San Francisco’s oldest gay bar, an historic establishment in the heart of the Tenderloin district, has closed for good.
The SF Chronicle reports on the shuttering of The Gangway:
Sam Young, the owner of the sometimes controversial bar Kozy Kar only a few blocks away, will take over the space at 841 Larkin St., according to the filing.
The cumbersome name for his new venture is Kung Fu Action Theater & Laundry, which Young last year said would be a place where people can do laundry and watch kung fu movies. It won’t be a bar, he said, despite the location’s liquor license. Young has also cast doubt on whether he’d keep the name Kung Fu Action Theater & Laundry.
KTVU reports: “The historical establishment at 841 Larkin Street in the Tenderloin did not identify as a gay bar until 1961. Bartenders served the LBGTQ community a final round over the weekend following legal troubles with the bar and the death of a long-time manager. The building’s facade is notable for its nautical theme, complete with the tip of a boat jutting out beneath the sign and underneath the gay-pride flag.”
The Chronicle adds: “With its shuttering, the Gangway joins a long roster of now-closed gay bars in the city, a trend some attribute to changing San Francisco demographics, gentrification and, even more simply put, acceptance of LGBT people in the wider community. While it was open, the Tenderloin haunt was treasured by the city’s older gay crowd. Filling seats at the bar were working-class patrons from diverse backgrounds.”
The Gangway nearly closed in 2016, Towleroad’s John Wright reported back then, and has had a colorful history.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation reported that police conducted an anti-gay raid at Gangway as early as 1911, and the establishment has a long history of LGBT activism:
Throughout the years, as many local businesses turned away members of the LGBTQ community, the Gangway threw open its doors. Records indicate the bar was also a member of the Tavern Guild, an association of gay bar owners and liquor wholesalers that formed in San Francisco in 1962 in the wake of police raids and other forms of harassment of gay bars throughout the city.
“In a lot of ways, it became a community gathering space for the gay and transgender community,” says Laura Dominguez, communications and program manager at nonprofit San Francisco Heritage, which listed the Gangway to its Legacy Bars and Restaurants educational initiative.
In the following decades, the Gangway held numerous benefits, fundraisers, and holiday parties for San Francisco General Hospital’s Ward 5B, the first inpatient AIDS unit in the United States.
“The Gangway was really involved in that early activism and early support for people who were suffering from AIDS,” Dominguez says.