A group of LGBT protesters tried to disrupt brunch at Foreign Cinema on Sunday, protesting the loss of queer space in the ongoing saga surrounding the defunct Eagle Tavern (398 12th Street) in SoMa. The reason for the locale is that an investor in Foreign Cinema, Bruce McDonald, has signed an agreement with the property owner at the former Eagle to open what’s rumored to be an upscale bar and restaurant that may or may not show outdoor movies, à la Foreign Cinema. Protesters object because McDonald and his partners took the bar out from under a group of former Eagle employees who had been in negotiations with the landlord for over a year, and who had already signed a lease. The landlord appears to have screwed them a little, refusing at the last minute to take their deposit in favor of the new project, the name of which has not been announced. The managing partners at Foreign Cinema, Gayle Pirie and John Clark, meanwhile are quick to say they are not involved with the project and they fully support the LGBT community.
The name of the new project and any further details have not been shared with the press. One of the new partners*, Anderson Pugash, declined to comment to Grub Street, and McDonald said through a rep that the exact theme and details of the new restaurant have not been solidified, though it will be more casual than Foreign Cinema. A rep for Supervisor Jane Kim, Sunny Angulo, confirmed the basic details about the new project as it’s been proposed, including some discussion of outdoor movies in the Eagle’s courtyard.
One of the protest organizers, Kyle DeVries, writes, "The property owner and business owners involved think that they can just turn their back on the LGBT community and not have any repercussions … We will not fade quietly as space after space is taken away from us! The Eagle was more than just a tavern — it was our community center and we’re going to fight to keep her alive!" In other words, a lot of people still love The Eagle, and wish it weren’t gone. Many in the LGBT community have lamented the fading of the historic leather-friendly collection of bars that has existed around SoMa since the seventies, of which only four remain — Hole in the Wall, The Powerhouse, Lone Star, and Kok (formerly Chaps II).
Sunday’s protest was dubbed "A Funeral for Queer Space," and the theme was an upbeat, New Orleans-style jazz funeral.
The next steps from the protest side of things include a petition to the Board of Supervisors, and organizing around next week’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting on July 31, when the issue of the bar’s change of use will be addressed. Expect some protest from Sunday’s contingent during the public-comment period there.
You may recall that another protest was sparked back in April 2011 when it was rumored that the owners of Skylark on 16th Street were interested in leasing the Eagle for a non-gay venue. That proposal never came to fruition. Former Eagle manager Ron Hennis and some partners had been negotiating with the landlord since the bar closed last year, when former owners John Gardner and Joseph Banks gave up the business in order to focus on their other, more profitable bar, the Hole in the Wall. The primary reason for closing the Eagle, therefore, was financial, and the bar mainly drew a crowd on Sundays for its popular beer busts on the outdoor patio.
Update: Real estate broker Colleen Meharry spoke to us about the deal she helped broker, and she says of the LGBT former Eagle employees, "They never had a deal." It is true that a lease was drafted and they had signed it, however the property owner, put off by a lengthy and contentious negotiation and by a low-ball lease offer, ultimately did not sign and sought other offers. She insists there were no discriminatory feelings whatsoever, and the deal was purely financially motivated, as it has been all along. She also says that the new business owners, including Bruce McDonald and one of the owners of Vessel nightclub, met with Supervisors and agreed to allow the popular Sunday beer busts to happen at the new venue, which Meharry characterizes as a bar with food, and DJs. She also says that the team had "no idea they were walking into this hornet’s nest" vis a vis the protesters. Also, as the Harvey Milk Club points out, part of the reason for the passion surrounding this place is that the ashes of people who died during the AIDS crisis were scattered there, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have blessed it as "hallowed queer space."
Update 2: Opponents of the project have successfully delayed the transfer of the liquor license after appealing to the Board of Supervisors’ City Operations Committee. The committee has asked the new partners to try to get more support from the community in order to move forward.
* This post has been corrected to show that Anderson Pugash is one of the new lessees/partners, and not just a rep.