We're awaiting word from the owner of property on which the Eagle Tavern stands, to learn more about the future of this historic San Francisco bar. It's known as a hub for the leather community, a source for charitable fundraising, and a "must" for candidates courting gay voters. Its future is unclear, but according to the Eagle's owners the landlord has given them until April 29th to vacate.
What will replace the Eagle remains uncertain. Speculation ranges from condos, which now dot the South of Market neighborhood, to a straight bar. That latter rumor infuriated some patrons at the Eagle, who gathered last night to discuss saving the bar. Many were sad and angry at the prospect of losing the historic watering hole, but several were glad the staff went public about the bar's future.
"Our institutions are in trouble," said local blogger Michael Petrells, taking the stage on the Eagle's back patio. "They have to start talking to us respectfully, all the time about the s--- that is going down. Because when they talk to us with respect, two to three hundred show up on a Monday night!" Petrelis's words were met with loud cheering from a crowd that packed the patio.
Supporters filled out letters to be sent to city leaders, asking for help in preserving the Eagle. It's unclear what San Francisco can actually do, although some have suggested reviewing the liquor license or seeking historic preservation status. City records indicate it would need further review for historic status (it's considered "Category B", in the City's jargon). The property owner, John Nikitopoulos, has yet to comment on the controversy or on what he's planning for the parcel.
Supervisors are also unsure what could happen. An aide to Sup. Jane Kim, whose district includes the Eagle, attended the meeting to listen and take notes.
"The Eagle has been a good neighbor to the people that live near it, and the crowds that come there don't cause any trouble," said San Francisco mayoral candidate and former Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who attended the rally. "(It's) been part of the underpinning of our community in terms of the leather community and in terms of a gay bar that has given back so much, that has probably raised millions of dollars over decades (for various charities)."
Dufty and Sup. Scott Wiener were also on hand for a protest march that followed the rally. Patrons headed from the Eagle at 12th & Harrison to Skylark, a bar at 16th & Valencia in the Mission. Skylark's nothing like the Eagle -- it features reggae, R&B and a stylish decor for a mainstream crowd -- but its owners have reportedly acquired the Eagle's liquor license.
Marchers briefly commandeered the inside of the intimate bar, chanting "Hell, no! We won't let the Eagle go!" It caused a minor tiff between staff and a few protesters, but a passing SFPD officer quickly defused the situation.
Eagle patrons have told me in the past that the bar's demise has been something of a Sword of Damocles -- just a matter of time before it fell. SoMa has gentrified and modernized in ways that can make the Eagle, the Hole in the Wall, Powerhouse and other leather community hideouts seem out-of-place. One leather bar, Chaps II, closed down recently to rebrand itself. Folsom Street Fair still packs in the crowds, but some speakers at last night's rally complained that even that event has lost its punch, and that tourists with baby strollers have started to wander the crowd, complaining about the overt sexuality on display.
But the Eagle and its fans insist: its legacy has grown far beyond leather. Bar manager Ron Hennis says closing the bar would hurt more than just the leather community.
"You have to look at the Eagle more as a place to meet for the whole community," Hennis says. "No matter if you're a man, a woman, a transgender, who you are, this is the place to be. And this is where we have met for years and years and years."