San Francisco Eagle finally reopens today – and could soon be making history

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SF Eagle
SF Eagle (Photo by @_yito/Instagram)

The SF Eagle in San Francisco is finally reopening today after being closed since March 13, 2020. The beloved and iconic bar has only opened on two occasions during the pandemic, and both typify its community-minded spirit. It allowed itself to be used as a polling station during the 2020 Presidential election, and it also prepared and gave away free Thanksgiving dinners last November.

Thankfully, this week it will be getting back to doing what it does best: Offering an attitude-free, sexy location to dance, cruise, and hang out with like-minded friends.

The venue is famed across the city and beyond as one of the San Francisco scene’s most enduring gay bars. It’s been open since 1981.

(Photo: @pupamp/Instagram)

In fact, so legendary is its status that the city’s Historic Preservation Commission last month debated whether to turn the venue into an official San Francisco landmark. They voted unanimously in favor (7-0) to recommend to the Board of Supervisors Landmark Designation of the San Francisco Eagle Bar as an individual Article 10 Landmark.

Related: Iconic San Francisco bar Moby Dick gets a sexy leather jacket makeover featuring James Baldwin

The final history-making decision will now rest with those city authorities and is expected in the next few weeks.

The city has recognized two other LGBTQ venues as city landmarks: The Twin Peaks Tavern in the Castro and the former home of the lesbian bar the Paper Doll Bar at 524 Union Street (which has now sadly closed). SF Eagle would be the first leather bar to receive the honor.

The SF Eagle team prepared and gave away free Thanksgiving meals last November (Photo: SF Eagle/Facebook)

The SF Eagle is at the heart of what is now regarded as the city’s official Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District. The area was designated as such by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Mayor in May 2018.

San Francisco has several such cultural districts, including Japantown, the Castro Cultural District, and Compton’s Transgender Cultural District (in the Tenderloin). Each represents “a geographic area or location within San Francisco that embodies a unique cultural heritage”, according to the Mayor’s office.

Eagle Plaza (Photo: SFLCD)

Since that time, SF Eagle has gained its outdoor ‘Eagle Plaza’ : a 12,500-square foot community plaza in “celebration of leather and LGBTQ heritage, transforming an underutilized street into a well-cared-for, green, safe, and clean shared pedestrian way for relaxing, gathering and celebrating Leather, LGBTQ and community inclusion”.

A giant leather flag flies above the area. Final touches on the plaza, with the addition of some plants and more furniture, are expected to be completed this week.

Related: San Francisco’s gay scene remembered with new, archive photo account

There are murals dotted around the district, and in April, the Board of Supervisors approved a plan to place bronze plaques on the Folsom Street sidewalk to signify the location of 50 places of interest to the leather and LGBTQ communities.

Sadly, many of these places have now disappeared. The arrival of AIDS in the 1980s took its toll on the community, while LGBTQ venues have been shutting at an alarming rate since the turn of the century – a combination of rising rents and people turning to apps to hook up with others.

Pedal Pups at SF Eagle in San Francisco
“Pedal Pups” Doc and Cinder selling shots at one of the Pups many Sunday Beer Bust fundraisers (Photo: @Pedalpups/Instagram)

Thankfully, the SF Eagle – with its big outdoor drinking area – has survived, and regulars can’t wait to return for the Sunday beer blast and other regular events.

“This is one of the oldest LGBTQ bars in San Francisco and the longest operating SoMa Leather LGBTQ space,” said Supervisor Matt Haney, who sponsored the resolution to make the Eagle a city landmark. “LGBTQ bars are an important part of our city’s culture, and they’ve been disappearing.”

(Photo: @caseyrob801/Instagram)

“The leather bars have disappeared over the years because of the gentrification,” owner Lex Montiel told the SF Chronicle in May. “This has always been a community space that has a lot of history. It needs to be protected for the future.”

One regular, Amp Somers (@Amp), told GayCities he was greatly looking forward to the reopening: “It was always the place to leather up, cruise, socialize and catch all the kinksters for a beer bust. From gogo dancing to grabbing a drink, the Eagle was always like a second home and I can’t wait to get back to it.”

(Photo: @_yito/Instagram)

The reopening party will feature DJ Manuelito and an appearance by Rob Racine. It will be followed on Saturday (26th) by Leather Lounge. That event’s promoter, Yito (@_yito), told GayCities, “It’s a place where people that are into kink and gear gather.”

Another regular, Blue Bailey (@bluebaileysf) told GayCities, “SF Eagle’s Sunday Beer bust has been a staple of San Francisco kink culture and benefits a number of local queer organizations. I am very much looking forward to its reopening.”

Hanging out at the SF Eagle (Photo: @bluebaileysf/Instagram)

Bob Goldfarb, Leather Cultural District President told GayCities, “From a historical perspective, the Eagle has become the cornerstone of the leather and kink community. For that reason, we are thrilled that they are having their grand reopening this Friday. We worked hard to assist the Eagle in their application for landmark designation, which is expected to be finalized in July.”

Related: 10 of the oldest and most iconic gay bars in the US

While nightlife venues have served as a safe haven for LGBTQ people for decades, their existence has been threatened by COVID-19, and they need our help to survive. Make a tax-deductible donation to the GayCities #SaveOurSpaces fund, and we’ll distribute it to LGBTQ bars and clubs struggling across the U.S.