It sort of seems like the Stud, one of the best-known LGBTQ bars in San Francisco, has as many lives as a cat. It opened over 55 years ago, and since 1987 has occupied a low-slung, kitschily-decorated structure at 399 9th Street. But the coronavirus crisis — which has prompted the full closure of all bars, nightclubs, and wineries that don’t serve food across California — proved too much for its current incarnation. Late Wednesday, its owners announced that the SoMa spot has closed for good, with hopes that eventually it will reopen in a new space.
The news went out via a flurry of press releases from Stud co-owner Honey Mahogany, an aide to District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney who might be best known outside SF as a contestant on Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. “Because of a lack of revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mahogany’s release read, “the historic bar will be announcing that they are permanently closing their location and will be holding a drag funeral to honor the end of an era of LGBT nightlife.”
This wasn’t the first time the demise of the Stud was announced. Back in 2016, the Stud’s then-owner, Michael McElhaney, announced that he was placing the Stud on the market. Its longtime landlord had died, and the building had been sold to new owners who’d tripled the rent. For “a small cabaret-type club” like the Stud, that increase is “inconceivable” McElhaney said, announcing a plan to retire and move to Hawaii.
A cooperative group of 18 owners, including Mahogany, drag performer Vivianne Forevermore!, Rachel Ryan, and local journalist Marke Bieschke bought the Stud shortly thereafter, and at least to the outside, the disaster appeared to to be averted. But it was just deferred.
Writing for 48 Hills (for which he is the publisher), Bieschke says that the coronavirus crisis makes business as usual impossible for the Stud, which has long been known for its sweaty club nights like Some Thing and Desperate Living, as well as jam-packed events like Drag Alive (and, for 12 years, was the weekly home of the wildly popular show now known as T-Shack).
“Like other bars and businesses, we must still keep paying rent indefinitely while being unable to bring in revenue,” Bieschke says. “Even if we could participate in cocktails-to-go and delivery (we have no kitchen so we can’t), it would hardly make a dent in our bills.”
Bieschke also says that effective social distancing is impossible given the Stud’s “limited outdoor space,” and “still would not pencil out to enough...Operating at 25%-50% capacity, possibly for years, won’t cut it either.”
That’s why the Stud will be vacating its present digs, but its owners are emphasizing that this isn’t a closure — even though, to many folks, it sure seems like it is. Speaking with KQED, Mahogany says that “everyone who is an owner feels strongly this is not the end of the Stud,” and that the ownership collective is looking for a new spot in which to eventually reopen.
They’re also looking for $500,000, a GoFundMe from the Stud’s owners reveals, as that’s what they need “for start-up and buildout costs at a new space and to support the newly social-distanced reality of that in the interim.” Speaking with the Bay Area Reporter, Mahogany says that “We haven’t found a building yet,” but “at some point we will reopen.”
If this was any other bar or restaurant, it would be easy to be skeptical about Mahogany’s claims — it’s understandable that owners of venues are reluctant to admit that their dream might have died. But if there’s any spot that might pull itself from the ashes at any point, the Stud might be it. After all, it’s done it before, though conditions during its last rough patches were nothing like what we’re all facing today.
In the short term, several of the Stud’s owners are holding a press conference at 2 p.m. Thursday with California state Senator Scott Weiner (who prior to his state elevation was the city Supervisor for the Castro’s District 8) and Haney. The purpose of the event is ostensibly to discuss the details of the May 31 drag funeral for the Stud, which will be held virtually at 6 p.m.
And after that, who knows? Bieschke tells SF Pride communications manager/journalist Peter Lawrence Kane that “We are still checking on our liquor-license restrictions, but we’re hoping the Stud can become mobile and do parties at other locations,” and asks in his 48 Hills piece “who doesn’t want the Stud serving liquor and looks at their socially distanced lesbian wedding or drag quinceanera?” To its owners, it seems, the Stud isn’t bound by conventions like real estate or geography. The big question, perhaps, is if the rest of San Francisco agrees.