Word is The Stud Bar in San Francisco may become yet another victim of San Francisco’s spiraling property wars. We’ve seen a lot of this in recent years as the City has transformed at a dizzying pace, but this one’s a real sucker punch.
Though this isn’t the first gay bar I went to, it was the first one where I began to find my way. For me it started with the “college night” that used to be held on Wednesday nights back in the 90s. I was in college myself and just coming to terms with being a gay guy, and hadn’t been to very many gay bars yet. I’d been carrying around all kinds of preconceived notions of what I thought a gay bar would be like, and who would be there. But walking in that first Wednesday night, I was taken aback by the scene. Tons and tons of guys, my age thereabouts, and so many cute ones! These were the kinds of guys I found myself lusting over at school but never would have imagined would turn up here.
Thinking back now, I read these words and see the shadows of self-hate, not to mention ageism and judgment. But at the time, for me, it was reaffirming. These were the kinds of guys I admired and wanted to emulate, and they were gay! It could be OK to be gay.
The Stud was a coming of age for me. Those first few months, visiting as many Wednesday nights as I could, I was painfully shy and uncomfortable. My best friend told me I looked unfriendly and unapproachable, but it was because I was scared. A bartender teased me. “He’s just giving you a hard time because you look so green,” my friend told me. But I’d have enough courage to go onto the dance floor and marvel at the scene around me.
The beauty is that The Stud was also the impetus for getting me beyond my collegiate frat-boy-fantasy world. Though Wednesday nights were ostensibly clean-cut, the rest of the week was far more diverse and varied. This is where I began to explore the world beyond the college gym and my hidden stash of Playgirls, and begin to appreciate the wide range of guys out there.
For one thing, the clean-cut nature of the Wednesday night scene was relative. One week I went along with a friend of mine from college who had originated from South Carolina. To him, the guys he saw that Wednesday night were edgy – too edgy for his tastes. As we drove back home afterwards he bemoaned that there didn’t seem to be any nice clean-cut guys to date (preferably blonde). But to me, I was already developing a taste beyond its boundaries.
The Wednesday college night scene is now long gone, but in its place is everything from leather to goth, jeans & t-shirts, and all kinds of gender fuck. Fun drag shows, live music… even my first gogo dancing gig (at a bear club no less!). The dance floor in one room, the social pool table in the other room. All these years later I can step up to the majestic wood bar without trepidation.
The building itself is a rickety old wooden, sort of an overgrown shack. Inside is an eclectic mix of wood, mirrors, brass, antique lights, and all manner of chachkies. Ironically, it more than resembles the look of the fancy new bars, restaurants and coffee places appearing in town with their reclaimed wood and old-timey signage. Yet whereas the new places are highly-calculated in their roughness, The Stud is the real deal. It’s motley and organic, with layers of patina not to mention a bit of duct tape.
The changes San Francisco has been undergoing are well known and lamented by many, particularly by people like myself who have been around a while now. I’m well aware of my age now, and try to reconcile sadness in changes with the inevitable evolution of places. Anywhere you go, there will be old-timers bemoaning changes and the times gone by. Now in middle age, I’m wondering if at least some of this is me anchoring myself in what was while changes pick up pace around me.
But hope is not all lost. Some things endure against all odds, and in these cases survival can seem that much more sweet and extraordinary. Down the road is Powerhouse, which I discovered much later. Another first here, this time the first time stripping down to my underwear in a bar for an underwear night. Porn on the screens, hot bartenders behind the bar, and with luck someone handsome to talk to (among other things).
Then there’s the SF Eagle, which was resurrected after being left for dead a few years back. Now reopened and refreshed but not spoiled, there is a sense of relief. Something we thought was gone, we’ve got back, and it feels great.
Then again, how much market is there for this cluster of gay bars South of Market? The Oasis recently reopened as a gay bar after being shuttered for many years, and though it’s fun and dynamic and has a great event calendar, I’m told it struggles. Meanwhile Beatbox down the street has closed. Nowadays bars are more mixed and gay people aren’t forced to self-segregate. And if someone just wants to go out and get laid, there’s an app for that.
Is there hope for The Stud? There are efforts to save it. Though there are the clichés of time moving on and nothing staying the same forever, can this one beat the odds?