22-year-old Hayes Valley gay bar Marlena’s is rumored to be closing in the very near future, possibly within weeks, and a tipster tells Grub Street today that someone has laid claim to the space.* The bar, with one of the few full liquor licenses in Hayes Valley, sits on some prime real estate at Octavia and Hayes, and even has the potential for some covered outdoor seating on what is now a smoking porch. Sadly, it’s one of the last gay bars in the city outside the enclaves of the Castro and SoMa, when there used to multiple neighborhood watering holes for the LG set in the Polk, the Tenderloin, Pacific Heights, and the Financial District (anyone remember Ginger’s Deux and Ginger’s Trois?).
The bar takes its name from the longtime drag persona of owner Garry ‘Marlena’ McLain, who holds the title of Empress XXV of SF’s Imperial Council. (If you don’t know what that means, read up on the organization here). The bar opened shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake when Hayes Valley still was in the shadow of the Central Freeway. For many years it’s played host to a weekly drag show on Sundays, and has famously been decked out to the point of excess for various holidays — most famously at Christmastime, when McLain pulls out his collection of 1,400 Santas and covers every inch of wall space with them.
Update: The initial rumor was that a restaurant group, said to be the Absinthe Group, was taking over the space, but SFist later confirmed with McLain that while the bar is closing, likely by the first week of March, it will remain a gay-friendly bar under new, young owners. McLain further tells the Bay Area Reporter that he’s feeling okay about the decision to sell. "I won’t have to work seven days a week," he say. Though he won’t identify the new owners, he says they intend to keep up the Saturday night drag show, and that they want to keep it a neighborhood bar "welcoming to both gay and straight."
Update 2: The Absinthe connection appears not to be totally unfounded. McLain clarifies for Hayeswire that one of the three young guys who are buying the place is affiliated with them somehow. Also, the new buyers, who remain unidentified, may be buying the Santa collection. [Hayeswire]
Update 3: The new ownership has been revealed, and it looks highly unlikely that the drag shows are going to continue at this establishment — note the Churchill connection. Also, Hayeswire now has the closing date, which is March 3, with some Follies performances leading up to the final night.
* This post has been corrected from its original form.