The Gangway, S.F.’s Oldest LGBT Bar, Has Closed After 57 Years

It will become a 'Kung Fu Landromat,' which means Aunt Charlie's is now the only queer bar in the Tenderloin.

San Francisco has lost another classic. As of midnight on Saturday, the liquor license transfer unceremoniously went through, and The Gangway, the oldest extant LGBT bar in the city, closed its doors forever. More or less maritime in theme, it was ship-shaped, but not in ship-shape.

The fact that it was closing was no surprise. Rumors had been in a sort of low-grade swirl for years, and in 2016, owner Jung Lee, who took the bar over after his wife passed away and changed nothing but the lighting, had been contract with a company called “Breaking Chad.” That group of potential investors wanted to turn The Gangway into something called Daddy Bones, but — whew — it never happened.

“”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.”

Then, in summer 2017, the death-knell rang again for a venue that had been an LGBT bar since 1961 and a bar of some sort since approximately 1910. The Chronicle reported that Sam Young, the owner of the mirror-ceilinged Kozy Kar at nearby 1548 Polk St., planned to turn the Gangway into “Young’s Kung Fu Action Theater & Laundry.”

If that name gives you pause as a replacement for the nautical-themed Gangway, a place where you could buy a bag of chips for a dollar and sit next to a 60-something savant who knows all the answers to the closed-captioned episode of Jeopardy! that’s playing on TV, well, Kozy Kar is also a creepy-ass venue where porn plays on a loop and there was a kerfuffle a couple years ago over a sign making jokes about date rape. But for the record, Young’s Ku Fu Action Theater & Laundry will be an actual laundromat where you can watch kung fu movies.

I had been in The Gangway less than two weeks ago after seeing The Birthday Party at A.C.T. — another last, as it was Artistic Director Carey Perloff’s last production after 25 years with the theater — and asked the bartender as many ways as I could when the last day was going to be. He said he didn’t know, but he seemed as though he did know, and all he told me was “soon.” 

Soon came 10 days later, apparently. Now the only queer bar in the entire Tenderloin is Aunt Charlie’s, and even though that neighborhood is recognizing its importance to San Francisco history and LGBT history more than ever, that’s pretty sad. R.I.P. to another irreplaceable classic, a place with porthole windows, a microwave, and a table covered in parquet, where people might call to ask if someone had their keys, or not.

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