It was last call for San Francisco’s oldest continuously operating gay bar, The Gangway. The historic watering hole’s liquor license transferred to a new owner and The Gangway shut down over the weekend. Some of the staff and loyal clientele received the news by text message.
Known for its nautical theme with porthole windows, and all-day drinking hours, The Tenderloin neighborhood bar at 841 Larkin Street, opened in 1910, surviving prohibition. It was catering to a gay clientele by 1960. The Gangway served as a reminder of the Tenderloin’s long LGBTQ history. The bar acted as a community center and fundraiser for LGBTQ organizations beginning in 1970. The Gangway put on an old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration beginning in 1971, and the bar hosted Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s parties for the community.
Ring exchange celebrations between partners were hosted there in the days before Marriage Equality. In 1977, the bar held a fundraiser, donating cash and turkeys to seniors for Thanksgiving which Harvey Milk acknowledged with a special plaque presented in the bar.
According to the liquor license, The Gangway will be now be Young’s Kung Fu Action Theatre & Laundry, a laundromat screening martial arts films while patrons wait for their clothes to dry, but how that calls for a liquor license, who knows.
The Gangway was full of relics and homages to the LGBTQ Rights struggle. Its entryway was covered in purple handprints, an art piece dedicated to the Holocaust and also to the Friday Of The Purple Hand, when on Halloween night 1969, members of Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and Society for Individual Rights (SIR) gathered outside the San Francisco Examiner building to protest anti-gay articles that newspaper had been running. Like other periodicals around the country, the paper had a policy of printing the names and addresses of men arrested in gay bar raids and tearooms, bathrooms where gay guys sometimes had sex. When newspaper staff on the roof spilled purple printer’s ink down onto the demonstrators, the queer used it to scrawl “Gay Power” and hand imprints on the walls of buildings around San Francisco.
The Gangway paid tribute to the military with signs and plaques. Before it closed, current and former staff collected the items for the Tenderloin History Museum.
It was always on of the must visit bars in San Francisco, old-school, with a diverse clientele, always welcoming and friendly to straights and tourists.
I loved that they had a juke box with music from the 1930s-1970s. There was a back room for privacy, video cameras stationed so you can watch what was happening on the the street, plus strong, cheap drinks and cute bartenders.
It is an end of an era; Aunt Charlie’s is now the only queer dive bar left in The Tenderloin.