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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An Open Letter on What the Closing of the Eagle Tavern Means

Posted By on Wed, Apr 13, 2011 at 5:47 PM

click to enlarge DREW.STAFFEN/FLICKR

We received a letter from a reader, S. Henry McCoy, about the potential closure of the historic Eagle Tavern in SOMA. We believe that McCoy, a human resources administrator at SF State, is a voice that deserves to be heard, so we share his letter with you.

I almost couldn't believe it when I heard that the rumor of the Eagle Tavern's closing at the end of April was more than just a rumor. I had attended its 30th anniversary celebration just weeks ago. But the chatter increased and details emerged, and the "Save the Eagle Tavern" efforts were launched. So I was compelled to convey my thoughts here, hoping that maybe, along with hundreds of other San Francisco community members, we could have some influence.

My first reaction and strongest thought was that the Eagle Tavern is more than just a bar; it is a living community. The Eagle Tavern maintains its neighborhood gathering place status, and it is also a destination place where people from all over the Bay Area come to enjoy live music, charity events, or simply to hang out with SF locals. Also, the Eagle serves as an anchor business for SOMA street fairs, LGBT Pride, and other events. The Eagle Tavern has national and international status and reputation by which other "Eagle" bars and nightclubs are judged.

click to enlarge IAN S. PORT
  • Ian S. Port

While the Eagle Tavern is known as a gay bar, patrons include gay people, straight people, men, women, and everything in between of all ages as well as ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Local musicians and artists who primarily work in solitude as well as many single people who live alone rely on the Eagle as a primary locale for social exposure and interaction. The diverse clientele includes blue-collar workers, educators, individuals with modest means, business executives, and myriad other professionals - and yes, even bikers.

These demographic differences are overcome by camaraderie during mellow weekday evenings after work, on sunny Saturday afternoons on the patio, at weekly Thursday night music events, and at Sunday Beer Bust fundraisers. The staff and management have perpetuated this phenomenon over the years. I've seen and experienced how the Eagle Tavern's distinctive environment has forged and propagated extended families, relationships, and friendships. Isn't this what San Francisco is all about? This is why the Eagle has been an enduring historical place that still remains to be so San Francisco.

So I wasn't too surprised Monday night at the "Save the Eagle" meeting when I overheard a man state he had met his partner of 20 years at the Eagle (the partner later died of AIDS). His story cannot be the only one like it. Within the 30 years of the Eagle's existence, there must have been hundreds of people who literally grew up with it as part of their lives. But, sadly, just as many of these people were lost to AIDS, where their memories by their loved-ones still resonate with the Eagle.

I would be remiss not to highlight the Eagle's philanthropic contributions to the community. At least 50 times a year there is a fundraising event the infamous Sunday Beer Bust‚ as well as other annual fundraising and charity events. As I write this, the number, names, and types of charitable organizations and annual dollars raised are still being compiled and calculated. I cannot see how the San Francisco community, known for support for fundraising and charities, can survive the loss of such a venue.

click to enlarge DREW.STAFFEN/FLICKR

While it isn't completely clear how the Eagle Tavern has arrived at this predicament, I understand that - remarkably - it is not so much a matter of money. Instead, the current Eagle Tavern manager and backers were in escrow and had secured the funds to purchase the business and continue to operate it as the Eagle Tavern, but allegedly, the property owner would not agree to lease the property if the business was to remain the Eagle Taver. Rather, the property owner allegedly will agree to lease the property to a different buyer, who currently owns Skylark Bar in San Francisco. So this begs the question: Why would a new business owner and the property owner run the risk of opening a new bar or nightclub in these vulnerable, unstable economic times? What's more, the current outpouring by the community and efforts under way to keep the Eagle open and preserve its rich history indicates a committed, loyal, and dedicated customer base. In addition to the difficulty of establishing an entire new clientele with a new bar, the owners should consider the potential downside of working against the community rather than with it.

The Eagle Tavern survived the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the AIDS epidemic, and the dot-com boom and bust that devastated SOMA. So how can the Eagle Tavern meet this sad, pointless demise? With this letter, it is my wish that the parties who are in a position to make a difference or facilitate a discussion please read this with an open mind and consider these points. The impact of closing the Eagle Tavern would reach far and have profound implications on the San Francisco community.

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Jake Swearingen


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