I was at the Gangway on a Sunday morning with some friends recently. Kurt the bartender was pouring stiff drinks for regulars perched on bar stools while we chatted. My French bulldog Jackson waited patiently at my feet. Some of my friends had never been to the Gangway before, and I wanted to share a part of our community and my neighborhood with them. It was announced a few weeks ago that the Gangway will be closing soon. When it does, the city will lose its oldest continuously operating gay bar, and the LGBT community will lose one more of its queer spaces.
When I heard the news, I thought about some of the bars in my neighborhood like Kimo's (one of the first places I ever performed), the Deco Lounge, Marlena's, the Lexington and the Transfer: San Francisco gay bars where I spent many nights, all gone now. I'm not an overly nostalgic person, and I certainly don't live in the past. But I can't help but feel that we are losing something important when yet another gay bar closes, inevitably replaced by some generic place with reclaimed wood, Edison bulbs, and craft cocktails that take 10 minutes to make. Give me a Coors Light or a shot of whiskey any day--somebody else can waste their time waiting for a juniper-herbal infusion in their drink!
San Francisco is changing. It's never stopped, really, and that's OK. I know that queer folks today don't need to go to a bar to fall in love or get laid. I do fear, however, that they are missing out on all the other pleasures that such spaces can provide. Life happens in real time and space, and some of the best, most spontaneous moments of my life have happened with strangers in a crowded bar late at night. That beautiful friction of bodies and personalities bumping against one another is why I love cities and why I especially love this one.
As we talked about parties gone by, my friends recalled memories of the Gangway that you wouldn't believe unless you were there. The dual pressure of rising rents and dwindling clientele are making it harder for spaces like this to hold on. Where will we keep having those wild moments? I'll tell you where we won't have them: another boring, cookie-cutter cocktail lounge with as much personality as the people waiting forever at the bar, staring into their phones.
So here's my challenge to you: shut off your app and get out and pick someone up the old fashioned way. There are plenty of gorgeous creatures who will catch your eye if you just look up. The bartender at the Gangway told us a story about a patron who had just tried to walk out the door carrying the bar stool she had been sitting on, he also let it slip that the bar might hang on for a few months longer than originally planned. Think of all the possibilities those days and nights hold.
These days I find that the Gangway has more to offer than ever. It really functions as a community center for many of the neighborhoods queer elders. There isn't another space like it within walking distance for most of these folks. They sit and drink, laugh, bitch and complain - just like the kids I saw at the club last night. So, let's meet up for a beer some Sunday morning and listen to their stories before they all vanish away.