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The Stud, SF's Oldest Queer Bar, Gears Up for a Grand Reopening

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Honey Mahogany (center) and other Stud Collective members and drag performers gather for a photo outside of the new location of The Stud, a longtime LGBTQ+ venue and worker-owned cooperative, on Folsom Street in the Leather and LGBTQ Cultural District in San Francisco on Sept. 5, 2023, after its closure at its former site in 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

When the Stud closed its doors at the onset of the pandemic in 2020, its worker-owner collective vowed to one day return. After all, the legendary LGBTQ+ bar had been around in various incarnations since 1966, nurturing the weird, alternative and experimental pockets of queer performance in San Francisco ever since.

The Stud’s official reopening at its new South of Market location (1123-1125 Folsom Street) finally arrives this Saturday, April 20, with a Stud Time Machine party celebrating its different eras. After a blessing from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, festivities kick off at 6 p.m. with a 1960s cowboy-themed DJ set and performance. Each hour of the party will be dedicated to a different decade (“The Disco Era,” “The Club Kid Era”), culminating with a look into the future at midnight. Among the entertainers are original disco DJ Steve Fabus, who’s been spinning since the ’70s; drag diva (and fashion designer to the drag stars) Glamamore, performing an homage to the late Heklina’s beloved party T-Shack; and multi-hyphenate artist Honey Mahogany, a Stud co-owner deeply involved in San Francisco politics.

As the Stud gears up for its grand reopening, Mahogany spoke with KQED’s Adhiti Bandlamudi about what lies ahead in this new iteration of San Francisco’s oldest queer bar.

Honey Mahogany speaks during a rally after the Trans March in San Francisco on June 24, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Adhiti Bandlamudi: The Stud has such a rich history, and the theme of tomorrow’s opening night party reflects that. Can you tell us more about that?

Honey Mahogany: The Stud first opened in 1966. It’s been the living room for so many people, not just in the neighborhood, but across the country. During the ’60s, it really started off as a leather bar, and then really became more of a Western bar. But it quickly evolved into a place where everyone felt welcome — whether it be women, queers, hair fairies or trans people. So many different groups and communities feel welcome at the Stud.


My favorite story of the Stud is that during the ’60s … Huey Newton, who was one of the leaders of the Black Panther Party, made this incredible speech where he talked about building unity between the women’s movement and the LGBTQ movement. One of the first places that the LGBTQ Liberation Front and the Black Panther Party actually met was at the Stud.

The Stud has faced several closures in the past. And every time that idea became more of a reality, it sounds like community members who really care about the bar came together to keep it alive. In 2016, when the previous owner was going to retire, you and other artists, DJs and performers got together and started the Stud Collective. As I understand it, it’s one of the first co-op nightclubs in the country. How has this collective model made a difference as you get ready to open the state again?

It was sort of, I don’t want to say an act of desperation, but so many LGBTQ nightlife venues were closing all across the country, and especially here in San Francisco. LGBTQ venues were being priced out. Certainly, that was the case with the Stud, where the previous owner was just like, “I can’t afford to pay triple what I was paying in rent. So I can’t do this anymore.” And he really made a callout to the community, hoping that someone would come and save the Stud.

The Stud has always been kind of a dive bar more of a community space than a big moneymaker. So a bunch of us who could not have afforded to buy the bar on our own a group of 17 worked to build the collective, set up a system of rules, come up with a plan for how we were going to save the Stud, and we were successful.

I won’t say that it was easy. It was lots of long nights, lots of arguments, lots of personalities and ideas. But ultimately, I do think that having collective ownership of a space like the Stud is really important because it ensures that the space remains open.

The Stud’s first Pride float in 1974. (Courtesy of The Stud)

I’m curious to understand more about that journey, especially because of COVID and the aftereffects of it. What has that journey been like?

COVID was a real bummer.

To say the least. 

We actually shut down relatively early, because we didn’t know what was going to happen or how soon we were going to open up. We also knew that we couldn’t afford to keep going. Actually, we did not go completely dark. We very quickly hopped online, hosting drag shows and DJ parties on the weekends, so people could safely enjoy performance art and drag and music from their own homes.

There’s also been some fundraising that’s been going on. The crowdfunding goal is $500,000, and last I checked, like $74,000 had been donated. And people are still donating.

The crowdfunding is just one part of where we’ve been raising money. We’ve been raising money through other spaces as well — selling some assets and things like that. And so right now we’re just above $425,000 that we’ve been able to pull together. So that leaves about $75,000 left that we have to raise. And we are really excited, because it’s enabled us to get this far.

A black-and-white photo of a drag queen nun and two mustached men partying.
Partygoers at the Stud, including a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, in 1991. (Melissa Hawkins)

But that $75,000 is going to be really key into seeing the longevity of the Stud, and also to really make the Stud what it used to be, which was not just a dance bar or a dance space, but also a place where there were epic, life-changing performances.

The space that we’ve taken over now is so cool, but it is not a performance space. We’ve got two separate bar areas and dance floors. But we do not have a stage. We do not have a dressing room. We do not have an area for the performers to be able to use the restroom and get changed and all of that stuff. So we want to take out the industrial kitchen that takes up a quarter of the bar currently, convert that into dressing rooms and bathrooms for the performers, and then also build out a stage so that we can bring back those epic Stud drag shows.

One of the ways in which we are incentivizing people to help us get to that $500,000 goal is we have the Stud’s opening night party this Saturday. We released tickets on Monday and, within six minutes, all sold out. There will be some tickets at the door. But folks are definitely planning on getting there early.

The new Stud won’t just be a nightclub, right? There are plans to include a school that will teach the art of drag. Can you tell me more about that?

We are planning on opening the drag school. It’s going to be a collaboration between the Stud and CounterPulse. It’s going to be a bit of an interesting model because a lot of the classes will probably be off-site. But we are definitely going to train people in the art of drag, help them get their starts, provide them with mentors, bring specialists in — costuming, makeup, hair and performance and dance — and really give them the tools that they need to be successful.


The Stud is located at 1123-1125 Folsom Street. The Stud Time Machine reopening party begins at 5:30 p.m. on April 20. Follow the Stud on Instagram for updates on business hours and future events.

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