The Stud, San Francisco's oldest LGBT bar, has closed. After 54 years in business and 33 years at their current location, the bar's owners couldn't afford their steep rent as they faced an indefinite closure due to COVID-19. The bar has been a colorful alternative to San Francisco's famous leather bar culture, embracing queer cabaret and drag performers long before it was mainstream.
"COVID took the Stud out," said one of the bar's mainstays and hosts, Jillian Gnarling, during an over eight-hour digital funeral service held for the bar via Twitch Sunday night, on the last day of the bar's lease. Gnarling added that "San Francisco took the Stud out," too, referring to escalating rents and a changing city.
The bar's closure is potentially a canary in a coal mine for gay bars around the country, which face similar state-mandated closures and no clear path to reopening.
The bar survived a large rent increase in 2016 and managed to convert to a collective ownership of nightlife workers, drag performers, activists, and DJs. It claims to be "the very first co-op nightclub in the United States," and has been a creative origin for countless performers over its five-plus decades, including RuPaul's Drag Race star Alaska Thunderfuck, who says she started doing "the craziest, sickest, weirdest" drag in Pittsburgh after visiting the Stud.
To mourn the change, the Stud threw an epic funeral service over Twitch last night, featuring over 90 performances from a wide range of performers and drag celebrities, including Jinkx Monsoon, Peaches Christ, and Christeene. Owner and host Vivvyanne Forevermore justified the over eight-hour runtime, yelling: "WE ARE GOING LATE INTO THE NIGHT BECAUSE WE ARE A FUCKING NIGHTCLUB."
Host Honey Mahogany started the evening by acknowledging the uprising against police brutality happening around the United States over the weekend. "As queers, we must never forget that the gay liberation movement started with a series of riots against police brutality," Mahogany said.
We stand together with and honor those who fight for justice today and always. We will not forget our history, nor be blind to our present. From the @StudSF1 family #BlackLivesMatter #BLACKTRANSLIVESMATTER #pridewasariot #PRIDE2020 pic.twitter.com/n0FZv7HPrX
— Honey Mahogany (@honeymahogany) June 1, 2020
Mahogany mentioned that the owners wrestled with canceling the event out of respect for the protests but ultimately decided to hold the funeral and use it as a platform. Historically, she explained, “Folks left the rioting and came to the Stud to dance and to let go because they knew it was a safe space, because they knew it was a place where they felt home.” This sentiment was echoed by many performers and guests throughout the evening, with one Sister of Perpetual Indulgence saying, "When you sit at this bar, it's like sitting at your grandmother's table."
In consideration of marchers who couldn't view last night's service due to San Francisco's ongoing protests, the Stud will rebroadcast last night's funeral on their Twitch channel this upcoming Sunday.
The evening was broken up into four sections. The first featured eleven of the "widows" the Stud was leaving behind, which included messages and performances from Heklina, Alaska Thunderfuck, Honey Mahogany, and Justin Vivian Bond, among others, all dressed in black. Then, the evening broke off into two sections of hosted video performances from performers who called Stud home, each section including around 40 videos. The performance portion of the night ended around 2 a.m., nearly eight hours after it began, with multiple DJ sets. I had to go to bed but I left my TV on to pay my respects.
Going forward, the Stud's strategy appears to be to keep up their Twitch channel, which will continue to host multiple shows a week, to maintain interest and community as they try to raise an estimated $700,000 to reopen the Stud. This strategy of closing down a brick-and-mortar location and maintaining community digitally will inevitably be a blueprint for many gay bars and spaces in the coming year. The Stud also has a Patreon, as well as a Stud Stories podcast that highlights the Stud's history and how it intersects with the history of San Francisco and the country at large.
Some screenshots from the evening: