1961 was a big year for gay San Francisco. Jose Sarria, a server and drag performer and later the Widow Norton and Absolute Empress I, ran for the Board of Supervisors as the first openly gay person in the United States to seek public office. And on Larkin Street in the Tenderloin, a gay bar called The Gangway opened at 841 Larkin St. with a nautical theme.
Fifty-five years later, it’s half its original size and one of two plucky survivors of the Tenderloin’s thriving gay bar scene. (The other is Aunt Charlie’s, on Turk Street.) A haven for quirky characters and a working-class LGBT clientele, it’s nothing short of unique. And it might get sold. The Chronicle reports that the liquor license is currently mid-transfer from the current owner, Jung Lee, to Sam Young, who owns the Kozy Kar bar at 1548 Polk St. and wants to turn The Gangway into something called “Young’s Kung Fu Action Theater & Laundry.”
The Chronicle notes that Kozy Kar isn’t the most politically correct of places, but then again, the Gangway had a handwritten sign behind the bar at one point that read “Edith 86’d for using the N-word.”
We’ve been here before, too. In the spring of 2016, Lee, then 64, signaled that he’d been wanting to get out. His wife, who’d been the active partner in the bar’s ongoing existence, had passed away five years earlier, and he was in talks to sell to a company with the sorta bro-ish name of Breaking Chad LLC. That sale fell through, however.
“We had a contract,” Lee told SF Weekly at the time. “They had a partnership, but the one I would call the investor pulled out. They don’t have the funds to purchase it.”
Still, he was proud of the institution: “I’m proud of myself and of my wife,” Lee said. “Oldest gay bar in town! I’m very happy, I didn’t change anything. Just the lighting.”