the gangway

San Francisco’s Oldest Gay Bar Just Closed Its Doors After 108 Years of Activism and Resistance

San Francisco’s oldest gay bar, The Gangway, has closed its doors for good after being open for 108 years in the heart of the Tenderloin district.

The SF Chronicle reported on the closing of The Gangway and it’s new owner, Sam Young, who owns the bar Kozy Kar only a few blocks away. Young will take over the space formerly known as The Gangway, where he’s planning on opening a spot where people can “do laundry and watch kung fu movies.” Young has been in headlines before, mostly because of his politically incorrect humor. At Kozy Kar, a sign joking about date rape was displayed. Ugh.

The Chronicle adds, “With its shuttering, The Gangway joins a long roster of now-closed gay bars in the city, a trend some attribute to changing San Francisco demographics, gentrification and, even more simply put, acceptance of LGBT people in the wider community. While it was open, the Tenderloin haunt was treasured by the city’s older gay crowd. Filling seats at the bar were working-class patrons from diverse backgrounds.”

“The historical establishment at 841 Larkin Street in the Tenderloin did not identify as a gay bar until 1961,” KTVU reports. “Bartenders served the LBGTQ community a final round over the weekend following legal troubles with the bar and the death of a long-time manager. The building’s facade is notable for its nautical theme, complete with the tip of a boat jutting out beneath the sign and underneath the gay-pride flag.”

The National Trust for Historic Preservation reported that police conducted an anti-gay raid at The Gangway as early as 1911, and the establishment has a long history of LGBT activism.

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“In a lot of ways, it became a community gathering space for the gay and transgender community,” says Laura Dominguez, communications and program manager at nonprofit San Francisco Heritage, which listed The Gangway in its Legacy Bars and Restaurants educational initiative.

After it’s official opening as a gay bar in 1962, the Gangway held numerous benefits, fundraisers and holiday parties for San Francisco General Hospital’s Ward 5B, the first inpatient AIDS unit in the United States.

Dominguez adds, “The Gangway was really involved in that early activism and early support for people who were suffering from AIDS.”