intended new owners.

He has, however, warmed to the possibility of signing the space to the owners of The Skylark at 16th and Valencia: a venue many Eagle patrons feel is a study in gentrification – not to mention, straight as a developer’s ruler. In addition to changing the club’s culture completely, they fear that such a sale may pave the way for an even bigger change down the road – condos, for instance.

Longtime Eagle patron Mike Talley has lived in Soma for over two decades, and has slowly watched the tides of developers roll in and wash away queers (and blue-collar workers and minorities and artists) in order to erect luxury lofts. He explained that what the Chronicle’s Herb Caen referred to as the Miracle Mile – the strip of SoMa gay and leather bars that once numbered in the dozens – has now been reduced to just a couple of properties “hanging in there."

According to Dufty, The Eagle Tavern is one of the only San Francisco leather bars still in its original location. In a city that values history – indeed, is defined by history – Dufty called for the owner of the property to recognize 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.

Indeed, securing landmark status may be a way forward for The Eagle, but the process is slow and complex, and does not guarantee the tenants additional rights -- but it does make clear the importance of The Eagle to the city of San Francisco as a whole.

Until then, SF Eagle lovers are determined to preserve their natural habitat. Local drag queen-cum-community organizer Anna Conda has organized two additional events to fight for the right to spread their wings:

Tonight, Wednesday/13, The Eagle will swoop down upon The Skylark in full leather regalia for a “surprise leather night.” Join in at 8 p.m., and wear your ass-less chaps. On Sun/17, camp out in front of The Eagle to show that the community center is much more than a bar. Pink tents encouraged.

Stay up to date by following the Save the Eagle efforts on Facebook.

 

Comments

It's a shame to see such an institution come to an end. But I don't blame the building owner for not wanting a second go around at a failing business plan. Also, the guys selling this bar must be soooo angry to see this kind of enthusiasm AFTER the Eagle has been slated to fly the coop. Where were all the supporters when they were unable to pay rent over the past year?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 13, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

The Eagle is profitable.

The landlord is giving them problems on renewing the lease on terms similar to their ongoing lease, if I understand matters correctly.

-marc

Posted by marcos on Apr. 13, 2011 @ 12:39 pm

FACT: The Eagle Tavern is at least 3 months behind on their rent payments.

Profitable my ass. This landlord is being protested by people living in the 80's; how embarrassing to be kicking and screaming over this.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2011 @ 6:11 am

I talked to the Manager last night. They are not behind on anything.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 21, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

Twitter appears, Eagle disappears.

The ink is not even dry on the Twitter tax break and already speculative frenzy is consuming Western SOMA.

Did Ted Egan even study the economic impacts of the tax deal on Western SOMA housing and community serving businesses?

I thought everyone was supposed to be pro-small business these days?

-marc

Posted by marcos on Apr. 13, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

The statue of liberty? Are you flipping kidding? The eagle is basically falling down, and every time I have been there it has stunk like pee and poo.
The statue of liberty was a gift from the French and stood at the entrance to a facility that was the first stop for 12 million immigrants to the US.
leather lovers will have to just trudge a few more doors down to the powerhouse to get their fill of sticky floors and community.

What makes people think they can force a private property owner to support a losing/unwanted business???

Posted by Guest on Apr. 13, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

Aren't you even reading what you see. it is not a losing business nor an unwanted one. Hundreds of people are fighting the closing of the Eagle Tavern. Many depend on the Eagle. Millions of dollars have been raised for charities at the Eagle. You don't want it and don't like so you don't need to go and in terms of "who can force a private property owner to support a .....business?"

WE CAN and you watch us!

Posted by Guest on Apr. 15, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

So people depend on the eagle for what?

Marcos said hundreds of thousands was raised for charity. Now its millions?
Pretty remarkable that a place that can raise millions for charity cant just move its concept to another bar enabled space.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 15, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

Some of the comments above seem to be written by people who have no clue what is going on. My understanding is as follows: This is not, at this point, an issue of paying rent. The manager of the Eagle as well as an individual from the Lex were going to buy the property. Those conversations broke down, however, when the property owner decided not to sell to them.

As for the last comment, speak for yourself. If you don't like the Eagle, the simple solution is for you not to go there. The Eagle has raised literally millions of dollars over the years for various organizations and events. It is home to a group of people who consider each other family. It has supported more than just the leather community. It has supported the LGBTQ community in general, has been a venue for live music on Thursdays, and has consistently sponsored two pool teams in the SF Pool Association. Stop speaking what ya don't know.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 13, 2011 @ 1:33 pm

As gay ghettos become less gay because GLBT people are less interested in ghettoizing themselves and more comfortable living more places, and also because straight people like GLBT neighborhoods because they're generally safer, hipper and cleaner. Gay people are more comfortable in mixed bars, therefore they don't need relics like The Eagle.

This is an evolution most would welcome. I'd rather live in a real neighborhood, vibrant and changing, than a Disneyfied version of what "queer culture" was like back in the bad old days.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Apr. 13, 2011 @ 1:44 pm

But The Eagle is profitable and continues to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for local charities. The Eagle remains a global destination.

If any gay bar should not close, it is the popular one that makes money.

-marc

Posted by marcos on Apr. 13, 2011 @ 1:53 pm

global destination?
People really need to come out from under their rocks and venture out of their extremely provincial bubbles!

the eagle is not a global destination. It is a pretty run down bar which is way past its prime. It does serve the community - but that isnt enough of a reason to keep it around.
There is no reason why the owners of the bar could not move it elsewhere (assuming the new place had a liquor license) and continue their charitable efforts.

Honestly the claim that it raises "hundreds of thousands" of dollars is a bit dubious.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 13, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

FACT: The Eagle Tavern is at least 3 months behind on their rent payments. Profitable? Not so much.

This sale is being protested by people still living in the 80's when places like this were essential for undercover gatherings. Now the 50 yr old patrons have no trouble gathering in City Hall with multiple SF Supervisors waiting on them hand and foot. Anyway, the times I've been there the venue has become a center for hipsters to grab cheap beers and gawk at dinosaurs. How depressing.

Why would the landlord want another tenant catering to the same narrow, unsupportive demographic?? Let him have his property rights.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2011 @ 6:24 am

I've been to their beer bust once and it looked like there was no one there under 30. However there were a lot of tired old leather queens with stretched-out nips and saggy asses, a lot of signage which looked like it was from 1979 and several pans of skanky-looking lasagna. Since bars mainly attract a younger crowd one has to ask if the Eagle is perhaps - past its prime?

The City has no business keeping bars open, no matter their clientele. There is absolutely no justifiable rationale for there to be any government action on this issue whatsoever.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Apr. 13, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

Oh my dear Lucretia Snapples! It seems that you comment on just about every news article. You bitch, you moan, you complain and you spew negativity.

For those reasons, I cannot even take you seriously. I do, however, hope that you find light and positivity in your life someday.

- Be the solution.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 15, 2011 @ 7:15 pm

Which doesn't inconvenience me at all. And not having to spend my time around saggy old leather daddies who've seen better days brings a lot of positivity into my life.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Apr. 15, 2011 @ 7:34 pm

Lucretia, do you have a horrible disease where you are unable to control your body?

Do your legs have minds of their own? Do they walk you to the Eagle while you shout out in horror? Poor Lucretia.

There are a ton of places to go in this city. You don't "have" to spend time with anyone if you don't want to. I'm not a fan of most of polk st. bar/club scene. So I don't go there... no biggie.

I'm also not a man or a "leather daddy." Still love the Eagle. At any rate, I propose a beer bust to raise awareness for this rare condition Lucretia has. He/she is unable to avoid places that he/she doesn't like. All the places to go in this city and poor Lucretia just can't stop being traumatized by the Eagle!

Posted by Guest on Apr. 16, 2011 @ 7:32 am

It's where when YOU don't like something then you see a way to force everyone else to adhere to YOUR preferences through an action of the law. An example: selling of cigarettes in pharmacies. Ross Mirkarimi didn't like that so he sought to ban it. Not good enough that he didn't smoke and that those who did had to show ID to buy them - Ross wanted it banned, so it was.

Or when David Campos tried to push the long-time, locally-owned San Francisco gun shop 'High Bridge Arms' out of its location by meddling in the permit-granting process to force them to leave town. He didn't succeed but this was yet another case of Progressive Conditionalis - if you don't like it then no one should like it, or be able to avail themselves of it either.

I've become afflicted by this condition through years of residence in San Francisco. Previously I was always of the mindset "Don't like it? Then don't do it" but lately I've become empowered by Progressive Conditionalis. Now if I don't like something no longer is it enough that I don't attend that event or bar - I try and get it shut down!

This is a logical outgrowth of the progressive desire to change society through a combination of regulatory and cultural pressure. I don't like The Eagle and I don't think the government should be helping them to stay open in any way, shape or form. I've learned in SF that it's not only my right to meddle in other people's business but to actually get the regulatory structure of the government behind me in doing so is usually very easy.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Apr. 17, 2011 @ 12:22 pm

First, reducing the queer community's "space" to a bar is both absurd and somewhat insulting.

Second, there is no obligation either on the part of the bar owners, the landlord, the city government, etc to ensure that a private bar stays open or stays open as a gay venue.

Third, you live in San Francisco, the whole city is fairly gay-friendly. This warped perception that you are constantly under attack and your only refuge is a gay bar is both sad and stupid.

Fourth, plenty of gay people LIVE OPENLY AND PROUDLY in Kansas, Ohio, Florida and elsewhere in the U.S., and don't feel "kicked out" of places they are happy to call home. It is beyond insulting to take the attitude that only San Franciso represents the "real" gay community. Who would have thought that the so-called "queer community" would take guidance from Sarah Palin? Now we not only have "real' Americans, but we apparently have "real" gay people, and I guess "fake" gay people that live in places like Ohio.

Finally, if the so-called "protestors" who have apparently have WAY too much time on their hands (and way too much of a smug sense of entitlement) feel comfortable "swooping" into the Skylark in their "assless" chaps, then why should they really give a damn if the same owners buy the Eagle? Really, do they think there will be armed guards keeping them at bay in the new club? No. Wear your chaps to the new venue, or are you only gutsy enough to do that when you know everyone else will be wearing them, too??? If so, take lesson in courage from your gay brothers and sisters in Kansas. I am gay and I like going to a bar with friends occasionaly, but I think this whole brouhaha is just so much nonsense. Goodbye Eagle, go off into the night and into history! I am sure your former patrons will find a new venue to call their favorite watering hole.

Posted by Chris on Apr. 13, 2011 @ 2:57 pm

Bravo, Chris, well put. The stigma of victimization the SFBG ascribes to even the most mundane "gay issue" is strange in 2011, as if every morning in their offices is the morning after Stonewall. My gay friends would have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the Eagle, because let's face it, it's gross, and they have much finer taste. I don't think SF needs to expend effort and resources retaining the equivalent of a Madame Tussaud's for leather queens.

Posted by Chromefields on Apr. 14, 2011 @ 11:18 am

Property rights are not sacrosanct, never were intended to be.

-marc

Posted by marcos on Apr. 14, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

Given the extreme difficulty of transferring liquor licenses and entertainment permits in San Francisco, this location will in all likelihood remain a bar. I would bet on it. If the same patrons return, its culture will continue. That is, the community and subcultures of the Eagle Tavern are not going to disappear just because of a name change.

If, however, the change in this venue's décor and format is completely unsatisfactory to its customers, they will find a new home. It would be the Eagle owner's loss and another bar owner's gain. The spirit of this community, however, will live on.

Posted by David Elliott Lewis on Apr. 14, 2011 @ 9:25 pm

I wonder why it is so hard to believe that the Eagle is an important institution for some people even if it means nothing to you. Yes, to some people it is a global destination. OFF! is headlining Coachella, yet chose the Eagle for their SF tour stop. When Eddy Current Suppression Ring left Australia to tour the US, their SF show was at the Eagle. Local bands like Thee Oh Sees, Fresh & Onlys and Sonny Smith are getting coverage in the NYTimes and regularly grace the Eagle's stage. To many people around the country and world, this is their favorite place in San Francisco and a symbol of why our City is unique. If it business was bad and the Eagle wasn't valued, it would be a different story. That isn't the case here.

Posted by AttF on Apr. 15, 2011 @ 11:36 am

It's nice some people like the bar. It's great that in some corners its famous. That said, it's a bar. There is no legal or moral obligation that it to stay in existence under the same owners or the same business model or in the same space, whether business is good, bad or in-between.

As I understand, the bar was going to change ownership under any circumstance. The controversy has to do with the landlord deciding to lease the space to a company which may or may not keep the current design or theme of the existing venue. So, be it. Change happens all the time with commercial spaces. But, people have a choice to continue patronizing a place after it goes through a change in management or remodeling, etc.

There is nothing stopping the current patrons from going to the new bar. The old saying about how a church is not a building....it's the people is applicable to a bar. What generally makes a bar interesting or not interesting to someone are the patrons. So, patronize the new bar in the old space, and it will have much of the same vibe, regardless of who owns it, etc.

But, even if it doesn't. There is not much to be done about the situation. There is no legal recourse to stop a commercial landlord from choosing to whom they lease. A landlord can rent a commercial space to a business or not rent a commercial space to a particular business. That is the way it goes. You are certainly free to get your own warehouse, loft, etc. and get it zoned for commercial space, and then rent it out to any business or organization of your choosing. Hell, start your own bar, if you want things a particular way.

What pisses me off about the this story is that there are so many pressing issues in need of attention in the city, country, and the world, which could use all the energy and brain matter being wasted on this bar changing management. For example, imagine what could be accomplished if all the people riled up about this bar changing ownership instead took just 10% of that energy, and said, "I'm going to help effect positive change for homeless individuals living here in San Francisco!"

The bar is going to close. That's that. Mourn it, remember the good times, and move on! Or, even better, just keep going to the new bar, and enjoy hanging out with your friends in a new space. But, stop wasting energy agitating about something which cannot be changed, and instead channel it into something worthwhile.

Posted by Businesses Close All The Time on Apr. 16, 2011 @ 2:22 am

I tend to agree that there are many important issues in San Francisco.

However...

I have tried to be involved in San Francisco politics for as long as I've been here. Town hall meetings and committees and, frankly, they're often empty. Crickets chirping. My point is, I don't think that it's fair to chastise people for caring about something by saying they should care about something "more important."

I think that it's great when people care about things even if everyone may not understand it. As an organizer, I do not see this as "wasting energy agitating," I see this as an opportunity for coalition building. I hope that you actually do what you preach and that you are involved in something you believe is worthwhile.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 16, 2011 @ 7:45 am

What part of the 5th amendment that requires due process before government interferes with private property rights are you missing?

Government interferes with private property rights ALL THE TIME, and it can do so now, because a political constituency wants them to.

The big test for certain supervisors is whether the Twitterati/Shorenstein property owners' need for subsidy eclipses the desire to do something to keep the Western SOMA from turning into a Twitter bedroom community with the concomitant "repurposing" of neighborhood serving businesses that are currently in place.

-marc

Posted by marcos on Apr. 16, 2011 @ 8:29 am

I use to attend the Berr Busts, use to play pinball in the 80's last time i was there, stopped by in 2009, still looked the same. I grew up in the Bay Area use to drink in places that don't exist. Bars come and go, people come and go. I still miss the The Town Club, it has been gone for 20 years. It is bar, nothing special about the place.

Posted by Garret on Apr. 18, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

Supervisors Weiner and Kim, in an effort to win constituent votes, have pledged the use of public resources to subsidize financially strapped LGBT owned businesses.  To apply for the  LGBT business owner subsidy take your LGBT ID card and your district 6 or 8 voter card to the offices of supervisors Weiner and Kim. Supervisors Weiner and Kim will then supply you with, and organize a largely blog educated mob of LGBT soldiers and supporters to protest on your behalf the unfairness of having to pay rent for LGBT business land use. With the lead of our public servants should your protests for free rent not be heard, sup Weiner can condone, endorse and direct his fact-less blog-militia to march into other district businesses and cause havoc and disruption for those business and their constituents that are paying their bills and filling public coffers.

What really infuriates me in all this is the role paid civil aka public servant supervisors have played in instilling and strengthening innuendo and rumors with out taking the time to actually interview, question or quote in any great length either the business owners or the property owners. I can see how lay people and constituents could be easily beguiled and misled by their perceptions, desires and passions or how the media could spin a good vs evil story line...its so easy when the inclusion of facts is unimportant.

This is not however behavior i would expect from sworn supervisors, who as public servants have a matriarchal and patriarchal type responsibility to go to work everyday and fight the good fight for the many hard working sf resident voters that are too distracted trying to feed themselves, take care of their families, pay their mortgages and the million and one other bureaucratic chiseling nickel and dime laws SF is not just one or two districts. Civil servants should not show up at community meetings for the purpose of pandering to and gaining 300 votes without knowing whats going on. Our civil servants should be setting a better example of education, transparency. Civil servants should be held to a higher responsibility to fact check their stories and not fall into the fact-less blogs that are more militia member personal view points than a picture of a greater San Francisco or a greater LGBT audience.

It saddens me that in this time of war, civil rights abuses, corruption and international environmental and economic deficit and crisis our public officials are squandering tax payer dollars, condoning, misdirecting and instilling socially, economically and community disruptive mob behavior and the demonizing of sf property owners and business people entirely based on misinformed blogs and false truths. How desperate are our civil servants whom now call themselves politicians that this is what they have succumb to to gain constituent approval? Find a misinformed mob of voter eligible constituents, preferably all in one place so you don't have to go door to door, promise them you’ll fight for their cause, in this case, not paying rent and presto that was a worthwhile appearance. Why educate them on the truth and tell them the truth-that would be too hard and they wouldn’t vote for you, so just lie and tell them your on their side and get them all riled up.  But is this why we voted for and pay these people, is this how San Francisco resident tax payers from all its districts want their tax dollars and officials time squandered. Why not add that LGBT businesses also shouldn't have to pay sales tax, or property tax, or for a business license, Hell if your a member of the SF LGBT community you don't have to pay for anything, screw the feds too, your special-mob rules and the supervisors are only to happy to lead their mobile voter mob around sf rampaging other businesses that are viable and support a wider representation of San Francisco's ethnic, cultural and sexual base. Is this very different than the KKK parades that were led by robed public officials and law enforcement members?

This is not a LGBT or gay-not gay issue, its not a Jew, Black Chinese or consent decree discrimination situation-it's not public property. This is a business issue, a contract issue, it has to do with not having a viable business model or regular income that can cover rent obligations, ie land use, ie one of the costs of doing business, for LGBT and non LGBT owners alike.
I would like to see my supervisors do something better with their public time and my tax dollars, something that is a real issue affecting the majority of sf voters, in all districts, of all sexual and religious orientations. Supervisors do not misappropriate public resources for malediction and the demonizing of loyal supporters of San Francisco's diversity and tax paying law abiding community members. For shame supervisors-our federal branch of government has set a bad example of lack of transparency and fact checking and borrowing billions a day and trillions in total to prop up failing businesses, failing industries, failing models of governance  and insider interests. Bank of America, Citi-group, AIG, General Motors and our defense industry ie "war machine" are just a few. Is it the LGBT bars turn now for a hand out or preferential treatment? Is this how SF tax payers want to see there tax dollars and supervisors hours expended, on wild goose chases to save and pro-up failed business models under the guise of civil rights? Our SF deficit is bad enough as it is. Supervisors please focus on something that might be an actual civil rights, health, education or safety issue and truly benefit everyone in SF rather than trying to create a story where one  doesn't exist, pandering to pre-grouped special interests just because its an easy segue to picking up votes. In these times of rampant corruption and squandering, public officials should be more cognizant of their negative, socially polarizing influences and role model positions and accountability. Research things a bit further before leading mobs through San Francisco and harassing other business owners and their customers. This is not why we elected and appointed and pay you to create community conflict partisan stand offs. My friends, business colleagues and fellow community members will not be voting for you in the future if this is what you do with our time money and legal institutions. Interested parties should apply for their “I'm special” subsidy while city and county resources last.




By all means lets keep dropping bombs on innocent people abroad and spend our deficit money here at home in SF propping up failing businesses that cater to special interest groups. That's why i voted for these supervisors-NOT.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

The Eagle is an important community to many people I know in SF, It would be irreplacable and its combination of indoor and outdoor space would not transfer well. I am not an 'aging leather queen', or gay, but I love the genuine openness of the place. The current owners should be allowed to continue the lease and should not be forced to move, SF should hold onto what makes unique, rather than selling its soul. Most of the comments posted here are shameful, hateful nonsense that the posters should be embarassed by. I hope The Eagle outlives them in this special city.

Posted by Mark on Apr. 20, 2011 @ 11:14 pm

The Eagle Bar in SF is world fames all around the world its a shame that this is happening Its a meeting place for young and old Leather Men Some say its out of step with today's Generation. Its not if we start destroying our gay heritage there will be nothing left. The younger generation thing thy can mix with there straight friends that's fine But as an older gay man I know its not going to last The straight community will turn on you Thy have done this be for and thy will do it again . SO what are you going to do and who are you going to turn to Fight again for your Right The older Gay community and the Leather Community Thy will Turn its only a matter of time
my point you have a venue if it go's you can rebuild but will it have the same vibe NO but its what you the leather community put into it.
The Leather community in Melbourne Have the Laird and it has been going for 30 years and has been there thought the good times and bad and We would be very sad if we lost this Fantastic Venue.
Bye a NEW VENUS and Make it YOURS F-ck the owner of the Land Build a New Begging or Stay and Fight it will be SF loss of its Gay heritage and well be sadly missed by all Communitys in the bat area

Posted by Guest Daddypaul Melbourne Australia on Dec. 18, 2011 @ 3:21 pm

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