Iconic San Francisco gay bar reopens after being shuttered for a year

A bartender at El Rio in San Francisco
A bartender at El Rio in San Francisco (Photo: El Rio/Facebook)

One of San Francisco’s most beloved LGBTQ spaces is reopening today after being shuttered for over a year due to the Covid pandemic.

El Rio, in the Mission district, is now allowed to open its patio for drinkers. According to a posting on its Facebook page, it will do so from 4pm today … and many loyal regulars are already lining up to welcome it back.

Related: Gay bars in San Francisco

El Rio has a history going back to 1978 when it was opened in the Mission district by Malcolm Thornley and Robert Nett as a Leather Brazilian bar. They retired in 1997 and the bar was taken over by Dawn Huston. It’s now famed for welcoming a diverse LGBTQ crowd.

Partying on the El Rio patio in pre-pandemic times
Partying on the El Rio patio, in San Francisco, in pre-pandemic times (Photo: El Rio)

It reopened to offer a takeaway service at weekends in February, but today marks the first time groups can sit and drink on the patio (maintaining social distancing between tables).

El Rio has managed to just about survive 12 months of closure with the help of some federal assistance, plus grants. It was one of just half a dozen bars to receive a ‘Queer to Stay’ grant from HRC and SHOWTIME, and also got some help from the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Music Relief Fund.

“We are beyond excited to be able to welcome people – safely – into our space again,” General Manager Lynne Angel told Gay Cities. “It has been a long, hard year for everyone – we look forward to gathering the community together again and are so grateful that we are still here, still queer and still in existence to open our doors once again.”

Related: These six gay bars received grants from HRC to help them survive COVID

The new El Rio mural in San Francisco
The new El Rio mural (Photo: Supplied)

Its prolonged closure provided the opportunity for some renovation work, and the bar now sports an eye-catching new mural on the exterior, courtesy of artists by J. Manuel Carmona and Simon Malvae. Check out a video walk-through of the venue below.


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San Francisco has now moved into the “Orange” tier of the California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. This allows bars to reopen outdoor spaces without the need to sell food.

At the time of writing, other famed San Francisco bars such as the Eagle San Francisco and Lone Star Saloon had yet to reveal their reopening plans.


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