The Stud, S.F.’s Oldest Queer Bar, Is Vacating Its Home — But Not Closing

Formed in 1966, the Stud is breaking its lease to become a pop-up in hopes of regrouping to find a new home.

Think of the most magnificently fabulous queer human you ever met in San Francisco. Right now, that individual is probably bawling his or her or their or judy’s eyes out — because the Stud is closing.

Sort of.

The Bay Area Reporter — and, let’s face it, everyone you ever met who likes to have a fun night out in SoMa — prematurely shared the news that the Stud was shutting down. But it’s only partially true! The Stud is breaking its lease at 399 Ninth St. a few months early in order to become a pop-up, in the hopes of staying alive forever.

That lease — which its 17-member collective quite literally came together in order to extend — was always going to expire at the end of the year, and The Stud was always going to have to find another home by 2021. The oldest existing LGBTQ bar in San Francisco is not closing forever.

Still, the confusion is understandable. Primed by the rampant, ceaseless disappearance of virtually every LGBTQ space in the city and COVID-19’s decimation of nightlife, everyone sobbed in unison, thinking that this beloved den of bizarre drag, cute queerdos, dubious acoustics, and truly excellent New Year’s Eve Parties would go the way of so many SoMa bars, from the Ramrod to Chaps II.

(Disclosure: The only three times this reporter ever go-go’d for cash money have been at The Stud, because why gyrate these buns on any stage unless Sylvester also performed on it years before?)

Tomorrow, Thursday, May 21, at 2 p.m., the only cooperatively owned queer bar in America will nonetheless host a press conference, with state Sen. Scott Wiener providing some sort of pre-eulogy. But it is not a “funeral.”

“We’ve been talking for a long time about what we were going to do about the future,” Marke Bieschke, a DJ and member of the Stud Collective, says about the club’s “thousands of dollars in rent and utilities.” He is adamant that this announcement was motivated solely by the economics of the coronavirus era, as the Stud (like many other bars and venues) had put up a crowdfunding campaign to keep standing on two feet. 

“That was to take care of our workers,” Bieschke says. “We couldn’t justify raising all this money to keep paying our rent and utilities without bringing in revenue. Without official breaks on the rent, all this government money we’re applying for basically goes out the window. Small businesses fail while others continue business as usual. We’re lucky our landlord worked with us to leave the space.”

The Stud moved locations in the 1980s, and had gone down to a three-night-a-week format in the 2000s. Weird, wild parties like Some Thing, UHAUL, Desperate Living, and who knows what else have been the backbone of queer nightlife in Western SoMa for decades, and that hasn’t fundmantally changed in the coronavirus era, with Drag Alive taking place every Friday. In that light, today’s news can be regarded as doing what is required to save The Stud once again.

Perhaps the most unusual facet of today’s announcement is Sen. Wiener’s involvement. The former District 8 supervisor is a complicated figure in San Francisco’s LGTBQ community, reviled for legislation banning public nudity, shutting parks at midnight, and — most controversially — pushing for greater housing density at the expense of community input. But he’s also a fierce advocate for cannabis, for cyclists and transportation alternatives, and for keeping venues open past their erstwhile 2 a.m. closing. As a nightlife defender, he has spearheaded legislation to allow businesses to renegotiate their leases with commercial landlords, which explains his presence at tomorrow’s media scrum. It’s not as though the Stud didn’t explore every avenue to maintaining the status quo.

“We are still checking on our liquor-license restrictions, but we’re hoping the Stud can become mobile and do parties at other locations,” Bieschke says. “We weren’t able to do cocktails-to-go,  because we don’t have enough room outside.”

The Stud, as any habitue knows, abuts not just Ninth Street but also Gordon Alley, although that dead-end thoroughfare can only be closed temporarily “because it’s driveway.
“It can’t be a slow street,” Bieschke confirms.

So the news is technically bittersweet. But for anyone who has sat in the booths, sung karaoke on the stage, posed for a selfie beside the pandrogynous murals out front, or bumped into a drag performer in that strange men’s room that problematized the concept of a “men’s” room like no other bar in the world, this is devastating news. Fragile and beautiful and precious, The Stud is San Francisco.

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