Life

The Stud: Rent increase may close San Francisco’s oldest gay bar

The Stud is in South of Market, a still gritty and historically gay part of San Francisco where developers are rapidly building condos and restaurants to cater to tech workers who can afford $4,500 for a one-bedroom apartment. Across the street is Thumbtack, a startup where Jeb Bush held a town hall last year as part of his failed presidential bid, famously arriving in an Uber. The once-empty lot next to the bar is being turned into housing.

The Stud opened in 1966 and quickly gained a reputation as a spot with a hippie vibe and eclectic customers. Inside its current space, there are gilt mirrors and a disco ball and a small performance stage.

“The minute you come in, you just feel this warmth. It’s not just the people. I know that’s kind of odd to say, but it’s the building, and everyone mentions it when they come in,” said bartender Bernadette Fons, who has worked there for a decade.

Most regulars live within walking distance, including Chris Coombs, a 31-year-old merchant marine who stopped by The Stud on Tuesday evening to enjoy a Pabst with his boyfriend.

“With all the changes that are going on, with all the new construction, there’s a sense that this culture and everything that finds a home at this bar is sort of being diluted,” Coombs said. “It’s hard to see something like that sort of pushed aside, which is almost what it feels like.”

Coombs remembers the first time he visited the bar, seven years ago, as does his boyfriend, Roy Huber, who was introduced to the place two decades ago by his mom’s best friend’s marijuana dealer. So does McElhaney, who walked into the bar in the summer of 1987 and knew that he had come home.

“I walked into a room full of people that was so diverse, mixed, strange, beautiful,” McElhaney said. “It just felt like the most beautiful mix of imagery and people and music that I’d ever experienced in my life and I fell in love immediately.”

In 1996, on his birthday, he bought the business with a colleague who has since died. Now, McElhaney said, he wants to return to Honolulu, to be with his aging mother.

But before he does, he wants to make sure the bar is in good hands.

Mica Sigourney, who performs under the drag name VivvyAnne Forevermore!, is working to form a cooperative to buy the business. He moved to the city a dozen years ago.

“San Francisco has changed a lot since I first got here,” he said. “I think it’s been changing so much in the past few years.”

The bar is expected to stay open through September.

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