SF legacy bar and eternally great hangout El Rio has, unbeknownst to customers, been on the precipice of a major shakeup. The bar’s landlord at 3156-3158 Mission Street, a mixed-use building with El Rio below and eight units of housing above, was quietly preparing to sell the building, which could have spelled doom for the queer-leaning dive. Not so fast: The city of San Francisco has stepped in with an $8.6 million purchase of the site, Mayor London Breed’s office announced today. The San Francisco Chronicle was first to report the news.
But the city won’t be El Rio’s new landlord for long: Instead, it will transfer the building to the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), a local nonprofit seeking to create affordable housing in the Mission. The $8.6 million — or more than $1 million per housing unit — is a loan from the SF Housing Accelerator Fund, and the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development will provide MEDA with permanent financing for the building next December after about $800,000 of upgrades and repairs are complete.
“El Rio promotes diversity... and remains a communal meeting ground,” MEDA associate director of community real estate Johnny Oliver said in a statement. “This purchase will also keep in place the longtime tenants in the apartments above El Rio — tenants vulnerable to prospective no-fault eviction by speculators.”
Those tenants are the primary focus of the purchase, but keeping El Rio safe from speculators, too, was part of the equation. Per a statement by Mayor Breed, “the fact that this acquisition also comes with the preservation of El Rio, which is an incredible part of our City’s LGBTQ and Latino nightlife, makes it even more special.”
Founded in 1978 as a Brazilian-themed leather bar, El Rio is still a major hub for LGBTQ parties, dancing, and fundraising events. Its backyard patio is practically a sanctuary, and it’s home to what might be the city’s only bathroom described not as a “men’s room” but instead a “galactic urinal.”
In a statement on the purchase, bar owner Dawn Huston thanked the Mission Economic Development Agency for their work. “El Rio would like to thank MEDA, their staff and board for their willingness to invest in our business and buildings as one of their commercial spaces serving the community,” Huston said. “We are humbled and immensely grateful for this opportunity.”